Cooking up several storms

This fall was a busy one for cooking and taste testing activities! I feel like I had a record number of these lessons at Withrow this fall, and am trying to make sure every class at Blake gets to do some sort of food preparation this fall as well.

I’ve been working with the old hits, like kale chips and scissor salsa, and have made tons of kale and herb pesto all fall as well. (For recipes, see the blog’s recipe tab.) I also did some apple taste testing with a number of classes. (I described this activity back in 2012 – read more here.) We get to taste 4 varieties of Ontario apples and describe them using our five senses. (Yes, even hearing – we listen to how crunchy they are when we bite into them. It’s important to add a bit of silliness into lessons. hah.) Before starting the tasting, I get students to list as many apple varieties as they can. Usually they come up with about a dozen or so (which I was pretty impressed by). Then I have them guess how many apple varieties there are in the world! What do you think? (See the bottom of this post for the answer.) Before we start, I have them brainstorm some different descriptive words they might use for the apples – sweet, tart, sour, soft, crunchy, juicy… They’re pretty good at coming up with lots of ideas, though it does get a bit more challenging in French Immersion classes. We discuss why words like delicious, yucky and yummy aren’t the most useful descriptive words – they’re more opinions than descriptions. And then we start taste testing. It’s pretty neat to see the differences in their palates – some prefer sweet ones, other like the tart apples, some like crunchy, others prefer softer apples… With the younger grades, we’ve mostly just had time to complete the tasting and describing of the four varieties. But with older grades, the students had a chance to create short “TV commercials” for one of the apples they’d tasted. It was pretty entertaining to see what they came up with, especially the ones who created jingles.

I made Stone Soup with three classes this year, both at Blake and at Withrow. We made giant pot fulls of soup with the vegetables the kids brought in, and most of the soup was gone by the end of the lesson… As always, it’s amazing to see giant amounts of healthy food disappear into the kids’ bellies when they’ve made it themselves! Of course the kids were the ones doing the peeling, chopping, cutting (with scissors), breaking things apart with their hands… There’s a good variety of tasks, so that kids with different levels of motor skills can get in on the action. This part is always a bit hard to plan ahead, as I don’t know what veggies kids will bring in. But there’s always a way to make sure everyone is involved. Some kids peel with veggie peelers and chop with large plastic knives (they’re often called “lettuce knives”), some use scissors to cut leeks, celery and onion strips, some help smoosh garlic in the garlic press, some rip apart cauliflower and broccoli with their hands… Often the teachers and I do the initial big cuts to make things manageable for the kids, to ensure carrots and potatoes aren’t rolling around, etc. but mostly it’s the kids doing the food prep with adults managing the big picture.

One really wonderful thing that came out of making Stone Soup this fall (besides all of the wonderful things described above), was a moment of noticing how much the kids have learned through the garden programmes over the years. I was working with a grade 1/2 class at Blake; before we started to cook, I showed them all of the vegetables we’d be putting in our soup. My first question was “What is this?” – I wasn’t surprised they knew pretty much all of the answers here (carrots, potatoes, cauliflower… The only one they didn’t know was leeks.) But then my next question was “What part of the plant are you eating when you’re eating _____?” – they knew these too! They knew carrots are roots, celery is stems, cauliflowers are flowers, etc. Ms Barr, the classroom teacher, was surprised and thrilled! She immediately pointed out that her students in the same grades just a few years ago could not answer these questions as easily – the fact that I’ve been teaching the current grade 1s and 2s since they were in Kindergarten is clearly paying off! Such a great moment for the garden programme!

While the soup was cooking, the students drew some of the ingredients in big soup pots, and wrote and illustrated a brief summary of the Stone Soup story.

For a bit more (including some pictures) about the Blake Stone Soup sessions, check out the latest Blake school newsletter. There’s also a great picture of some garden themed artwork and poetry. Check out pages 8 and 10.

DSC_0847The Withrow Garden Club also got to do some cooking this fall. They do a lot of work in the garden, including planting, weeding, watering, sifting compost, cleaning, harvesting, etc. In earlier years, I’ve cooked up some of the harvest at home and brought it for them to try, but this year, I decided to have a little cooking session with them. It took a bit of doing, as the staff room (ie kitchen) is in use during lunch, but I got permission to pull my garden club kids from class and cook with them before lunch. We roasted potatoes and sunchokes, made some kale and herb pesto, and picked some herbs for tea. The students and I really enjoyed sharing this little meal at the end of a good Garden Club season.

One thing I really try to instill in the kids with all of the different tasting and eating activities is avoiding words like “yuck” and “ewww”. Not only is it not a useful descriptive words, it can be insensitive to others who do enjoy the food and can even discourage other kids from tasting it. When reading a great teaching resource from Shelburne Farms called Cultivating Joy and Wonder, I came across the following phrase: “Don’t yuck my yum!” I think it’s great! As I said, I really try to instill this idea in the kids I work with, so I get really frustrated hearing adults insult food in the same way. I pulled out a homemade smoothie in a Mason jar a few weeks ago, and a grown woman (no, it wasn’t a teacher or anyone at the schools where I work 🙂 ) looked at it and said “Ewww, that looks like a jar of vomit!” It totally caught me off guard and I regret not saying anything to her, but I guess it reinforced the need to teach these simple lessons of politeness. Luckily it didn’t change my opinion of my smoothie, and I think I enjoyed that kale, cranberry and peach smoothie just that much more.

Any fun recipes you make with groups of kids? I’m always looking for new ideas!

So, how many apple varieties did you guess there are? Most sources I’ve read say there are about 7500 in the world! (Though recently I saw somewhere that there are 17 000…)

Happy growing (and cooking)!


One response to this post.

  1. […] wrote about harvesting and cooking with sunchokes a couple of posts ago. But whenever I mention these wondrous little things, I usually get some confused looks. One thing […]


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