Nothing pleases children like asparagus. They just can’t get enough of it. So when you bring a few dozen pounds of asparagus to a school cafeteria, you expect to be inundated with boisterous, hungry faces, jockeying for position, beseeching you for more of the stuff. Kids, there’s nothing like ‘em to remind you of the simple pleasures of the farm.
Such was our experience when Jennifer Turner Bitterman, co-founder of The Meadow, organized Farm Awareness Day, bringing together Corey Schreiber, James Beard Award winning chef and Farm-to-School food coordinator with the Oregon Department of Agriculture, Nikole Williams, Program Manager of Nutritious Services for Portland Public Schools, and Paul Folkestad, an instructor and chef with the Western Culinary Institute. The event was held in conjuction with PPS’s Local Lunch and Harvest of the Month program, tasting and playing with asparagus with the students of Laurelhurst Elementary School.
And amazingly, the kids, insofar as is possible within the rather bewilderingly frenetic 20 to 30 minutes that they were allotted for lunch, really did eat asparagus.
Jennifer, Corey, and Paul pursued a three stranded strategy in their campaign to a) feed children, b) wake them up to the unexpected pleasures lurking within a stalk of astringent green vegetable, and c) make the entire thing thought provoking and memorable enough to hopefully percolate down to conversation with the parents over dinner table back home.
Strand 1 of the strategy: grill some asparagus and serve it from a platter. 400 kids, lunching in three seatings, can motor through a substantial amount of asparagus, even if there only a minority cared to partake. Minority status notwithstanding, there were a surprising number who were more than willing to wolf down a stalk or two. In fact, in addition to what was served them, I spied dozens of kids skulking away from their seats to grab a stalk, shoving it down their gullets as they returned to their tables, often realizing just as they were about to retake their seats that they had, alas, finished their asparagus, and so would have to skulk away again to get more, and so repeated the circle of seeking, eating, returning, realizing, and re-seeking again and again, transformed by hunger into a sort of asparagus-inhaling perpetual motion machines. (Skulking’s sort of a figurative term, as they really just bounded up from their tables and ran across the cafeteria to Chef Folkestad, who was dispensing piles of thick, remarkably nicely-cooked stalks of asparagus as fast as he could.)
Strand 2 of the strategy: give them the opportunity to personalize their vegetables with salt. Jennifer thought it would help stimulate things if we played off the natural interest in things that are salty, cool, colorful, unique, and salty. In other words, we allowed the kids to partake of the joys of finishing salt, which they did with gusto. We brought three suitably dramatic finishing salts from The Meadow: warm and meaty Kauai Guava smoked sea salt, a rich red Alaea Volcanic sea salt, and a snappy charcoal gray Black Diamond Pyramid sea salt from Cyprus. Hard to know what was the most popular, as the cafeteria was more or less engulfed in a white cloud of aerosolized Himalayan Pink rock salt that I was grating onto kids asparagus, hands, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and upturned smiling faces.
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Mark Bitterman :: May.28.2009 ::
News & Musings, Recipes ::
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