Natillas are a traditional Spanish pudding that is similar in many ways to a posh cold custard! It is therefore very simple, but if made properly is quite delicious and it is one of my favourite Spanish desserts. This recipe was kindly given to us by an instructor at the Catering School in Ateca, near Calatayud in Spain. This gives me a segue, perhaps tenuous at best, to the diatribe for this week. Given that here in Spain June is the month of final school exams, and for the teacher this means long days of marking and soul searching, I thought I would talk about a teacher’s lot here in Spain.
But what is to teach?…… perhaps I should start there. According to my trusty Collins Contemporary Dictionary from 1959 it is “to instruct, to educate, to discipline, to impart knowledge”. You will notice that there is nothing in the description about the measurement of a student’s ability to assimilate what he has been taught i.e. the setting and marking of exams. This to me is logical, wherever one looks in industry the work produced is always checked by an independent team or group. The worthiness of a new car is not checked by the team that built it, the correctness of a new computer programme is not checked by those that wrote it. So why do many teachers fight for the right to set and mark their own exams?
For those teachers with true vocation, who really feel for their students, it must be difficult to see a student work really hard, yet not quite make the grade. Unfortunately, when they make that difficult decision and fail a student, they are put under pressure to “revise” their marks and pass them. Parents are the first in the queue with either calls direct to the teachers, which is completely unethical in my opinion, or formal requests for exam reviews. Then there is the internal pressures from some co-workers, department heads and even school inspectors, many of whom are also anxious to pass more students. Unfortunately the English saying of “It’s not what you know but who you know” seems very applicable here in Spain and I have, at least in my eyes, seen some very dubious decisions taken.
I know this happens in English classes in Spain (where it is therefore a foreign language class!) because I have friends who are teachers here in Spain and also because I see the results of students achieving a pass yet not being able to communicate effectively in English. Here where I live I don’t hide the fact that I am English, so on a fairly regular basis I am asked to help them with their English.
I have been asked to help them with CV’s for a job abroad, documentation for some project or other that had to be in English, on one occasion I even had to mediate on the telephone between a Spanish and Irish farmer as to the quality of the wagon-full of Irish cows the Spaniard had bought. They were apparently not entirely to his satisfaction! More significant perhaps, is my experience as I hiring manager in a large IT company. Many of the candidates that applied for the jobs on offer had an abysmal level of English. On one occasion I hired a postman with good English, thinking that it was easier to teach him programming than try and teach the other candidates English.
Given all the above, as I said it continues to surprise me that many teachers in Spain are against a centrally set and centrally marked end-of-cycle exam, typically the basic end of obligatory schooling certificates and the advanced ones between secondary college and university. That is what we had in England when I was at school in the 70’s and 80’s and I felt it worked fine. What I find even more surprising is that the exams that are taken at college, the ones that should count for entry into the universities, don’t! Firstly each school sets its own exam so that the students can get a piece of paper certifying that they have achieved the required level, then they have the “selectividad”, a centrally set exam to level set the ability of each student compared across all schools.
I can see no reason to have each individual college setting exams when a centrally set one is available for use.
Interestingly, at least for me, the current definition of “To Teach” in the on-line Collins Dictionary is very similar to the 1959 version, with one simple but perhaps significant omission: it now no longer makes reference to “discipline”. Given the lack of interest many students have for study these days, I would suggest that much of a teacher’s time is lost trying to instil discipline and good manners into their pupils rather than actually imparting knowledge!
(I have several friends who are teachers, and for them and all teachers, I want to make it quite clear that the above is not meant to reflect negatively on teachers, but rather on the framework they are required to work within!)
And so back to the natillas, a simple yet delicious Spanish pudding…….
1 Vanilla pod
6 Eggs (See notes)
100g Vanilla sugar
4 “Maria” biscuits (optional)
Peel the lemon taking care to leave as much of the pith behind as possible. Put the milk in a saucepan with the lemon rind and vanilla pod.
Bring the milk almost to the boil then leave to infuse for an hour. Strain.
Beat together the cornflour, eggs and sugar.
Beat into the milk mixture. Heat the milk whilst stirring until it thickens. The milk should not boil.
Pour into individual serving dishes.
Put a simple biscuit onto each one and sprinkle with cinnamon.
The instructor from Ateca recommends using 6 eggs or 12 yolks. He tends to put a bit of colouring into the mixture if using 6 eggs to make up for the reduced number of yolks.
I used sponge fingers to top my natillas off. Normally here in Spain they are topped with fairly simple, plain biscuits. Something like rich tea biscuit that are common in England.
The question for quintessential natillas though is when to add the biscuit! There are two schools of thought, either top with the biscuit whilst the natillas are still hot, or place on top just before serving. The former gives a bland biscuit and unifies the texture of the pudding whilst the latter give a crunchy biscuit and a mixture of textures. I leave the choice up to you.
You can sprinkle on the cinnamon before serving or serve it separately in a shaker so that each can add his own.
For the suggested recipe for this week I have gone for Goxua, a typical custard-like pudding from the Basque country:
tsp – Teaspoon – 5ml
tbsp – Tablespoon – 15ml
Imperial to Metric Measurement:
1 oz – 28g
1 lb – 16 oz – 454g
1 gill – ¼ pint – 142ml
1 inch – 25mm
Common Flour Types:
Gluten: 8% to 10%
Type: ES 70W
All-Purpose Flour / Plain Flour
Gluten: 8% to 11%
Type: DE 550 / FR 55 / IT 0 / ES 200W
Bread Flour / Strong Flour / Hard Flour
Gluten: 12% to 14% protein (gluten)
Type: DE 812 / FR 80 / IT 1 / ES 400W
2017 Lincoln W. Betteridge