I’ve been thinking about school dinners today. I think we’re divided into those who loved school dinners and those who did not.
I loved my school dinners. A hungry child, I loved the smell of cooking wafting up the hallways after break. The scent of puddings baking, dinners roasting, was almost too much to bear as I tried to concentrate on numbers and grammar.
There wasn’t anything I didn’t like, though seeing a girl, forced to finish her pudding, vomiting in her semolina was a bit much to swallow. But other than semolina I loved it all. The liver and onions, oh, the pie and mash, the peas, and carrots, even the cabbage. It was all proper food. Cooked from scratch by fierce-looking women in the school canteen, it would have been local too. Shepherds’ pies, cheese pies, fish on Fridays this was the stuff I dreamed of.
But my real dreams, my true obsessions were the puddings.
With the exception of semolina – for obvious reasons – I adored the puddings. Tall and skinny with hollow legs, I always had room for pudding, even after seconds of dinner. Jam sponge, coconut sponge, jam roly-poly, jelly and fruit with a blob of tinned cream on the top. Oh, the trifles and fruit tarts and exotic French horns, rock buns hard enough to stun a school bully if thrown from the right distance.
But my favourite pudding, my most absolutely best day ever – and I did judge the quality of the day on the standard of pudding – my most fabulous day in the world was when Gypsy Tart was on the menu.
In Kent, where I went to school, Gypsy tart was regularly on the menu but as a regional dish dating back over 100 years, not many have heard of it, let alone tried its delights as a child.
A pastry case, filled to the brim with whipped evaporated milk and dark brown sugar, it was baked to quivering perfection. Silky on the tongue with the crumb of buttery pastry beneath, the sugars caramelised to soft toffee goodness, it was without a doubt the queen of all puddings, knocking the so-called Queen of puddings into a custard-filled hat.
With fondest memories of Gypsy Tart – the name is said to come from a time when Kentish wives would make it for the children of the Travellers who came to work on the farms picking hops and apples – I searched for a recipe and reproduced the stuff of my childhood dreams. One bite and I was back to 8 years old, scabby kneed, legs swinging on my chair at the sheer joy of each bite.
Grown-up me winced at the impossible sweetness of the tart, saving half my portion for later when the sugar rush had eased, the tremors in my hands had stopped and my vision had returned.
It’s no wonder we ran around the playground screaming at the top of our voices, ramming into each other and any immovable objects. We were all smashed out of our heads on sugar. God only knows what we were like to teach after that.
I am tempted, in these days of added worry and stress, to bake a Gypsy tart again, if only to recreate the joy it used to bring me. Never mind the low sugar, gluten-free trends of today, maybe I could recreate my absolute bestest most fabulous day one pudding at a time? Bananas and custard next?
I’d love to hear what your favourite school dinners were? Did you love them? Did you hate them? Drop me a line in the comments. Xxx
In need of a sugar rush?
Gypsy Tart – don’t worry about servings you won’t want to share it!
300g plain flour
1 tbls caster sugar
Pinch of salt
1 egg beaten
410g can of Evaporated milk
300g Dark brown sugar
Pinch of salt
Line a pie dish and prick, brush with egg and bake blind for 20 min @ 160’c. (I have a fan oven, adjust temp if yours is not)
Remove from oven and cool, turning down oven temp to 100’c
Put evap and brown sugar in a food processor or electric hand held whisk and whip for 15 min until pale, fluffy and doubled in size.
Pour into the pastry case and pop into oven for 20.
Remove and let cool before serving.
*********Under no circumstances must you be fooled into serving it with slices of apple or lemon cream – this is just a ploy by weirdos on the internet to make this obviously ridiculously unhealthy pudding into one of your five a day. Save the apple for another day and just enjoy the sugary goodness.