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.
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?
Old school style cheese and potato pie
Makes 4 individual pies
500g white potatoes, peeled and chopped into large chunks
150g grated cheddar
1 roughly chopped onion
2 tbsp olive oil (today I used Oi1 oil as previously featured in garlic mashed potatoes)
1 tomato cut into 4 thick slices.
Note – you can use more butter instead of olive oil if you wish.
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.
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.