Monday, July 06, 2015

Home economics classes with Miss Palmer

Back in the 1970s and 1980s New Zealand schools taught gender-differentiated classes in subjects like home economics (i.e. cooking), clothing (i.e. sewing) and woodwork and metalwork. As a mere female I was only allowed to do the cooking and sewing classes, though the sexist restrictions must have loosened up soon after that as my sister, two years younger, did some woodwork and metalwork. For some reason my thoughts turned this week to Miss Palmer, who taught cooking and sewing at one of the intermediate schools I attended.

Miss Palmer was nicknamed 'Beaver' due to her prominent front teeth. (Kids can be cruel.) She was quite strict and one traumatic incident has stayed in my mind for almost forty years. We were asked to bring fresh fruit so we could learn to preserve it in jars. I took rhubarb from my parents' garden. The cooking class went OK, but I had too much rhubarb to fit in the jar so Miss Palmer told me to put the spare cooked fruit in a bowl and come back at lunchtime to eat it. I did so ... finding the room empty ... and then found myself in trouble. I was admonished for entering the room while she wasn't there, and accused of stealing a potato peeler that had gone missing. (Cue dramatic music: a potato peeler!) Of course I hadn't stolen it – someone had probably just chucked it in the rubbish by accident – but I was appalled at the accusation and terrified she'd call my parents. In the end it all blew over. Maybe one of the other teachers reminded her I was an excellent student and probably not given to nicking minor kitchen utensils. Maybe she even found the missing item. Who knows.

Anyway ...! In that class we were taught to make some pretty obscure dishes. I remember making a red cabbage salad, a corn chowder, and chapattis. At the time they seemed very weird. As an adult, though, I'm grateful to have had cooking lessons at all (some kids don't) and feel comfortable making dishes from many different cultures.

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