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Monday 22 September 2014

How the Inter Cert's domestic goddess is making a comeback

Kim Bielenberg on the re-publication of a Home Economics textbook from the 1980s -- and why it could be a Christmas hit

Published 24/11/2011 | 06:00

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A serving of nostalgia: Aisli and Kate Madden republished their mother's book when a radio listener enquired about acquiring a copy

The craving for school nostalgia is likely to continue this Christmas with the republication of All about Home Economics, a popular Inter Cert textbook from the 1980s.

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This follows one of the surprise publishing hits of last year, the reprint of the old Leaving Cert poetry anthology Soundings. The book sold 38,000 copies.

A whole generation of Home Economics students grew up with Deirdre Madden's book, which is now seen as an idiot-proof guide to running a home.

The book teaches everything from table manners ("Don't lie over the table''), and how to make shortcrust pastry to tackling dog bites ("Wash well with water containing antiseptic'').

The tome with a brown cover showing a fruit cake, a mixing bowl and a wooden spoon, could be a bestseller in the run-up to Christmas, because it is one of the few school books that inspires affection.

The author, a vice-principal at Loreto Abbey in Dalkey, died 12 years ago of cancer.

Her daughters, Aisli and Kate, decided to republish her book after a listener rang up Ryan Tubridy's radio show looking for an old copy.

"We have frequently been asked about it over the years,'' said Aisli. "We were so moved that people were crying out to get a copy that we decided to bring it out ourselves again.''

The make-do-and-mend approach of Deirdre Madden's original book, written in an earlier recession, seems to suit the mood of the times.

"When Mum brought out the book in the 1980s unemployment was also high and money was short.''

Some 10% of the proceeds of the book will go towards the Irish Cancer Society.

Aisli said the common sense advice in its pages will appeal to students who grew up with the book, current Junior Cert students looking for study resources, and "bachelors looking for homemaking skills''.

"During the Celtic Tiger year, some children grew up without basic homemaking skills, because they were not taught them by their parents,'' said Aisli.

"You come across young people who can't even use a washing machine.''

The advice on table manners in the book is perhaps timely: "Do not stuff your mouth with food and never speak with your mouth full. Keep your mouth closed when eating -- the person opposite you will hardly want to see the contents of your mouth ... Never smoke during a meal -- it is extremely bad manners.''

Dinner party hosts who value a certain formality will find the volume indispensable: "When serving a guest, serve from the left, take from the right. Wine and water are served and removed from the right.''

The fake-tan generation might be well advised to take on board Deirdre Madden's sensible tips on make-up: "A young person should only wear the lightest of cosmetics, avoiding heavy creams ... Foundation and powder should be as near as possible to the colour of your skin.''

Many flour-spattered old copies of the book still lie on bookshelves across the country, and are typically used for baking cakes and scones.

One does not see many recipes for fish fingers in foil nowadays. Deirdre Madden recommended cooking them with onions, mushrooms, parsley and cream.

Aisli and Kate said they grew up eating, sleeping and breathing "home ec''. Aisli now works as a graphic designer, while Kate is a solicitor.

Deirdre Madden was a single mother, and from a young age the two girls could often be seen hiding in the back of the Home Economics kitchen at her Dalkey school.

Aisli hopes that one of the popular chapters in the book will be the detailed breakdown of different cuts of meat including brisket, shin, and flank.

"There is a lot in the book about some of the cheaper cuts of meat and offal, and all that is of interest to a new generation, particularly in a recession.''

Some readers might baulk at the recipe for 'Pot Roasted Heart', however, and the serving suggestion: "Arrange hearts on a warmed dish, pour a little gravy around them and serve the remainder in a warmed sauceboat. Garnish with parsley.''

Aisli Madden said: "I don't remember my Mum cooking that for us, but she probably felt that she had to include it in the book.''

Lorna Freeborn, who revised one of Deirdre Madden's later Home Economics books, Design for Living, said she was delighted that the old text book was being republished.

Although the advice in All About Home Economics is still relevant, Lorna said the subject has changed considerably since the 1980s.

"There is a greater emphasis on consumer topics, business and issues such as online shopping and technology,'' she said.

Lorna, who teaches the subject at Deele College, Lifford, said there has been a surge in interest in Home Economics in recent years and the number of pupils studying the subject for the Junior Cert has grown.

"One of the big changes has been growth of interest among boys. I teach in a vocational school, and in some of the classes the gender balance would be about 50-50.

"People like Jamie Oliver have made a difference and have made the subject aspirational.''

The reprint All About Home Economics by Deirdre Madden is published by Kate and Aisli Madden, price €17. More information: deirdremadden.ie

Irish Independent

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