Saturday, September 17, 2016

Dirty Hands Make Good Cooks

"I don't like salads," one young man announced at the beginning of class when he learned about the menu for lunch that day.

I'd signed up to take a class called "Kids Cooking at Side Yard Farm" with my nephew, a first-grader. I wanted to do something together that would be fun and interesting for both of us, and this class looked like just the ticket. Plus, though he's a good, if not adventurous, eater, I hoped that it might expand his culinary horizons a bit, too.

Talking, tasting, reacting—not always positively!

Joanna Sooper, an elementary school teacher and founder of Turnip the Heat Cooking School, said that helping kids discover new tastes and flavors and teaching them how to cook with fresh, healthy ingredients was an idea she'd been dreaming about for several years. During the fall and winter months  she offers classes for toddlers to teens at various locations around town, focusing on cooking delicious food from scratch with whole ingredients. But when the growing season rolls around she often partners with area urban farmers to offer classes on their farms, where kids can actually go out into the field and pick their ingredients themselves, then make a meal that they'll share together.

Making pesto.

This class was held at The Side Yard Farm, Stacey Givens's acre-sized plot in the Cully neighborhood of Northeast Portland. Long rows of raised beds bursting with herbs, vegetables and fruit that Givens and her crew sell to local restaurants proved irresistible to the five kids who'd signed up for the class. As Sooper led them on a tour through the rows, she talked to them about the five tastes—salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami—and how each was represented in the plants growing on the farm. Then she had each child wander the rows and stand next to a plant they'd never seen before, helping them figure out what it was and what it might be used for.

Salad with flowers.

Then it was time to start harvesting ingredients for lunch, which was going to consist of a salad with a creamy fruit dressing, pesto for pasta and, for dessert, a peach hand pie. After discussing what might be good things to put in a salad, the kids were unleashed to gather ingredients and bring them back to the table under the outdoor arbor. With much tearing of leaves, chopping of vegetables—yes, there are knives that the kids are taught how to use safely—and assembling of the salad, Sooper then described the history and ingredients that make a pesto, and the kids were sent out to gather those among the beds, too.

Peach hand pies: hands-down favorite.

When the pesto was made, it was time to assemble the hand pies that would bake while the students were eating lunch, and there may have been some sampling of the peaches during the cutting and stirring to make the dough and filling. Sooper and her students then set the table—napkins folded, silverware in its proper positions—and sat down to lunch, talking about what they'd learned and discovered, what they liked and didn't.

The hand pies? Hands down the favorite among most. And the boy who hated salads? He said the salad they'd made together was the best he'd ever had and, yes, he'd definitely have it again.

At the time, my nephew, a rather quiet sort, said it was fun and he wouldn't be opposed to doing another class like it. But I heard from his parents that, in the next few days, he'd mentioned that there was such a thing as purple basil, and it tasted just like regular basil. Oh, and that you can make salad dressing from a squished peach and it was really good.

There are lots of cooking classes for kids being offered in town, so check the calendar on the left for dates and times.

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