School dinners can cause of nightmarish flash-backs for many of us. Visions of lumpy mash, limp boiled carrots and soggy fish fingers are things we'd very much like to forget along with our questionable haircuts and wardrobe choices of yesteryear.
But it wasn't all gravy browning and frozen veg. After you'd forced down your tepid baked beans and mushy chips, at least there was pudding to look forward to...
From jam sponge to cornflake tart and lashings of pink custard — three grown-ups recount their favourite school puds.
Jam & coconut sponge with pink custard
When Paul Biddulph, a retired business from Potters Bar, thinks back to his school days, it's all about the custard.
'I have very fond memories of school dinners — I'd happily eat anything! The food we had in the 1950s was basic but pretty good quality. And I loved that warm "stew" smell, which let you know there was plenty of stodgy comfort food to be had after playing outside in the cold.
‘My brother Ian is a bit older and he remembers the post-war rationing. He has to suffer gristly minced beef and soggy potatoes, but my dinners were plenty decent — fish and spuds, sausage stew with mashed swede and spam fritters, all piled high with cabbage.
‘With the shortage of sweets, school pudding was the one treat of the day, and my favourite was the jam and coconut sponge. Every Thursday, we’d watch as the cooks brought out a large tray of steaming sponge. It had a scattering of coconut on the top and was one of those filling puds you really looked forward to. We were allowed to pour on the thick, pink custard ourselves – I’d totally cover mine so you couldn’t even see the sponge!
'When I hear about my granddaughters’ meals, I’m astonished. Things like fajitas and homemade chocolate and pear cake – they sound a lot posher than anything I had!’
Our Good Living content planner, Amy Cawthorne, 30, from Leeds, has fond memories of a gooey cereal pudding.
‘I clearly remember being the last kid left in the canteen at primary school. I was a super-slow eater and, every lunchtime, the dinner ladies would stand over us, checking we’d cleared our plates before they let us go out to play.
'I hated the beetroot they served with almost every meal. I’d push it around my plate of chicken pie and duchesse potatoes until it was the only thing left. What got me through it was the thought of tucking into pudding – whether it was Wellington fudge cake and custard, semolina and jam or my favourite – a gooey corn flake tart.
'Our school food was hearty and homely – even on a hot summer’s day, they would serve pie and cheesy mash. But the puddings were so popular, the dinner ladies actually made a little printed book with all of our favourite recipes inside. My mum bought a copy for us and me and my older sister Helen would spend Saturday afternoons making our favourites to serve with Sunday lunch.
'Helen loved corn flake tart, too, and we’d both be excited to see it on the menu. Now it seems like such a weird recipe – it was essentially carbs on carbs – but, back then, it was just so good. A chewy mix of corn flakes stuck together with syrup, topped with lashings of custard. I’m sure it wouldn’t be allowed on a school menu these days, if Jamie Oliver had anything to do with it, but we loved it!’
Emma Edwards, 41, owns a pre-school nursery in Buntingford and recalls one school pud in particular: Arctic roll.
‘I’ve always had a bit of a sweet tooth, so whenever I think back to queuing up in the canteen, my mind goes straight to the puds.
'I do remember the savoury stuff. I grew up in the 1980s and everything we had at school seemed to come with baked beans, which I hated. We’d have meat pie with an ice cream scoop of that really solid mashed potato, but the dinner ladies would serve it with a massive dollop of baked beans, too, which turned everything on the plate orange!
'The puddings, though… they were the best. We had lots of different sponges, all served with steaming hot custard. I loved those, but actually my favourites were always the cold puds, in particular the Arctic roll. I just loved the combo of Swiss roll, raspberry jam and freezing-cold vanilla ice cream that ran through the middle of it.
'It came with fruit salad, which I think was probably from a tin. We ate it at home, too, and for some reason my younger brother Terry and I called the syrup the fruit came in “joojar”. I have no idea why, I just remember always asking for “extra joojar”!
'I’ve made Arctic roll for my own kids, with frozen yogurt rather than ice cream. That combined with the sponge is just as delicious as I remember. Especially with extra joojar!’
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