Whip Up Some History

Welcoming young people into the kitchen invites them to discover not only the wonders of cooking and all of the skills gleaned in the process but also encourages them to explore their culinary cultural heritage. In the Home Baking Association’s newest resource, “Baking with Friends: Recipes, Tips and Fun Facts for Kids,” kids learn how to cook a Lazy Daisy Cake –a staple among mid-century American home bakers—and are invited to explore their own cultural heritage in an activity perfect at home or in the classroom.

Interview Relatives

To begin exploring the food traditions of their own family, encourage children to interview grandparents and great-grandparents, if still living. Many home cooks have collected recipes on index cards or in journals throughout a lifetime. If this is available, children can browse through recipes looking for common themes or ingredients. They should ask questions such as the origin of the recipes, whether certain recipes were cooked on special occasions and what recipes were family favorites.

Consider Cultural Heritage

If a child’s family hasn’t kept recipes, he or she can consider cultural heritage for culinary inspiration. For example, a child of German descent can pick up a German cookbook from the library or research recipes online. With the diverse cultural landscape in America, young people may have several cultures to look to for inspiration. “Baking with Friends” includes recipes from various cultural traditions, French crepes, Mexican tortillas and Middle Eastern pita bread. Explore breads from around the world by checking out: http://www.homebaking.org/foreducators/4-HCongressCultureBooklet.doc

Investigate Ingredients

As children investigate the foods of their past, encourage them to consider the ingredients used. Which ones are used repeatedly? Are they local to the student’s current geographic region? What are their health benefits? What other more familiar recipes include these ingredients? Don’t forget herbs and spices. Many of the world’s foods that might otherwise seem identical—meat, rice and vegetables—differentiate themselves in dramatic ways by the spices unique to each region.

Get Cooking

At home, design a menu around several appealing recipes. Allowing children to choose which recipe to prepare encourages ownership in the process. If you’re working in a classroom, group students by region –Mexico, Southeast Asia, etc—and assign each student an appetizer, entrée or dessert to bring on the designated day. If the facility can accommodate, consider cooking one of these recipes in class.

Looking Back

Debrief the activity by asking students several questions. Would you cook it again, why or why not? How could you adapt some of the traditions to your current menu? What cooking processes are different than those you use at home? Looking to their culinary heritage encourages young people to try new foods, helps them connect to their cultural heritage and teaches them valuable cooking skills along the way.

Learn more about early American food traditions here

By Pamela Ellgen
Pamela Ellgen is an award-winning journalist and certified personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She graduated with a B.A. from Washington State University where she studied writing. Ellgen is the author of the family cookbook, Modern Family Table.

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