Exams of ‘44

Marjon is known mostly for the training and educating teachers, but it is a little known fact that it used to offer different kind of courses and skill training. In our collection there is a set of examination papers that next to English, French, Mathematics, Science and other veritable subjects, included Cookery, Needlework and Home Economy. Surprisingly, I found it quite a fascinating read as the way the questions are oriented are reflecting the times and the social mores. Some questions were quite specific and highlighted some interesting social details. Imagine, it is the year 1944 and you’re just about to undertake your exam in Practical Cookery. The question reads:
‘Cook dishes to illustrate how, with skill, a cook can make attractive dishes with uninteresting food using (i) cheap meat (ii)stale bread (iii) bruised fruit.’
Well, it is the wartime after all, you can’t get whatever you want, you have to work with whatever you have. Maybe there is a local butcher that sells off-cuts at a discounted rate. Maybe you have a victory garden, and with some luck, an apple tree that drops its small fruit in autumn. And I can imagine that without preservatives the bread would go stale the moment you looked away. This is a very different way of cooking, designed to reflect the needs of the times, not to imitate an ideal. Imagine a cookbook that starts not with ‘you will need…’ but with ‘raid your fridge for anything that…’
Some questions are weirdly specific and my writers mind just can’t resist making up a story:
‘You and your girl friend want to entertain two men on leave from the Army to a dinner which will show your prowess as cooks and will not use your meat ration. Plan and cook meal and make a cake suitable for the same party.’
Well, men are scarce with war and all and husbands don’t exactly drop from trees. What are girls to do? I know, lets invite two soldiers (let’s hope they are officers!) The shortest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, so dinner it is! We’ll even use our sugar rations to sweeten the deal and make a cake for dessert. But not the meat rations, those we’ll use to celebrate our success:-).
And this one is from Home Economics, and here is where I draw the line:
‘Supposing you share a bed-sitting room with a friend, and have no attendance except for meals, carry out typical work you could do in the room when you had a free morning.’
Hah, no. When I have free morning there is no way in the world I would waste it for housework. This one I would fail. Sorry Home Economics, I cannot be trained to care as much.
I wonder how many of those exams I would pass? I can do ‘commando cooking’ and simple household tasks, but my needlework is ‘stitch it together and worry later’. And how do you stand with the everyday skills?


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