Wednesday 26 May 2010


It was one of those days at work - I'd had a couple of tricky meetings, a report to write, a stack of emails to read through. My lunch just hadn't cut the mustard and I had a hankering for something sweet. I work in the centre of Norwich so I thought I'd pop to the supermarket and see if they had any nice cakes (obviously I planned to share the cakes with my team...)

So I found a nice cake on the shelf, and just thought I'd check out the ingredients before I took it to the checkout.

And I found, deep breath:

Mono and Di-Glycerides of Fatty Acids
Sodium Polyglycerol Esters of Fatty Acids
Calcium Polyglycerol Esters of Fatty Acids
Potassium Sorbate
Xantham Gum (a stabiliser)
Vegetable Glycerine (a humectant)

You what?? I can't even pronounce half of those things. And that was just in the cake sponge. The buttercream had another bunch of weird things in it. It wasn't even a "fancy" cake, just a plainish sponge. It was only 81p but I didn't buy it. I sneakily took a photo of the ingredients list on the box with my phone, and ran out, feeling like an undercover agent.

The gorgeous bun in the photo above is home-made. I didn't bake this bun, Genevieve did. Genevieve is three and a half years old.

OK, she did have help - she made a batch of them with my mum - but Genevieve cracked the eggs herself, helped weigh out the ingredients, mixed them up, and then decorated the buns once they were cool. I was pretty impressed. On the way, she learned about maths, about reading, about following instructions and working in a team. Genius.

The thing about cooking is it's so easy that anyone can do it. We started teaching the girls to cook when they were quite small - easy stuff like rice crispy cakes - and they took to it really well. They know that cooking is not playtime and they have to focus, but also that it's fun and that there's a little bit of magic involved.

Bookshop shelves are groaning with recipe books, and I've got a few myself. But, quite often, I reach for the books written for children. They're simple, well-planned and easy to follow. And you'll never find a list of ingredients in a cookbook like the one above.

You're never too old to learn how to cook. And you're never too old to enjoy making and eating jam tarts or chocolate crispies from a "Cooking for Children" cookbook!

(Picture above right courtesy of Jane Chittenden from the Transition Norwich Plant Swap)


  1. Jon - I love your posts and this one is no exception. I did an ingredients check with my grandchildren recently (one's a Millennium Baby and the other is 8). They wanted to know why I didn't like to eat their mum's Utterly Unbelievable Definitely Not Butter. We read the ingredients on my butter packet: unsalted butter. Then the other one: an awful lot of things you really wouldn't want to give your family. Hmm, they said, now we see why you prefer yours - and it tastes much nicer too. And they love cooking too...

    Very best wishes - Jane

  2. helenofnorwich27 May 2010 at 17:54

    I think the post is great, was wondering where you got the two tiny potatoes to put on top of the cake

  3. Hi Jane - thank you, you're very kind! I do think it's important that people understand where they're food comes from. As we have to be very careful about nuts and seeds from an allergy point of view, it means we have to be constantly aware of what's in the food we buy, so ingredient-reading's become a habit in our house.

    Hi Helen - thank you too! I read your comment out to the girls and they thought it was brilliant, as the two "potatoes" are mini-chocolate eggs, but they do look like potatoes so much! They now want to find tiny potatoes to put on the next batch of buns.