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September 11, 2011 / mintcustard

Why mintcustard?

As far as I am aware, and please correct me if I’m wrong, the only place you could get mint custard was from the ladle of a  British school dinner lady. In the 60’s and 70’s heydays of school dinners mint custard would adorn a chocolate sponge, soften chocolate concrete and anoint chocolate and toothpaste tart. A stray  dollop on the parquet was often the cause of your embarrassing slip as you trudged to the pig bin to scrape away the remains of your spam fritter.

You can probably tell that I loved school dinners, actually more specifically school puddings. I was first in the queue for seconds and was not too shoddy at manipulating a dinner lady into giving me the large slice of butterscotch tart or at the very least the one with the best filling to pastry ratio.

In October 1998 I became the custodian of a very special book, my Mum’s handwritten recipe book. Filled with notes, clippings from Family Circle magazine and sometimes recipes written in the hand of an Aunt, my Nan or my siblings it was the culinary equivalent of my family DNA.

What else might be lurking in this book I wondered? There were fabulous time warp recipes from the early part of my Mum’s married life, Blue Peter recipes written in my brother and sister’s very young handwriting and some very ambitious recipes cut from colour supplements and glued in place. Folded neatly and tucked in between the pages of the book was a very tatty piece of paper. Opening the paper I saw it was the back of a school newsletter from my infant school. After requests for dressing up clothes and a reminder that school finished on 21st December for the Christmas holidays came the following eight lines :-

Butterscotch Tart

6oz Margarine

6oz Brown sugar

1 ½ oz flour,

3 ½ oz milk,

Line a tin with pastry and bake, Melt margarine and milk and boil – add sugar and flour – cook – allow to cook – spread on pastry.

Thank you Mrs Ash and the canteen staff for giving us this lovely receipt.

Now butterscotch tart I remembered vividly. My most favourite pudding but not one I can ever remember my Mum cooking for us. I had to try it out and see if it was as I recalled. It was better, dense and chewy with just a hint of tooth ache. The custard melted the toffee topping just as I hoped too. More to the point the children loved as much as me. That set me thinking, what other lovely school dinners I could recreate to share with my family. I sat down and wrote a list of all the meals I had had at school. I knew somewhere I had several recipes from my days as a teacher that I had persuaded a school cook to let me have. These became the basis of my school dinner’s recipe collection. I asked friends when I saw them what meals they enjoyed, I asked people I barely knew at my sister’s 40th birthday party what they remembered and liked best. I was, I fear, a little obsessed. Every meal I cooked was a school dinner variation. Given it was the height of summer and I was making suet pastry for tea my family began to rebel. I even managed to get onto local radio to discuss my “guilty pleasure” and persuaded the host to try some of the recipes I had by then recreated live on air. Eating on the radio can be a tricky business. What had started as a way to record my favourite recipes for my children just as my Mum had done for me grew and grew until I had a book-full.

What began as a desire to pass on my gastro-DNA had changed into a notebook filled with puddings, custards and a goodly number of tarts. If I had really, properly, known about blogging, my next step would have been to blog the school dinners recipes but as I have a cook book habit and I knew no better I thought I’d try to get the collection published as a book.

I was, and still am, a primary school teacher. I had no literary agent, no connections and quite frankly a limited grasp on the enormity of the task I’d set myself. Off to the library I went. I sat down with a copy of The Writers and Artists yearbook 2008 and started to make a note of some publishers names. The first publishers I contacted were all for the idea but as vegetarians felt they couldn’t publish recipes containing meat. The second publishers Anova or more specifically Portico said yes and could I write an additional 250 words per recipe and preferably make them funny.

Despite being reminded, somewhat cuttingly I feel now, by my teenager, that I didn’t do funny. I set to. This was February 2008, Could I do this by the end of May, for publication in September? Yes, of course.

Arrrrrgggghhhhh!

I did manage to get it written, School Dinners was published, has since sold out and is being reprinted for early 2012. I have had bizarre weeks when I will be teaching one day and be in a TV or radio studio the next. Two jobs and I love them both. I have gone on to write a second book, Movie Dinners. That book was fun to research and create and I’m very proud of both the content and how the book Movie Dinners looks too. You can find out more about that book from the pages tabs at the top of  Mintcustard.

I hope Mintcustard the blog will live up to mint custard the school pudding. You might not always have liked it but Mint Custard will always be remembered with a smile.

In short, a legend in it’s own lunchtime.

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2 Comments

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  1. Zoeh / Sep 12 2011 9:28 pm

    Good luck with the new blog Becky! Looked for School Dinners but everywhere I found it… yep sold out! Will look forward to 2012 then.
    I thought of you last week when I did and wrote about chicken fricassee and treacle tart (with a Harry Potter twist) for a bit of back to school nostalgia (although there was a good glug of white wine in the fricassee that we didn’t get at school). And treacle tart? Ridiculously easy!
    Will look forward to more of your memories.

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