Friday 18 October 2013

Mrs Coats

Mrs. Coats was for many years the cook at the village school, a short rotund, jolly looking lady she was, I suppose, just how a cook should look. She must have been getting on in years because I remember her throughout the time I knew her with grey hair going on white. Apart from her cooking, Mrs. Coats was a neighbour of ours as she lived in the house directly opposite ours, number 18. Her husband, Mick Coats, worked somewhere on Bordon camp but I don't recall what he actually did.
Most children appear to look back upon school meals with a degree of horror and disgust and school food has often been the stuff of comic books and has  generally not been held in high esteem. However, certainly as far as I am concerned, I don't believe this could be said of the food we were served up in Kingsley school. The meals were well prepared, wholesome and tasty. Throughout my early school days, in the fifties, rationing was still in place and this must have had an impact upon the food available to the school cooks. Notwithstanding this I seem to recall a good variety of dishes. There was not a choice, you got the meal of the day and that was that, one main and a sweet. There were various dishes which would be produced on a regular basis, stews, pies and bakes etc. Custard with a variety of additions, sago pudding and tapioca were all known to us. Milk puddings, sponge puddings and steamed puddings all featured upon the dessert list.
My personal favourite was a pudding, called by Mrs. Coats, chocolate crunch. This was a biscuity kind of sweet which was produced in large flat baking trays and cut into square portions for serving. It was firm and had a bit of a bite to it without being hard. I know it had cocoa in it which was where it got the chocolate flavour from. It was usually served with custard but sometimes with a sweet white sauce the name of which I don't recall. I suppose to some extent it resembled short bread but without the buttery taste and it was firmer than shortbread is. I just loved it, so much so that I asked Mrs. Coats for the recipe which she kindly gave me. Mother made this delight for us over the years but sadly the recipe was lost and all of my attempts to recreate the product have not succeeded. I have gone to great lengths to find that recipe, having been an avid collector of cookery books for many years and searched the internet for old school recipes in the hope of finding it, nothing has been successful. One would think it an easy task to recreate such a product but nothing quite comes up to my recollection of the original. It could, of course, simply be a trick of the memory and I could be chasing the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but I don't think so. If by some strange quirk of fate a Kingsley resident reads the above and has that recipe I would be delighted to receive a copy of it. I have no idea if the illusive recipe was one of Mrs. Coats own or one which had been passed on to her.
As I got older I developed quite an interest in gardening, or more specifically, growing vegetables and to this end my father gave me a piece of his allotment. This was a plot of land which was situated between the gardens of numbers seven and eight Woodfield and the sewage plant. There were, I think, two plots, father had one of them and Bill Woods who lived in number twelve had the other. By agreement with Mr. Clark, who lived next door to us in  number seven, a gap was made in our fence and the boundary fence across the bottom of his garden which allowed me to go between our garden and the allotment. Thus I began growing my vegetables and although I was not madly keen on eating them  I loved the thrill of planting seeds and waiting for the plants to germinate. I planted so many seed that the space needed to accommodate them increased to the point where I covered the plot. My surplus vegetables were passed on to some of the neighbours and as a result of this Mrs. Coats received a few of my lettuces. Clearly they made an impression upon her as one evening she came across to the house and asked how many plants I was growing. Quite a lot was the answer as I didn't like throwing anything away and I crammed plants in all over the place.
It would appear that amongst Mrs. Coats duties, as school cook, was the purchase of the produce needed to provide the meals. She offered to buy her lettuce, and any other crops I could provide, from me and thus began a very nice little business for me. The lettuce was ordered the day before it was required and delivered on the following morning before I went to school. This was, of course, after I had moved from Kingsley School to Alton. It was an arrangement that worked well and was to our mutual benefit, I got a boost to my pocket money and Mrs. Coats and the school got very fresh produce. Sourcing locally was, you see, up and running and indeed the norm in those days. One could be forgiven for thinking the modern trend of sourcing fresh local produce, much publicised by farm shops etc. was a new initiative but no, we in Kingsley were doing it years ago, well before big business killed it off! As they say what goes around comes around … it surely does.
I remember Mrs. Coats retiring and sometime later passing away, her husband also passed away but I don't recall who went first but I seem to recollect that neither outlived the other by very long.

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