Expanding the kale repertoire

Kale chips were a hugely popular activity/snack last year! (You may remember my kale chips overdose from last fall…) Since we made them, I’ve had kids from all grades asking when we could make them again.  One of the things that is still growing pretty well in the Blake Garden is, in fact, kale.  I was definitely tempted to make the chips again, but then decided that it would be better to introduce them to something new.  Getting them to try new and healthy foods is, after all, one of the goals of the garden programme.  Since I already had them hooked on kale, I figured trying something new with kale would be a good idea.  A couple of folks had recommended kale and oregano pesto, and since we have copious amounts of oregano in the garden, I figured that would be worth a try.

I’d only made pesto with a class once before (and that time it was regular basil pesto).  Pesto is super simple to make, but a bit of a challenge to involve lots of kids in, as I would usually make it with a food processor. And well, it’s not terribly exciting for kids to watch an adult put stuff in a food processor and blend it.  Inspired by the Scissor Salsa recipe (and having now used scissors for all sorts of kids’ cooking activities), I figured the kids could use scissors to chop the kale and oregano into tiny bits.  Having never made kale and oregano pesto before, I wanted to try making with it scissors and also wanted to taste it to make sure it wouldn’t be too weird for the kids. I did turn out pretty tasty, but definitely chunkier than if made with a food processor. So then the decision of what to eat it with… It was a bit too chunky to have on crackers or pita bread, so I decided to go for pasta – that way, if the pasta was still warm, it would wilt the kale a bit too. I really enjoyed the pesto on pasta, but was still a bit concerned as to how the kids would take to it…

Dinosaur kale growing in the Blake garden.

I started the lesson with a little discussion about kale (asking what we had made with it before and asking them to describe it – what does it taste like, what does it look like, what part of the plant are we eating…). We also talked about what the word “harvest” means. Then I took half of the class out to harvest some kale and oregano, while the other half of the class worked with the teacher and Kayla (the university student who is helping me with the garden this year) in class to start rinsing the kale and chopping it up into bowls. (And then we switched groups, of course – can’t only have half of the class doing the harvesting…)  We have some lovely looking dinosaur kale in the garden (though a couple of the plants are very very infested by aphids), but not quite enough for pesto for two classes. So we also used a bit of curly kale and some beautiful baby Red Russian kale from Kind Organics. It was fun to show the kids some of the different kale varieties.  Kayla also had some fun when the kids asked if they could taste some raw garlic before it went into the pesto – apparently an amusing sight. Sad I missed it.

Oregano patch in the Blake garden. I’m glad I’ve found at least one recipe that uses lots of oregano.

Once the kale and oregano were all chopped up, we added some garlic, olive oil, rice vinegar (I had forgotten the lime juice at home, but really anything acidic works fine), and sunflower seeds. Since only a few kids can do the measuring, we had a little discussion about the different measurements (cups, tablespoons, etc).  We talked about what 1/2 means and also about how tablespoon gets abbreviated to tbsp and teaspoon to tsp. Another example of how I like that garden and cooking activities can touch on so many different themes and curriculum links.

Well, once the pesto was made and the pasta boiled, it was time to taste our creation! I knew they had enjoyed making it, but I was still a bit concerned about whether they would enjoy eating it… When Kayla and I saw the huge bowl of pasta and pesto we had made, we were looking forward to having a snack at the end of the day. Alas, it was not to be. The kids devoured it! Every single student in both classes (grade 2/3s) tasted it, and I think there were only about 2 or 3 of the 40+ kids who didn’t really like it. I’d say that’s a pretty good success rate! Most asked for 2nds (and 3rds and 4ths…) and the pasta and pesto were gone in no time! One of the teachers asked the kids to say “Mmmmm” if they liked it – there was definitely a resounding “Mmmmm” from a class full of kids with their mouths full!

Many of the kids also asked for the recipe, which is always a good sign. (It’s nice to make recipes with relatively inexpensive ingredients – a classroom amount of pesto and pasta probably cost about $7). I was hoping we would have time to write out recipe cards with them, but we were too busy harvesting, cooking and eating. But I did e-mail the recipe to the teachers, who can send the recipe home with the kids. I know at least one of the teachers is planning on using it for a little writing assignment, so the kids can write out their own recipe cards. Another extension activity/curriculum link that Kayla and I thought of (after running the classes) was to link the cooking to the Food Guide, getting kids to figure out what food groups were covered in the recipe. Oh, I really get excited about the interdisciplinarity of garden and food programming!

Happy growing!

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