Like all my friends who cook regularly and don’t buy takeaways, I already have too many cookbooks but the two published by Sainsbury’s were irresistible.
At the end of a big shop at their Kensington branch, Josh bought Volume 1 and I’ve already cooked three of the recipes, including these delicious Chicken Rolls. This week I went back to buy Volume 2. For some reason they are not on the Sainsbury’s website and when I phoned the branch they said they hadn’t any – but they did and I bought one!!
Before cooking them, I cut some of the chicken-filled puff pastry rolls into 7cm lengths to have with gravy, Boulangiere potatoes (from the cookbook) and flat beans. The rest I cut into these little 4cm lengths to have as snacks instead of sausage rolls.
When we got married in 1956 I could just about cook omelettes and minestrone so when I finished my second house job as a newly qualified doctor I went to a six-week all day Good Housekeeping cookery course.
Memoir extract from Woman in a White Coat Vol 2 Chapter 4
When I finished my second house job, I was five months pregnant with Simon and already showing, so I was unlikely to find a part-time temporary job in medicine. I was doubly qualified, having qualified as a dental surgeon 6 years before, but I couldn’t face the thought of standing all day in a dental practice, though it would have been quite easy to find a locum dental appointment. . I decided to take a cookery course instead. I could cook omelettes and minestrone, but not much else. Only the girls in the lower streams at school had done cookery and my mother had always shooed me away.
‘Food is rationed,’ she’d say. ‘Don’t want you wasting good food. Time enough to learn to cook when you get married.’
My mother was a very plain cook. Her repertoire was more or less limited to chicken soup, boiled chicken, braised beef, fried fish and sardines on toast. On Saturdays we’d have cholent, potatoes and meat or chicken that had been cooking all night on the gas that had been turned on very low before the Sabbath came in.
I saw an advertisement in the Sunday Times for a six-week full-time course at the Good Housekeeping Cookery School. The courses were originally designed for debutantes who needed to learn how to run a kitchen, though perhaps they might never set a foot inside one except to give orders.
Most of the students were upper crust young women who had hardly gone into a kitchen except to steal freshly baked biscuits. One 17 year-old didn’t even know how to peel potatoes. A few of the others had done a bit of cooking, having moved to London and got a flat of their own. As well as me there was Gloria, a woman in her early thirties who had been in the ATS (Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service) – sixteen of us in all.
In the days before WW2, the students would have cooked in the morning and learned about housework in the afternoon: how to use the starch-enriched water from the potatoes to starch a frilly cap or even a shirt. Even more important, they were shown how to use gophering tongs – the tubular bladed instruments that made little tunnels in starched caps – and how to iron men’s shirts though they might never have to do any housework once they were married. By the time I went the course only covered cookery.
The kitchens were in a large basement in Mayfair. There were eight Formica-topped tables big enough for two. Gloria, the ex-ATS woman, and I paired up and shared chores. The shelves around the walls were stacked with bowls and saucepans of every shape and size. There were drawers and drawers of cooking implements, several gas cookers and hobs. On Mondays the room just smelled of cleaning fluid but the rest of the week we were greeted by the gorgeous smell of the goodies we’d cooked for tea the day before.
In the mornings we cooked a main meal for lunch and ate it – meat, fish or a vegetarian dish and two veg – and in the afternoon we cooked a desert or a cake and ate that or took some home.
The teachers taught from scratch – how to boil an egg, how to boil potatoes, how to skin and bone a fish. We were taught a mixture of traditional English cookery – roast beef, roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding – and some more exotic dishes like dolmas (stuffed vine leaves), curries and the classic sole dishes Sole Veronique, sole with green grapes, Sole Meniere, sole pan‑fried in butter. In the afternoons we baked cakes, bread, brioches, and pastries – I adored the chocolate éclairs. In 1960 no-one seemed to bother about pregnant women putting on weight and I ate for two with gusto.
I couldn’t find a suitable sized alphabetised book so I bought a linen covered book and made my own index. I still have it, a few food stains on the cover and the leaves a bit faded but the recipes as good as ever.
The teachers were all highly experienced cooks and managed their often unruly throng very well. At dental and medical school there had been few women – there were still 10% quotas for them. I thoroughly enjoyed the fun of bonding and giggling and having a whale of a time in an all women group.
I enjoyed and thrived on being pregnant, though I got a bit more tired than the others. It was a lovely six weeks. I cried when they gave me a beautiful embroidered layette at the end of the course.