Growing up as children we had lunch not dinner, and even when we went to secondary school we would have school lunch, eating at midday. My dad worked in Cambridge and would cycle home at lunchtime, and this continued until we moved to the west country when I was sixteen… I think that may have been the time we started eating together in the evenings; my sister and I took packed lunches (not allowed at our Cambridge schools where we had school dinners and a snack meal such as cheese on toast in the evening) my dad had to drive the ten miles to work, and my mum worked full-time too.

Our lunch at home would always be followed by a dessert or pudding… stewed fruit, a tart, fruit pie, a steamed pudding, milk pudding, and often the pudding/pie/fruit would be served with custard. Yoghurt hadn’t arrived for most people, cream at that time was not fresh but tinned, and as we didn’t have a fridge, ice-cream was a Sunday treat (bought just before lunch and kept wrapped in newspaper somewhere cool) So nay dessert which needed something with it would have custard, and custard sometimes appeared as dessert itself as banana custard or left-over cake cut into cubes, spread with jam and with custard poured over and left to set.

The custard we had at home was Bird’s custard, a powder made mostly of flavoured cornflour; It’s rather a nice story of how it came to be invented – Mr Bird had a wife, Mrs Bird, who was allergic to eggs, so in order for her not to miss out on custard, he invented an egg-free custard powder! My mum used whole milk (I’m not sure we had skimmed or semi-skimmed then); she used silver top which was whole milk but without the cream – that came in gold topped bottles, and she’d sweeten it with sugar. The idea that you might buy ready-made custard seemed extraordinary, but as I was watching TV last night I saw custard advertised as a dessert or snack on its own in pots… How surprised we would have been as children to think people might eat cold, chilled even, custard on its own as a dessert!

School dinner custard was a whole different thing; very thick, slow-moving and with a thick skin, it would crawl out of its jug and descend in slo-mo onto our bowls of ‘pudding’. I liked the skin, I think only my friend Maaike like it too, so we would share it. School custard tasted different too, maybe it was made with a different custard powder… or maybe it was made from its own recipe.

Here is a recipe for school custard from my mother-in-law’s school dinner recipe book; she was head of the kitchen at the local school and I have inherited her book:

This is for 100 portions so divide by 100 and multiply by however may you are making it for!


  • 2 gallons milk
  • 1 lb custard powder
  • 1 lb sugar


  • 1 gallon milk
  • 1 gallon water
  • 2 lb dried milk (mixed with the water)
  • 1 lb custard powder
  • 1 lb sugar
  • 2 oz margarine


  • 2 gallons water
  • 4 lb dried milk (mixed with the water)
  • 1 lb custard powder
  • 1 lb sugar
  • 4 oz margarine
  1. take out enough milk to mix the custard powder to a thin cream
  2. boil the remaining milk with the sugar
  3. add the blended custard slowly, stirring until the mixture thickens and the grain is cooked
  4. add flavouring if desired
  • for 100 portions of custard to serve with stewed fruit, allow 1½ times quantity above and increase the custard powder slightly
  • to make a sweet sauce, using the recipe above but substituting the custard powder with cornflour and add colouring and flavouring


One Comment

  1. Don Bowen

    I know what you mean with school dinner custard. Daughter Nicola used to be made to sit at the table until she ate hers at the Newmarket school (might have been Cambridge) she went to as a little kid.

    Liked by 1 person

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