How not to cook
The Government have just announced that all children between the ages of 11-14 are going to be taught to cook. Obviously for some schools this will be difficult. They have no functional kitchens, and pupils whose families will struggle to provide the ingredients.
But I think this is something that is long overdue. My own Domestic Science lessons, in the early 1970s were a bit hit and miss as far as equipping me for life went. All we ever cooked were sweet things, though I shouldn't grumble: I can still do a mean cake. And thinking about it, in needlework I was taught how to hem, sew on a button and basic mending, which for me have been all the sewing skills I have needed. I really learned to cook as my mother was a staunch believer in good, plain nursery food, so I taught myself out of sheer self-defence, from a black and white Good Housekeeping recipe book from the 1950s.
My own children's cookery experience at school has been radically different, and their needlework (or Textiles, as it now seems to be called) laughable. Did they learn how to thread a needle? How to tie a knot at the end of a thread? Pushing a needle in and out of material even? No. Appliqué. On a machine. Sometimes I am left utterly flabberghasted at the enormous gap between what is actually a useful skill for life, and what educationalists think children need to know.
My daughter was asked to bring in stuff to make an apple pie. We'd just picked some cooking apples and I suggested she take those, to be told no, they had to bring in pie filling in a tin. Well, she didn't. She brought in properly pureéd apple. Putting a tinned pie filling in a dish and covering it with bought pastry is not cookery. It is assembly.
My son does Food Technology GCSE, and it is enough to make you weep. You would think, wouldn't you, that they would get marks for the way things taste. Nope. For nearly 2 years, not a one. Not a single one. They get marks for how it looks. Even my son, who thinks presentation is a complete waste of time as long as it tastes alright, and has survived his course for nearly 2 years by blagging trimmings from his friends, is finally towing the line and I had to buy him coriander and peppers to trim the meal he's making tomorrow in class.And what has my little lamb spent 2 years doing, to earn his GCSE? Designing a ready meal, that's what. Cooking the same blessed thing, with tiny modifications, over and over again. And what preparation for real life is it? I despair. I worse than despair. I cannot believe that anyone, save someone locked in the most distant and inaccessible of ivory towers thinks that what my son has been learning is any preparation for life.
And now he has cooked the thing, for the last time (this is his final, finished product, don't forget) and it has actually been tasted. Just a tad late to make any changes.
The Government has asked what suggestions people have: mine is soup. It doesn't take long to do (generally), uses up things that are past their best and is an excellent way of disguising the dread vegetable. I'd also have a simple pasta dish, and pizza made from scratch which is an excellent way of teaching bread-making. And roast chicken, apple pie, shortbread and a cake: which leaves me one more, and I can't decide between scrambled egg or omelette.