Blog post – Class of ’89 and memories of Home Economics

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3rd November 2014

It’s been a week of nostalgia for me. We’ve marked the year anniversary since my dear Mum passed away and I’ve re-established contact with two people who were also very influential on the grand passion I have for food and cooking which has so transformed my life.

At one of my recent guest chef nights at the Orange Tree in Sawbridgeworth, one of the diners asked if I might remember her mother, who had taught me at school. I attended the Hertfordshire and Essex High School in Bishop’s Stortford and Mrs Beeston had been one of my Home Economics (as it was still called in those days!) teachers and form tutor in the fifth form so I remembered her very well, and very fondly. Numbers were exchanged and we arranged to meet up for coffee as soon as we could. Luckily Mrs B was also still in close contact with Mrs Copeland, another of the Home Ec. teachers, who had been my cookery teacher, and she was also available to join us.

And what a special afternoon it was. Mrs Beeston, whom I am now to call Jean and Mrs Copeland, or Sue, hadn’t changed a bit. My friend Helen, who I met on my first day at Herts & Essex all those years ago, came along too and we had a great time reminiscing and remembering former students and teachers alike.

I have great memories of being at school. I was quite academic but I loved the practical Home Ec. lessons too. I think my love of cooking was strong even back then, and I guess what I really got out of those lessons was the exposure to classic British cooking and basic skills which I couldn’t get from my Mum. As we sat with our coffees, we remembered the recipes we had produced during those years (apparently Sue still has them all): bread rolls and Swiss buns, home-made pizza, scones, apple crumble and the cheese and potato pie which was our very first recipe, and which I recreated at home from memory just the other week. Fabulous comfort food as the nights are drawing in by the way.

And as well as trying to keep us at the books as 15 year olds in our GCSE year, Jean had the unenviable task of trying to teach me needlework. I was not one of Jean’s finest needlework students it is safe to say; I have never had the patience for sewing. But we talked about the way that these were such important life skills to have taught us as children; I may not be able to follow a pattern and make an A-line skirt from scratch, but I can hem a pair of trousers, sew on a button and use a sewing machine. Similarly, not everyone in Sue’s cookery class will have entered MasterChef or be making their living as a chef, but at least they will have learned some basic kitchen skills which will be useful for the rest of their lives. Helen and I used to take the train to school, and we recalled having to juggle our heavy baskets full of ingredients as well as all our books, and the last minute dash to the shops with exasperated parents to get the one ingredient we didn’t have in the cupboard.

It was really fabulous to meet Jean and Sue again and reminisce over seven great years in my life. In the same week I was contacted by the Herts & Essex who are looking at re-establishing contact with some of their alumni and had asked me if I should like to get involved. How fabulous, and if anyone other former pupils are reading this I would encourage you to get in touch! And then, I also bumped into Mrs Oxley (Jill) who had been our librarian at school and whom I used to help out in my lunchtimes (what a swot!) Given that I ended up working as an Immigration Officer when I left school, I think it was all that stamping that I enjoyed.

So the grinning youngsters in this photo are now quite a few years older, but I am well aware how fortunate I am to be as close and connected to my amazing friends. Helen, Carol, Karen and I were pretty much inseparable at school, and we pretty much still are. It’s a bit daunting for boyfriends and husbands to deal with our little cabal, but I’m sure we are all worth it! All I know is that I couldn’t have gotten through the last year without their friendship and support and I am eternally grateful and blessed to have them in my life.