Evidence that Fran did perhaps learn something at school after all

I've just eaten a chocolate eclair and it reminded me to tell you about Mrs Gough.

Mrs Gough taught me to cook at the Warwickshire grammar school I attended in the 1970s. I think they called her subject 'Domestic Science' officially but it was 'Cookery' to all of us. 

Now the subject is called Food Technology or Food Science or How to Grow Up Without Knowing How to Make A Stew. There is cookery involved, but there's also much scientific theory, assessment of nutrition, costing of dishes, market research, and other sub-topics that Mrs Gough would have sniffed at. The science, in 1976, was what the boys did, while the girls cooked them steaming sausage rolls to give out at break time in the hope of an invitation to the school disco to snog behind the school hall curtains.

It's amazing what a 14 year old boy will do for a free savoury bite

No, Mrs Gough was all about the pastry - puff, buttery rough puff, tough puff, shortcrust, longcrust, flaky, tough-flaky, choux buns and eclairs, puffy and otherwise.

She was all about the bread - white bread, wholemeal bread, seedy bread and seedless, loaves and rolls and twists and turns and bread risen so high it stuck to the roof of the oven.

She taught us how to make soups, and stews, and casseroles, and pies, pies, so many pies, and how to mash potatoes to perdition so that they fluffed up creamy and delicious.

She showed us how to chop and slice and peel and dice, once, twice and thrice.

I was not Mrs Gough's ideal student. My skills have improved over the years, but at fourteen, from a dysfunctional home, I'd learned to spread jam on a dry Weetabix and make fish paste sandwiches on Mum's bad days. On her good days, she'd let me chop mushrooms for her while she stirred a stew but when I asked for the recipe, she'd tell me it would go to her grave with her, which it did, far too soon.

'What are you DOING, girl?' Mrs Gough would yell to me across the school kitchens. 'You're making a SOUP, not a SWAMP! Add more stock!'

Fran's soups contained unexpected ingredients

'How many times have I said, DON'T slam the oven door while the cake is in there?'

'This isn't choux pastry! This is glue! The Art Department would kill for glue like this!'

Once, I noticed, on looking in the ovens where two loaves were cooking, that mine - on the middle shelf - was not rising, whereas my schoolmate's - on the top shelf - was. I opened the oven door and swapped them round, receiving rare praise from Mrs G later on my impressively-domed bread.

I've felt guilty about that over the years. Sorry, Jackie Smith, that your loaf was sunken in the middle as though someone had sat in it.

Forty-five years later, being in the kitchen with a glass of wine, the radio on and a selection of meat and herbs and vegetables with which to invent something tasty - that's my happy place. So, even though I did try Mrs Gough's patience with my early fumbling attempts at choux buns or a vegetable casserole, her lessons have left their mark.

I don't think I've slammed an oven door on a cake since 1976, at least.


  1. Excellent as always! I remember my cookery lessons. I wasn't great.

    1. Things have changed for you, too, then!!

  2. Good old, Mrs Gough! She's laid the foundations for the fabulous cook you are today. May God rest her soul (if she's no longer with us). Great lollable post, as ever 😊

    1. Thank you for reading! I don't know if she's still alive. Poor Mrs Gough. Maybe she's reading this right now, from her care home, and wishing she could get revenge for the swampy soups.

  3. I remember our cookery lessons (Home Economics), 15 girls and only four ovens, so whoever got their cakes in first, got the high praise and the high marks. The rest of us had to wait for a free oven while our sponge cakes sat wilting in their pans and never did rise properly. We also learned to make something called Apple Betty and how to make moulded jellies. Useless lessons that wouldn't feed a family in my Dad's opinion.
    I had no idea there were so many pastry variations, we only learned shortcrust and puff.

    1. I think I remember Apple Betty, but also Eve's Pudding, with sponge, then jam, then meringue. But we also did savoury dishes to bring home for tea - one was a sausage and apple pie, very herby. It was the first thing I made for my husband-to-be when we started seeing each other and he hated it. That wasn't a good start to the romance.

  4. Do you feel that you at least got the basics so you could branch out on your own? Our schools no longer have cooking classes, which seems a shame. I can't say I recall the cooking segment of Home Economics fondly, but we made some basic things like piecrust and biscuits and some weird things like Waldorf salad. For the record, I have NEVER made or served Waldorf salad since. One of my best memories of that class was having our very strict teacher impress on us that it's "coleslaw" not "cold slop" as one of her previous students wrote in a test. That very strict teacher eventually became more of a friend as we reconnected later in life and I found out she had a wicked good sense of humour. She didn't show it in class because, you know, discipline and all.

    It's sad that your mom wouldn't share her cooking skills, but it sounds like you have more than made up for that lack, and have found joy in doing so.

    Thank you for the walk down memory lane, and may your soups/stews always be tasty :)

    1. Jenny, I really envy you that story and the way you kept in touch with that teacher. I definitely got the basics from Mrs Gough and have learned even more from my grown-up kids who love to cook. Thanks for your comment and, as for soups and stews, I wish you the same!

  5. From our domestic science classes I remember being taught to 'cook spaghetti till it breaks over the back of a knife' Meanwhile I have learnt bissfest or al dente.
    She did teach us to make white sauce, but having edited out butter, wheat flour, and too much cheese ... that lesson is lost too.
    Sad really, since being taught to feed yourself should be a fundamental life skill.

    1. Yes, I remember the white sauce lessons. Making the 'roux' then taking it off the gas while you stir in the milk. These days I bung it all in together and whisk it like billy-oh. Same results.


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