Old school style cheese and potato pie and why the world just went a bit rubbish after 1990

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How I loved school dinners. Before they were privatised that is.

Old style school dinners, before they started serving food on prison style plastic moulded trays.

I believe kids are more likely to eat proper meals when they’re served on proper plates.

It disgusted me when in around 1990, Walsall’s local education authority contracted out the provision of school dinners to a private company.

Overnight they replaced plates with plastic trays and beakers with disposable cups in order to save on washing up.

How I loved school home economics lessons. Before they started referring to them “food technology” that is.

Old style recipes, basic techniques upon which to build a lifetime’s ability to cook from scratch.

I believe kids are more likely to eat proper meals when they’ve been encouraged to cook by themselves.

It disgusted me when in around 1990, GCSE Home Economics moved away from the syllabus inherited from O Level learning how to cook proper family meals and became an extension of business studies designing pizza boxes.

If you want to trace back the rot that led to disengagement with home cooking, poorer quality school food and the knock on effects we bemoan today, I reckon the tipping point happened in 1990.

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Luckily for me, I had enjoyed six years of excellent secondary school dinners and attained my A grade for GCSE home economics by the time of of this watershed.   

Probably these individual cheese and potato pies were a thing of the past with privatised school dinners – too much washing up of individual dishes. Instead they served it tray bake style – the same recipe but far less finesse over the presentation!

I also recall that “potato galette” (effectively cheese and potato pie) was one of the recipes taught in the first year at secondary school – now termed Year Seven.

Everyone took wicker baskets to school cookery lessons containing ingredients for that week’s dish and carried the basket with the finished meal home on the school bus for that night’s supper.

School cookery lessons began at age 11 and were taught for 1 term per year until the end of the third year (now Year Nine). There were three lessons per week split into a single session for writing and a double session for the cooking. For these three years you also had a term per year of art and design technology. When you took your options you could take one GCSE in either art, design technology or home economics. I chose the latter and enjoyed two further years of school cookery lessons.

Even if you didn’t opt to take home economics at GCSE you’d have received as standard at least 30 cookery sessions over the course of 3 years. The first year focussed on using different parts of the oven i.e. dishes using the hob, the grill and then the oven. The early lessons were simply things like beans on toast and boiled eggs. But before long we were learning basic sponge cake recipes and whipping up Victoria sponges, pineapple upside down cakes and swiss roll.

Some of these essential recipes stayed with me for life and for many years I continued to make my own cheese and potato pie.

I’m not sure how cheese and potato pie dropped out of my repertoire but when my Italian housemate Anastasia left me these little brown dishes the memories of school cheese and potato pie flooded back. It’s glorious comfort food and I knew it would be right up Ted’s street and decided to make it for him last week.

He takes great interest in whatever I’m cooking and although he won’t be making it himself yet, I have decided to reinstate cheese and potato pie to our family’s regular menu. You can either make one big one or serve it individually. Depending how old your child is, they may eat one half one day and the rest the next. Ted had half with veggies and the other half with some left over bolognaise sauce the next day.

Did you learn to cook at school?

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Old school style cheese and potato pie
Makes 4 individual pies

Ingredients:

500g white potatoes, peeled and chopped into large chunks
150g grated cheddar
25g butter
1 roughly chopped onion
2 tbsp olive oil (today I used Oi1 oil as previously featured in garlic mashed potatoes)
1 egg
1 tomato cut into 4 thick slices.

Note – you can use more butter instead of olive oil if you wish.

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 / 200c. Boil the potatoes in a large saucepan of water until cooked.
2. Meanwhile, fry the onion in the butter until lightly golden and soft.
3. Drain the water from the potatoes. Add the cooked onion, grated cheese, olive oil and egg. Mash together throughly.
4. Decant into oven proof dishes and top with a slice of tomato. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown on top.

Serve with salad, vegetables and/ or left over meat.

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With thanks to Godminster for sample cheddar cheese. Say hi to them on Twitter at @godminsterfarm

Also thanks to Sainsbury’s for samples of Taste the Difference mashing potatoes.

This cheese and potato pie is being submitted to this month’s cheddar themed Cheese Please organised by Fromage Homage.

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8 comments to Old school style cheese and potato pie and why the world just went a bit rubbish after 1990

  • Oh my god I LOVE cheese and potato pie. My mum used to make a large one for mr and my friends as the ultimate comfort food. Am definitely making this again as like you I’ve not made it in years

    I agree with you about school dinners too – our canteen used to make excellent food, then we got sectioned trays and it was all burgers and sausages and all the good stuff disappeared.

  • These look lovely. My mum used to cook exactly this, even down to the tomatoes on the top! Real cold weather comfort food. Cookery lessons at my school were non-existent, except I remember them teaching us how to survive at university by making chicken curry with sauce from a jar 🙁 Lovely choice of cheddar too. Thanks for sharing it with the Cheese, Please! Challenge.

    • Sarah Triv

      My mum puts tomatoes on top of cottage pies too 🙂

      When I was at university it was the height of the baked bean wars (2p per can at times) – one of my housemates used to eat them every day and although we laughed, she was the only one out of us who left without notching up a big fat loan to pay off.

  • Su Handleh

    I went to school in Birmingham until 1966. I loved cookery lessons although we only had them for one year, but I think I learned a lot in that time about how enjoyable creating food and taking it home to share with family could be. I remember the cheese and potato pie so well – it became a family favourite and we used to have it with sausages and baked beans. I haven’t made this for years, but I intend to take a trip down memory lane tonight! Thank you for sharing.

  • Sitara

    Wow! I’ve been searching high and low for this recipe! Thank you so much I will try it tonight.
    Just one question: what type of cheddar cheese is best to get that school dinners taste? Mild or mature cheddar? Red or yellow cheddar?
    Many thanks!
    Sitara

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