Michael and I are delighted to have Sally Cronin from Smorgasbord visiting us today. Sally is going to tell us all about another one of her fascinating jobs, this time in the school housekeeping and caterer field.
School Housekeeper/Caterer – Feeding the 5, 000 or so it seemed
My thanks to Robbie for kindly inviting me to guest post with this series of my sometimes quirky jobs over the years. Not only did they provide me with a living but also brought some wonderful characters into my world who now populate the fictional ones I create.
After a few unsuccessful attempts to keep our marriage together, my first husband and I finally split up. All our furniture and belongings were in storage, as our accommodation at the pub we ran was fully equipped. I headed off with two suitcases into a B&B for a few weeks and took some temporary jobs, as I looked for something more permanent. At the beginning of December, and now almost broke, I applied for the position of Housekeeper/Caterer at a public school in Sussex.
I went for the interview and my experience in steak house management, and also mass catering in the pub were very useful. Two days before Christmas I received a telegram asking me to report to the school on the 6th of January. My new living quarters were the ground floor of one of the farm cottages attached to the school, right opposite the pig sheds which infused my new home with an alluring aroma. The children were expected back on January 11th and my first job was to buy in the supplies to feed 120 children and 30 school and domestic staff.
I was lucky to walk into a brand new and purpose built dining hall and kitchen, which was a real bonus. I had one permanent assistant, and the housekeeping staff would also help at meal times. I spent the next few days ordering from the main dry goods supplier and local butcher and fish merchant. I also had to work out staffing rotas for the cleaning and maintenance of the residential areas of the main house and classrooms, which were my responsibility too. I planned the menus for the next four weeks so that I could buy certain foods in bulk which saved money. I also need to organise my own timetable, as I would be cooking four meals a day, seven days a week as well as checking on the housekeeping side twice a day. On Fridays one of my staff who had some cooking experience, would cook lunch, which to the delight of the children was always superb fish, chips and peas. That gave me some time to explore the local area and take a breather.
The children started the day with juice, cereal or porridge, and a cooked breakfast with a piece of toast with tea or milk. Let me tell you how daunting it is on your first day in the job to fry 150 eggs rotating through six large frying pans, watch flats with bacon in three ovens whilst toasting 150 slices of bread both sides, without burning, on two large wall-mounted grills which took 30 slices at a time. All dished up by 8.15 when juice, porridge or cereal was finished.
Table prefects would come and collect the serving platters and toast racks, allowing me to start my rounds of the dining-hall to make sure that each child ate all their breakfast. Twice a week, I would start half an hour earlier at 6a.m, so that I could crack 140 eggs into a giant Bain Marie to gently scramble. I would say the overall favourite breakfast was sausages and beans and fried bread, which disappeared in a heartbeat.
No sooner had the kitchen been cleaned and the crockery and cutlery sent through the washer, and it was time to do the lunch preparation. Even back then, I cooked food from scratch, instead of relying on the frozen entrees that were available for mass catering. The boys and handful of girls at the school soon became accustomed to eating Coq au Vin, Boeuf Bourguignon, Spaghetti Bolognaise, Lasagne as well as roast dinners with all the trimmings. There was always rice, potatoes or pasta and at least two vegetables. Dessert might be Apple Charlotte, Cherry Pie, Rhubarb Crumble, Spotted Dick all served with custard.
I did use frozen vegetables at times, but I did a deal with local farmers to take their odd shaped vegetables and fruit, and found a free range egg farmer who delivered stacks of eggs at the beginning of the week. Fresh fish was delivered every Friday to be coated in crispy batter with home-made chips.
Before I arrived all the main meals would be delivered to the tables in serving dishes and the table prefect would dish up. I was not sure that every child was eating a balanced diet so I changed the process. All the children would line up with a plate, and three of us would fill the plate with a portion of every item. Once they were all seated I would walk around the dining-room chatting to them and making sure that it was all being eaten.
There was short break in the afternoon as High Tea was served at 6pm, which might be beans on toast, egg or cheese and tomato sandwiches, homemade beef burgers, cake and a piece of fruit, with tea or a glass of milk.
Wednesday and Saturdays when we have visiting teams from neighbouring schools for cricket in the summer and rugby in the winter, there would be a games tea at 4.00pm.
My last cooking for the day was for the teaching staff which usually involved preparing a quiche and salad, risotto or chicken pie and potatoes and vegetables with fresh fruit salad. My working day finished at around 9.00p.m as the last plate went into the dishwasher.
Although during term time that was a heavy workload, over half-term and holidays I usually stayed in my cottage, and apart from making sure the housekeeping and grounds were maintained, I had plenty of time off. Most half-terms, a handful of children, whose parents lived abroad, stayed at school and we would go on outings and have picnics in the grounds. Meal times were much more relaxed and we would eat together with treats such as ice-cream.
I also had the company of Erin the goat, the school mascot who had the freedom of my garden every day. I would sit on a bench reading a book and he would pop over from time to time for a treat. On one occasion I had gone in to make a cup of tea and came back to find he had eaten half my book. The half I had not read yet!
There was not much time for a social life outside of school, but at the time, it was just what I needed to get back on my feet again. I became close friends with some of the live-in teaching staff and the matrons, and that too was something that eased the heartbreak I had been through.
It was a different time forty years ago in the public school system and despite some of the evidence that has come to light of ill-treatment or abuse I did not witness any of that. I have to say that every effort was made to feel that the children were living in a homely and warm environment. Most of the children thrived and for those who had just arrived and were feeling homesick, there were pancake making classes and they were appointed as pea and vegetables dispensers at lunchtime.
My time in the school and some of the characters I met there have been included in one of my books.
I might have exaggerated when I said it felt like feeding the 5,000… But I did cook over 3,000 meals a week, which in a school year amounts to 120,000 plates of food.
Thank you so much Robbie for your generosity in inviting me over and I have had a great time.
All the previous posts in the series can be found in this directory with links to my host’s blog https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/sallys-odd-jobs-and-characters/
About Sally Cronin
My name is Sally Cronin and after working in a number of industries for over 25 years, I decided that I wanted to pursue a completely different career, one that I had always been fascinated with. I began studying Nutrition and the human body twenty years ago and I opened my first diet advisory centre in Ireland in 1998. Over the last 18 years I have practiced in Ireland and the UK as well as written columns, articles and radio programmes on health and nutrition.
I published my first book with a Canadian self-publisher in the late 90s and since then have republished that book and released ten others as part of our own self-publishing company. Apart from health I also enjoy writing fiction in the form of novels and short stories.
My latest book – What’s in a Name? – Volume Two.
Our legacy is not always about money or fame, but rather in the way that people remember our name after we have gone. In these sixteen short stories we discover the reasons why special men and women will stay in the hearts and minds of those who have met them. Romance, revenge and sacrifice all play their part in the lives of these characters.Kenneth watches the love of his life dance on New Year’s Eve while Lily plants very special flowers every spring for her father. Martha helps out a work colleague as Norman steps back out into the world to make a difference. Owen brings light into a house and Patrick risks his life in the skies over Britain and holds back from telling a beautiful redhead that he loves her.
My other books
All books are available Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Sally-Cronin/e/B0096REZM2
You can connect to Sally
Robbie and Michael Cheadle are the co-authors of the Sir Chocolate Book series and Robbie Cheadle is the author of Silly Willy goes to Cape Town