Spanish Meatballs and Navarin of Mutton

Someone very kindly commented on something I wrote about school dinners, and I mentioned that my dear mother-in-law was cook for a school and I had inherited her school dinner cookery book. These are the recipes I mentioned:

Spanish Meatballs

  • 1 lb steak finely minced
  • 1½ oz semolina
  • 1 oz minced onion
  • pinch of salt
  • sprinkle of pepper
  • 1 small egg
  •  water to bind
  • 1 pint tomato sauce or gravy
  1. fry the onions
  2. add to all the  other ingredients
  3. divide into portions and form into balls with wet hands
  4.  arrange on a baking tin and pour on sauce or grave
  5. bake in a moderate oven for 1 hour
  6. remove lid and cook for another 30 mins
  7. serve with additional sauce or gravy

Navarin of Mutton

  • 1 lb shoulder of mutton, meat cut in cubes
  • 1 lb leg of mutton, meat cut in cubes
  •  7 oz carrots in rings
  •  3oz onions minced
  • 10 oz potatoes, peeled and cut in pieces
  • ¼ head of celery chopped
  •  4 oz tomato purée
  • water
  • chopped parsley
  1. place the meat, dusted with flour, and potatoes in casserole, season and cook in a moderate oven until nicely browned
  2. add the rest of the vegetables and the tomato purée diluted with water to barely cover the meat and vegetables
  3. slow cook for 2 hours until meat and vegetables are tender
  4. sprinkle with parsley before serving

These days the meat, particular the lamb (you can never buy mutton these days, it’s completely out of fashion) would be fare too expensive for school dinners, but in the early 1950’s it would be relatively cheap. It would have had far more fat on than we would like now, and the Navarin of Mutton would have been exceedingly greasy for our tastes. Of course in those days, with no central heating, and cold schools and classrooms, and children who at home may not have had very nutritious meals, these sort of dishes would have thought to be exactly what growing young people would need. I’m sure in actual fact that many of the children would have hated it! It’s interesting to me, that the school cooks would have used parsley as a garnish to make the meatballs look attractive when presented, and that tomato purée was in common use – it didn’t come in when cooks like Elizabeth David produced their cookery books, it was the sort of thing everyday people would have used.

The list of vegetables the cooks were expected to use were:

  • green vegetables – Brussel sprouts, spring greens, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach
  • root vegetables – potatoes, carrots, swede, turnips, parsnips, beetroot, onions
  • salad plants – watercress, mustard and cress, parsley, mint cabbage, sprouts, lettuce, tomato, radishes, cucumber, celery


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