I went to a convent school for the whole of my education that took place in St. Lucia. In those days there were still a few Irish nuns. I was told that these women left their homes in Ireland at a very young age, often never to see their families again and travelled all over the world to far flung places to (in our case) teach at schools staffed by members of their order (St. Joseph of Cluny).
The head teacher of our convent was Sister (Sr.) Francis Teresa, aka “FT.” In my memory, she was tall and thin and had ice blue eyes that could penetrate to your very soul if they alighted upon your probably guilty face. FT ran a tight, very successful school, which we derided her for, but as with many things, with age has come my understanding of why she insisted upon the things she did.
I left after taking what were called then my GCE’s now known as CXC’s which corresponds to GCSE’s in UK and roughly grade 11/12 in North America. Phew what a lot of acronyms! Because we were all girls, we were expected to do “cookery.” I used to be disdainful of that fact, but now I see the wisdom of it. Surely we should all know how to cook basic and wholesome food? Boys and girls alike?
Sr. Annunciata was our cookery teacher. Bless her. She was Irish and I remember her always having a red face which she frequently mopped with a handkerchief. Can you imagine wearing a full nun’s habit which covered most of the body leaving only hands, feet and face exposed? In the heat of St. Lucia? In a kitchen?
One time I skipped off after cookery class without doing my share of the clean up. Don’t think I was excused! Oh no! I was hauled out of class later to come finish up, and I think it was to mop the floor. Talk about sweaty work in mid afternoon Castries, St. Lucia.
Sr. Annunciata taught me how to make a béchamel sauce. I can still remember the magic of it….well I thought it was magic….
The quantities for this recipe are probably larger than you will normally need but I was making a big lasagna for my friends’ youth programme and needed a lot. More on the lasagna and the youth programme another time.
Makes 1 litre of Béchamel (white) sauce (35 oz)
70g (2.5 oz) butter
90g (3.25 oz) plain flour
1 litre whole milk
The most important tool for making a béchamel sauce is a whisk. Sure you can use just a spoon, but a whisk makes it much more stress free.
Start by making a roux which is a mixture of fat and wheat flour used as a thickening agent. So, melt the butter and sprinkle in the flour, whisking all the while. Pour in some milk and whisk like a crazy thing away from the heat to soften the roux. Return to the heat and gradually add most of the milk while whisking.
Now, this is the part I found magic…..Sr. Annunciata explained that you have to allow your sauce to come to the boil because the starch molecules in the flour must burst to release their thickening power. You may find that your sauce is as thick as you want it before this point, but you must not stop until it boils for a minute or so as the end result will taste “floury” So, if it is too thick, you need to add a bit more milk.
Another magical thing about a béchamel sauce is that you can easily turn it into a cheese sauce simply by adding some cheese. I added 250g (9 oz) sharp cheddar and salt to taste to this sauce for the aforementioned lasagna. You could slather this cheese sauce all over a whole cauliflower for an old fashioned cauliflower cheese. Not “Temple” but maybe nostalgic?? Julia Ann July who I lived with during my “A” Levels in Trinidad, used to add mustard to her cheese sauce, which was tasty and alternatively a bit of nutmeg grated in would be good.