School Puddings – Loved them or Loathed them ?

We were out the other evening, and for some reason we started talking about puddings we ate at school or when we were young. Now most people at the event were in their fifties, so we all had similar experiences of ‘school puddings’ and certain culprits kept being recalled.

Tapioca was mentioned. I shuddered!  Indeed this ‘frog-spawn’ of a milky dessert was my very least favourite. OK OK! I didn’t like it AT ALL!  I once sat in front of a bowl of it ALL LUNCH BREAK, age 7,  because I wouldn’t eat it! It meant I missed the whole lunch playtime – that was a big punishment!

And that was before I ever knew WHAT tapioca was or where it came from.  I mean, how on earth did we get to eat this stuff. I know it is a staple in some parts of the world now, but which native Brazilian first thought  ‘Oh, I’ll try eating the mashed up roots of this cassava plant’ – and died! (containing cyanide producing enzymes, it is highly poisonous!)  Then the next person thought – ‘OH, perhaps I can wash the ‘badness’ out of it’ .. but still dies.. then the next thought – perhaps if it is washed AND cooked it’ll be ok…. and it was, (and, by the way, this process is really complicated ). How on earth? But here we are – what is a staple (like potato or rice is elsewhere) – is, in this country, a dessert we call tapioca, a name derived from the original name of tipi’óka in the Tupi language of South America. (more on Cassava and tapioca here and here)

Other desserts that bubble up in my memory from the depth of childhood are: Semolina, with a blob of so-called jam in the middle, banana custard – fluorescent yellow with the odd slice of browning banana here and there, red jelly so firm that your spoon bounced rather than cut it, rice-pudding swimming in a watery white liquid freckled with yellow globules (of butter, we hoped) or so thick it stood up on its own with a burnt flavour skin broken up into little bits throughout it. It’s not that I really dislike any of this group of puddings, unlike tapioca, it’s just the school versions.

I do remember one pudding that was good at our village primary school, apple pie with a very sweet, though rather thick, crust. We only had this when the apples were in season and it is quite likely that it was made with apples from the tree in the headteacher’s garden (attached to the school) as sometimes a child or two was sent to pick up all the windfalls there.

I have great difficulty thinking of any other school puddings that I actually liked or looked forward to – and this may be an age thing. Having a scout round the internet I find that message boards populated by ‘young things’ going to school in the 1980’s, reporting many favourite puddings – with the likes of cornflake chocolate crunch, butterscotch slice, chocolate pudding with chocolate sauce, or even, arctic roll. I don’t ever remember anything like this – nor do the message boards of those of us in school in the fifties and sixties.

Mind you, the eighties would be when the school catering had been put out to tender by Maggie Thatcher’s government and so had to attract the customer, incidentally the same time that the ‘meals’ were turkey drummers, pizza and chips and rated as far poorer, nutritionally, than in the 1950s. (Just the stuff Jamie Oliver campaigned against 2004 onwards)

So, what era do you fit in to and what are your memories of school puddings? 

Which one did you loathe ? Which did you love?

Lets compare notes – go on – share your thoughts – you know I love to hear from you!


13 thoughts on “School Puddings – Loved them or Loathed them ?

  1. I was strange as I liked school puddings – even semolina and tapioca. I even bought some to make at home recently, but my OH refused to let me make it as he hates them so much!

    My favourite was chocolate rock cake and pink custard. But really, any dessert was good for me (unless it involved sultanas or raisins – I like them in scones, but not in apple pie, sponge etc. Oh, and I was at school in the 80s.

    Secondary school we did packed lunches, but the best buy for pudding was custard (6p a bowl), and chewy cookies. If you were lucky, the dinner lady would cover your cookie with custard and you’d only have to pay for the custard!

    • HI Emma,
      Now chocolate rock cake DOES sound good ! (not sure about pink custard though – was it flavoured?) I’m sure we didn’t have anything chocolate except chocolate flavoured sauce (pale brown with hint of chocolate about it) But then you were at school in the eighties.
      I read a favourite back then was Chocolate Concrete (with chocolate or chocolate mint custard) does this ring any bells? Was that the same thing as chocolate rock cake? I found a recipe for it on this site – maybe your OH will let you make this one.
      Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. Hmm, I could take or leave semolina, and tapioca I actually quite liked. Mind you, in adulthood I don’t think I have cooked either of them!

    The one pud I couldn’t face was prunes and custard, bleargh!! The prunes would be swimming in black juice, and the custard sort of congealed alongside…. I have gone quite queasy just writing this!

    Thanks for the memory (NOT) hehe

  3. HI Krissi,
    Ohhh! what a ghastly picture you paint of the prunes and custard! Could quite put me off them!
    Did you have no favourites from the school puddings offered?
    Thanks for your comments 🙂

  4. I’m in my 70s and my boarding school meals were mostly abysmal. my British school believed in stodge. My earlier Belgian school believed in frugality. never enough to eat in the latter and I left it to go to a Swiss-Italian TB sanatorium where for two years I was on bed rest and ate marvelously; eggs in every shape and form and milk on the hour. From here, aged 16 I went to my English school–culture shock in every way added to the gloom of O and A levels. But I enjoyed some of the foods which most of the other girls elected to despise. For example, Steamed roly-poly called “Boiled Baby”, with Bird’s custard. was a favorite of mine.

    About 20 years ago, back here in the US (My home country) I had an Australian friend and she remembered this with currants added, called “Spotted Dick”, with equal favor. We decided to cook it for ourselves and our two interested husbands. This was a labor of love and hard work. First we had to find suet, and ended up buying it at a famous speciality store in Houston (well, it was given to us free) a hunk of glistening, snow white beef suet. We had to cook it and render it down–took ages. Then to boil the pudding in a very old, almost antique Fortnum and Mason’s stoneware basin and a pudding cloth made from a table napkin. Oh, and we had to buy Bird’s custard powder by mail!

    Well,it was the most solid and wodgy indigestible lump we could have imagined in our worst nightmares. Both men laid down their spoons after a few bites (and also wondered why on earth Bird’s custard was called food?) Joan and I recognized the authentic taste and texture but never had the urge to cook it again. We decided that we must have been so hungry as growing girls, and that all that chasing around on hockey fields and netball courts and cricket pitches gave us huge appetites.

    But I still sometimes make another school recipe, a corned beef pie, which everyone has always enjoyed and my daughter now makes for her family. Other than this I remember the joker who remarked “The English have three vegetables and all of them are cabbage”–certainly the school cooks had barely heard of any others. Semolina and tapioca were also around but while their blandness was boring I had no thoughts about them either way.

    Thank you for bringing back these memories!

  5. Hi Erika,
    Wow – what a range of memories! Ah! Spotted Dick – a real rib-sticker! You are so right – all that running round in the cold and wet will have made steamed roly-poly and spotted dick a welcome treat. The Birds Custard though, yuk, that’s the ‘fluorescent custard’ I remembered I’m sure.
    Brave of you to have a go at making the suet from scratch. If these memories have made you hanker after the taste again, then, for a flavour of spotted dick (without hard-to-source-in-US suet or long-time cooking)there’s a simple spotted dick microwave recipe (basically a currant-studded sponge pud for two) here:
    Thank you so much for sharing your school food memories!
    best Ann

  6. Not a school pudding, but a much loathed one – sago pudding. Mum cooked it every Saturday lunchtime for the whole of my childhood! Very similar to tapioca, but smaller grained – when cooked they swelled to about the size of smallish seed beads. Oh how I loathed it! But wasn’t allowed to leave any of the food put on my plate. Not sure how I ever managed to get it down now. I rather think that sago isn’t in the shops in UK now, Thank God!

    • Hi Maggie,
      Now I have never tasted sago.. and from the description it sounds too much like tapioca for me to even consider trying it (It was the texture of tapioca I could not stand and sago sounds similar – the flavour really didn’t figure as it didn’t have much)
      I bet you could find sago in the UK if you wanted to, I suspect you aren’t looking very hard though ! 🙂

      Not leaving food was important when we were growing up and I was wondering how comes I only remember ONE lunch break spent facing off the tapioca when we had it frequently. Overnight it came to me. The deputy-head teacher (the headteacher’s wife)took it upon herself to sit with a table of children some lunchtimes. Usually any ‘unwanted’ puddings were soon cleared by other pupils who liked that particular dessert, we just passed them over, however, Mrs Snow wouldn’t allow that sensible action when she was at the table. Hence being caught out only once!
      Thanks for the memories!
      best Ann

  7. Our favorite Indian restaurant serves a pudding called Kheer–which is food for the Gods; it is small pearl tapioca dressed up with saffron, pine nuts, cardamon and raisins. Every few months I look up the recipe (very simple) but then we go to the restaurant instead! I wonder if it was taken over from British Raj cook books and adapted, with vast improvement?

    Is sago the same as semolina?

    • Hi again Erika,
      Kheer certainly sounds better than straight tapioca – though I think the texture may still give me problems! (or just the memory of it ?)

      As you might see (reply to Maggie) I’ve never had sago – so I had to look that one up. Sago is from the pithy stem of the sago palm, whereas I did know that Semolina is made from durum wheat – as is pasta and couscous – as I do use semolina in baking and sometimes for puddings (much smoother and creamier than the school versions!)

      So, three very similar milky puddings from very different plants and parts of the world – amazing really!
      🙂 Ann

  8. Aha!

    Now I know what reminded me of school semolina. It was a dreary American breakfast food called Roman Meal which my children strangely adored. I don’t think it is sold any more.

  9. I was a 70s & 80s schoolgirl. We moved to Britain in 1977 and my first memory of a village school’s pudding was pink blamanche…..YUK !! and then semolina with jam dolloped in the middle, another YUK !! I did like the Jam Sponge but not with custard……”Put your finger up who wants skin” said the lunch monitor, up went everyones’ finger, except mine.
    It’s been nice reading everyone elses experiences.

  10. Hi Nicola – welcome to the conversation and thanks for joining in 🙂

    Puddings in village primary schools must have stayed the same for a number of years as one of my sons (at school in early 1990s) described his memories on my FB page:- “As far as I remember it was pink, white or yellow tasteless mush in primary school – and I still have no idea what the pink one was even meant to be…”

    As for the other children vying to eat the custard skin *shudders*.

    Where were you before 1977? Were you in school somewhere with better school puds? Love to know.
    best Ann

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