... feminist, atheist, autistic academic and historic narrowboater ...
Likes snooker, beer, tea, rivets and solitude, and is strangely fascinated by the cinema organ.
And there might be something about railways.

Sunday 19 September 2010

Good plain cook

First of all, here is the gingerbread recipe which I promised Blossom:

4 oz butter
5 level tablespoons black treacle
4 level tablespoons golden syrup
3 oz demerara sugar
5 tablespoons milk
1 heaped desertspoon marmalade
4 oz self raising flour
4 oz fine oatmeal
2 heaped teaspoons ground ginger
1 heaped teaspoon mixed spice
1/4 level teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
2 eggs

Put everything down to and including the marmalade into a saucepan and stir over a low heat until it's all melted/dissolved. Allow to cool then beat in the eggs, then beat in all the dry ingredients. Pour into a greased and lined large loaf tin, and bake at mark 3 for 1 1/2 - 1 3/4 hours.

It comes from what is probably my favourite cookery book, the Stork Cookery Service's Art of Home Cooking, published in 1963. Apart from the fact that it introduces margarine into absolutely every recipe (I substitute butter in most of them) it is, it is the perfect basic guide to plain cooking, including such forgotten delights as brown stew, jam roly poly, and a 'curry of cooked meat' featuring 1 large onion, 1 1/2 oz Stork Table Margarine, 1 rounded tablespoon curry powder, 3/4 pint stock or water, 2 oz sultanas (optional), 1 large cooking apple, 1 rounded tablespoon chutney, 2 teaspoons black treacle (optional), 2 teaspoons lemon juice, salt and pepper, and 3/4 lb cooked meat. Exotic or what?

Secondly, this coincides with two pieces in the paper today which have set me off. One is a long article detailing how exercise is not an effective way of tackling obesity (you mean someone actually thought it was? I always knew that was a flim flam put about by the food industry), and a news piece about how Jamie Oliver's 'Ministry of Food' cookery school may have to close owing to funding cuts. Now I don't particularly love Jamie Oliver (although nor do I hate him) but with or without his branding, the idea of teaching people basic cooking skills so that they're less reliant on takeaways and ready meals, has to be a good thing for their health and their finances.

It seems that there is now a whole generation or more who have never learnt enen the simplest cooking techniques, even as we gorge on Nigel (Slater) and Nigella on the screen and on the page. I learnt to cook at school. From the age of eleven, we had weekly lessons in which a recipe was demonstrated, and then we got to do it. This wasn't every term, as the Sex Discrimination Act had just come into force, so I had to do wookwork and metalwork too, but it whetted my apppetite sufficiently that I opted to take Food and Nutrition at 'O' Level, much to my mother's horror at using one one of my precious options on something so apparently trivial. But no prizes for guessing which of my ten 'O' Levels has been most useful to me since I left school. We covered nutrition, food hygiene, purchasing and menu planning, and time planning, and we learnt all the basic skills like making a white sauce, pastry, victoria sponge and so on.

It's all a million miles from what my kids did at school under the name of 'Food Technology' - this seemed to consist largely of designing packaging, and, I recall, making a batch of biscuits every week, testing them on us, and refining the recipe. It was about the food industry, rather than home cooking. And that's where we've gone so wrong. And all the time the government is so in thrall to the food industry that they dare not even come out and say 'eating processed crap makes you fat', we're never going to get it right.

Anyway, enjoy the gingerbread.


  1. My goodness, Sarah, you take me back! I had forgotten - this cook book was my first one! I think it was given as a wedding present for my first marriage in 1966. I had it for years but I can't recall when it stopped being my 'bible'. Neil (2nd husband) remembers it as well. I can only think it went with some others when the beer barrel, full of home brew, leaked ......
    I must look out for another copy.
    Kath (nb Herbie)
    PS I so agree with all your comments, and isn't it about time we taught kids to COOK!

  2. This is my second copy; my mum had one that I grew up with (and used for many of those school lessons) which was falling apart. I got my own relatively new copy at a jumble sale.