By Kay Howell – This May was the first time I set foot in Riverside University High School. I came prepared to wield knives—and wear an apron. Inspired mostly by our recent addiction to “The Great British Bake Off” (on PBS, check your local listings), my boyfriend and I decided we needed to find a way to justify binge-watching half a season in one afternoon.
Fortunately, Milwaukee Public Schools came to the rescue! Milwaukee Recreation, a nonprofit division of MPS, gave us just the excuse we needed: an adult enrichment course that promised to unlock the secrets of preparing and cooking authentic British cuisine.
The weather provided us with a very fine English morning, pouring buckets of rain on us, as we rushed to get to class and lamented our lack of umbrellas—or brollies, as they say across the pond. Our class, Real British Food, was meeting in the home ec. room at Riverside University High School. When we got there, the class demographics were quickly apparent: retirees and college students.
Like most people, I took home ec. in high school. I vaguely remember making a mediocre salsa. Since leaving home, my method of cooking has been mostly staring into the refrigerator and then Googling what I can do with a mish-mash of ingredients. Sometimes, this has been deliciously successful. But sometimes, the results have been merely…interesting.
Once we were seated at our work-stations, our facilitator passed out a stapled packet with several different recipes, ranging from appetizers to entrees to desserts. On the menu were exotic and enticing culinary mysteries such as “bubble and squeak” and “toad in the hole.” My boyfriend and I chose cake. Specifically, we went for the most posh-sounding, but least labor-intensive, dessert of all: the Victoria Sponge.
Before we grabbed our whisks and got baking, our facilitator gave us a run-down on the history of the various recipes in our packets. We learned that, contrary to its somewhat horrifying name, bubble and squeak is actually a cabbage and potato dish designed to use up yesterday’s leftovers. And toad in the hole features neither toads nor holes—instead, it is a baked sausage and gravy dish. A word of warning to my fellow vegetarians in the audience: If you want to experiment with British cuisine, be prepared to pick your way around an unholy volume of sausages. Learn to love potatoes and cabbage. Really, you can be perfectly satisfied with a lunch of boiled potatoes and cabbage. And cake.
At the end of the class, everyone put their finished product on the table, and we sampled each other’s dishes. It was a true feast of potatoes and sausage and cakes! Our Victoria sponge was heavenly, despite a slight mishap with whipped cream and strawberry jam. Everyone in the class had managed to produce a dish that were not just edible, but actually really tasty.
So, what did I take away from an afternoon of British cuisine (aside from a real British food baby and an overflowing carryout container)? Well, when we got home, we immediately turned on the computer. Yes, to watch more of “The Great British Bake Off,” but first to sign up for another cooking class later in the summer! So if you’re looking for something fun to do this summer, whether it be dance, cooking, or wild mushroom foraging, check out what Milwaukee Recreation has to offer. As we discovered, it’s never too late to go back to high school and learn something new!