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Pink custard and chocolate crunch - Our school dinner memories

PUBLISHED: 19:00 12 September 2019 | UPDATED: 09:20 13 September 2019

School dinner at Albert Pye Primary School, Beccles in 2005. Picture: Archant

School dinner at Albert Pye Primary School, Beccles in 2005. Picture: Archant

Spam fritters, pink custard and, above all, chocolate crunch. At the start of the new school year, our readers and staff have been recalling school dinner favourites... and the dishes they dreaded.

Bradley Smith and Andrew Goddard with a school dinner at Whitton Primary School, Ipswich, in 2002. Picture: ArchantBradley Smith and Andrew Goddard with a school dinner at Whitton Primary School, Ipswich, in 2002. Picture: Archant

Puddings are the items most fondly remembered by many people from their schooldays, with chocolate crunch being top of the pops.

Gemma Jarvis said: "My favourites were chocolate crunch with chocolate sauce or custard and vanilla crunch with pink sauce or strawberry custard."

Wendy Amos, a member of the Ipswich Remembers Facebook group, also recalled: "I loved chocolate crunch with strawberry custard."

Beverley Bowry said: "My daughters' favourite 'afters' at Sidegate Primary School in Ipswich back in the 80s/90s was chocolate crunch. And to prove a point I have made such a sweet twice in recent weeks when they have visited for lunch, in response to their eager demands.

Children tucking into a healthy lunch at St William's School, Thorpe, in 1986. Picture: ArchantChildren tucking into a healthy lunch at St William's School, Thorpe, in 1986. Picture: Archant

"I was on the PTA when Sidegate celebrated their 50th anniversary in 1990 and the PTA produced a cook book containing favourite recipes of some of the staff and others. One of them was a recipe for chocolate crunch given by the then school cook, Mrs Neville. I still have a copy of that book and it is her recipe that I used recently!"

There were also many other popular desserts - but tapioca and semolina are not so fondly remembered. Moira Young said in the Norwich Remembers Facebook group: "Frog's spawn, aka tapioca pudding... I hated it. I liked the pink blancmange with the crunchy biscuits."

And Alexandra Ives-Coleman said: "I hated the semolina with jam in the middle. You won't be surprised to hear, I loved the chocolate pudding."

Damon Charles was a pupil at Hunstanton Primary School in the early 80s. He said: "I loved pretty much all hot puddings, but for some reason the ones that stick out in my memory are big steel trays of warm shortbread, and pink custard with banana slices in it."

Two girls enjoying their school dinner at St Pancras School in Ipswich. Picture: ARCHANTTwo girls enjoying their school dinner at St Pancras School in Ipswich. Picture: ARCHANT

Do you remember blue or green custard?

Chocolate and pink custard weren't the only variants, and not everyone was a fan of the more weird colours and flavours. Paul Cooke said: "We had different colour custards, chocolate, strawberry and a few times bright green mint custard. Chocolate sponge with mint custard was very interesting, like a bad mint choc chip.

And Duncan Brodie commented: "Don't get me started again about blue custard, at Ixworth Primary School around 1970."

Lisa Batchford said: "My mum was a cook for school meals. She made us lovely stuff, Gypsy tart, chocolate crunch, lots of different flavour custards."

Some pupils waiting to eat their school dinner at St Pancras School in Ipswich Picture: ARCHANTSome pupils waiting to eat their school dinner at St Pancras School in Ipswich Picture: ARCHANT

Intrigingly, "gypsy tart" was mainly named as a favourite by former Suffolk pupils, while those in Norfolk waxed lyrical about "toffee cream tart".

At first, I wondered if this was just a different name for the same dessert - but, after some research, it appears that, while similar, they are slightly different.

Varying ingredients are given for toffee cream tart in different recipes on the web, with either fresh or tinned milks being used for the filling.

Gypsy tart is always made from condensed or evaporated milk, and has a slightly deeper filling, It is said to originate from Kent, but someone must have exported the recipe to Suffolk at some stage, since it is fondly remembered by pupils across the county.

St Nicholas Priory Junior School pupils in Great Yarmouth getting their school dinner in 2013.

 Picture: ArchantSt Nicholas Priory Junior School pupils in Great Yarmouth getting their school dinner in 2013. Picture: Archant

Caroline Crosskill loved toffee cream tart at Kirby Bedon School in the 1970s. She said: "When the school sadly shut in 1977, one of the things everyone wanted was the Toffee Cream Tart recipe! There was real excitement in the hall when we knew what was coming for pudding on the days it was on the menu."

Dr Shelly Newstead commented: "Toffee cream tart - wonderful stuff. At Wells Primary and secondary schools - 10 glorious years of toffee cream tart delight!"

Both dishes seem to be hard to recreate at home, though. Sue Beavis said "I tried to make toffee cream tart myself but it wasn't the same."

And Lesley Fayers said: "I made gypsy tart about a year ago. It was so sickly sweet, nobody would eat it. Best to stick to childhood memories for some things."

Stoke High School School dinner in Ipswich in January 1980 . Picture: ArchantStoke High School School dinner in Ipswich in January 1980 . Picture: Archant

Not everyone's favourites were sweets and puddings, of course. Gary Moore said: "I went to Thorpe Hamlet Middle School and my best foods were mashed potatoes and stew, and crackers and cheese as afters. Still my absolute favourite food."

Elvis tribute artiste Mark Goddard said: "My favourite was spam fritters! Greasy circular slices of spam or luncheon meat, coated in crisp golden 'chip shop' style batter, mmm!"

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Spam fritters were also a favourite with Elizabeth Paton from Ipswich, who said: "Terribly unhealthy, but I loved them."

Service with a smile - catering staff serving a school dinner at Gorseland School in Martlesham

 in 2002. Picture: ArchantService with a smile - catering staff serving a school dinner at Gorseland School in Martlesham in 2002. Picture: Archant

Possibly the most unusual savoury favourite, though, was Ian Goodwin's choice. "Cold baked beans with salad."

School dinners from both sides of the counter

Some people have seen school dinners from both points of view. Marie Malkin commented: "I have stories from both sides, having been a school cook for 10 years during the Jamie Oliver changes, I had my school dinners at Rushmere Hall in Ipswich,

"I used to love the pilchard salads they used to do (strange child I know) and gypsy tart. I liked the 10-star system they introduced briefly to make sure children got a balanced meal, it didn't last long, as I should imagine it was time consuming during service

School Dinners at Farlingaye High School. Picture: ARCHANTSchool Dinners at Farlingaye High School. Picture: ARCHANT

Twitter user Erica Dean has also seen school dinners from both sides of the counter, revealing, "I am now a dinner lady in my old primary school!" Her favourites from her schooldays were "butterscotch tart with swirly cream, chocolate crunch and pink custard, rolls with salad and salad cream."

Carol West said: "I worked at two schools and made toffee cream tart and chocolate/vanilla crunch. The kids loved to see what colour custard I would make."

The dinners we dreaded

While spam fritters were some people's favourite, others loathed them. Robert Bradbeer said: "Worst dinner, spam fritters. Best dinner, anything except spam fritters!"

Dinner ladies serve meals to pupils at Chapel Break Middle School, Norwich in February, 1988. Picture: ArchantDinner ladies serve meals to pupils at Chapel Break Middle School, Norwich in February, 1988. Picture: Archant

J.P. Asher recalled: "At my first school, the food was quite bad. My brother once found a caterpillar in the salad. Anyway, when I was about five or six my friends and I discovered that if you really didn't want to eat something, you could say you were allergic to it.

"But we all started doing it, so before long any child announcing they were allergic to something was ignored. You can probably see where this story is going.

"One of my friends really was allergic to something in baked beans, but when he said this in the canteen, they ignored him. They told him in no uncertain terms to eat up, and he ended up vomiting all over the place. Believe it or not, this was in the 1990s. I'd like to think the incident led to some tightening up of policy regarding allergies.

"Best meals at big school were fish and chips on Fridays and Christmas dinner on the last full day before Christmas - the latter served with a can of Coke for every child!"

School dinner story at Ravenswood primary school, Ipswich.  Picture: ARCHANTSchool dinner story at Ravenswood primary school, Ipswich. Picture: ARCHANT

Taz Ali also remembers his worst-ever school food vividly. "I remember being affronted by a hot cross bun for the first time (I grew up in a South Asian household) some time during infant years, between reception and year two. I realised quite quickly I hated raisins. The texture and look reminded me of flies, so I would always eat around them. One day, a dinner lady was especially displeased with my eating habits so she stood next to me and wouldn't move until I finished the entire bun, even while I was crying my eyes out and retching. It was really traumatic."

Sue Anne Elden vividly recalls her school dinners at Whitehouse in Ipswich in the 1970s. She said: "I used to hate the goulash. It had cooked celery in it and haricot beans.

"The dinner ladies used to make you clear your plate. I was sneaky though. We were allowed to take a bottle or beaker with a lid, of drink to have with our dinner. I used to drink my drink and put most of the goulash in the empty beaker. I would flush it down the toilet later."

How school meals changed over the decades

School dinner at St. Luke's Primary School, Tiptree in 2005.

 Picture: ARCHANTSchool dinner at St. Luke's Primary School, Tiptree in 2005. Picture: ARCHANT

School dinner memories are obviously different depending on your era. Bee Wiles, from East Suffolk, said: "Post-war dinners were a challenge. Semolina and dried figs, tapioca and prunes, greasy ham and beetroot salad. Great roast potatoes and a very occasional roast dinner. No choices and you sat there till you ate it all."

And Jean Walker-Bayless said: "Hot meals were made in Acle and brought to Lingwood in the early '50s. They came in metal containers, mashed potatoes, watery carrots, and sometimes semolina with a dab of jam in the middle,"

Elizabeth Tydeman said: "At St. John's School Ipswich in the 1950s, we had school dinner in the church hall opposite, with brought-in meals in large tins. Loved the custard!"

John Wilkes from Norwich has memories of being given free school dinner tickets in the 1960s. He wrote: "Tickets for school dinners were grey and I think had 6d printed on them. In 1963 my father was out of work, due to the very harsh winter, and we were given the brownish ticket with 'Free' printed on it. At the time it embarrassed me. Now I know better."

Children at Rollesby First School in Great Yarmouth enjoy their meal in 2003. Picture: ArchantChildren at Rollesby First School in Great Yarmouth enjoy their meal in 2003. Picture: Archant

Lorraine Mattin, a member of the Ipswich Remembers Facebook group recalled: "My mum was a school cook at St Matthew's School in Ipswich in the 70s. There were fantastic school dinners, first and second sittings, servers and seconders.

"Everything was fresh, vegetables delivered to the school, and everything made from scratch. Best meals were mince beef pie and oatmeal cookies and chocolate custard."

Stacey Casbeer also had fond memories of St Matthew's food from that era, saying: "I was a pupil at St Matthew's in the 70s and I completely agree school dinners there were excellent. All except the liver, couldn't quite get myself to eat that."

One of the biggest fans of school dinners, though, has to be Kate Palmer. She said: "St Matthew's lunch was so good, I had my wedding reception at the school and had the lead cook cater the event."

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