Back-to-School Memories

Stories abound about the horrors of boarding schools; however, to the Pilliner girls, it was everything but a bad experience.

In our later life, when conversation turned to high-school days and it became known that we went to boarding school, people were aghast … “Oh, your parents didn’t love you?”, “You were being punished?”. On the contrary, our parents loved us very much and that is one of the reasons why we went to boarding school. St. Hilda’s is an all-girls school and, at the time, was one of the best secondary schools (equivalent of high school in the U.S.) in Jamaica. However, it was far enough away from our home (about 1½ hours), that it was neither convenient, nor desirable, to travel back and forth each day as roads and cars were not what they are today.

We were never abused, bullied, nor mistreated at boarding school. Our only bad memory is getting up at 6:00 a.m. to shower – the showers were in the basement and there was no hot water!! Other than that, we both look back fondly on our high-school days.St. Hilda's In addition to the normal holiday periods, students were allowed to go home every third weekend, and parents and friends were allowed to visit on Sunday afternoons. But it was the return to school that was always exciting: Dad would pack the Ford Prefect with our suitcases (we called them grips, back then), and Tuck Boxes (“Tuck” is an old British term for snacks eaten by children at school). Ford PrefectDad’s packing ability was legendary, and we still can’t figure out how he was able to get all those grips, boxes and people – two Pilliner sisters; one Pilliner brother who went to York Castle which was an all-boys boarding school in close proximity to St. Hilda’s; and one or two friends who also attended our school – into such a small car.

Every day at 4:00 p.m., we all would assemble in the school’s dining room for tea-time. In addition to a school-provided snack, we were allowed to eat treats that we brought from home and kept in our Tuck Boxes: water crackers, shortbread cookies, jams, jellies, cheese spread, and Smarties® (similar to M & Ms®), to name a few. But it was the baked goodies that our Mother made, that we enjoyed the most. Of course, such treats would have to be eaten within a few days of our return to school, as Tuck Boxes were made of wood and were stored in a room that was not refrigerated.

Rock CakesOne of our favorites was her famous Rock Cakes which stayed delicious and fresh for several days if kept in an airtight container. Not that they lasted more than a day, as Mother was renown for her baking and cooking, and we always shared, sometimes willingly, with our friends. Rock Cakes were delicious with tea or “wash” which is what we called the lemonade that St. Hilda’s served at tea time.

The recipe for Rock Cakes can be found in our book Our Favorite Jamaican Recipes. As a treat for you, we are including it in this post, and we are sure you will enjoy them so much that you will want to experience the deliciousness of all the other recipes in our book.

Who to tell, you may want to tuck one, or two, Rock Cakes into your child’s lunch box.


2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ + ⅓ cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground orange peel
½ cup margarine
½ cup raisins
1 egg, beaten
½ cup milk

Heat oven to 350ºF.
Grease cookie tray.

1. Combine all-purpose flour, baking powder, granulated sugar, nutmeg, and orange peel in a medium sized bowl.
2. Add margarine to flour mixture and use a dough blender or finger tips to process until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
3. Add raisins.
4. Blend beaten egg and milk.
5. Add to flour mixture and combine using a fork. Do not over mix.
6. Drop by spoonfuls onto greased cookie tray.
7. Bake for about 25 minutes or until golden brown.
8. Remove from oven and sprinkle with remaining sugar.

Cool on wire rack.
Serve at room temperature.
Makes 10 to 12 rock cakes.

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