Take two sets of children, 4-and 5-year-olds in a classroom setting and 10-to 12-year-olds in a private home, give them interested, stimulating teachers and watch them cook.
"They love it," said Peni Burch, who with her co-teacher, Lynn Bristol, supervises a weekly luncheon her students prepare and consume at Georgetown Day School. "They like making things and eating them." echoes Sandra Bresnick, who conducts afternoon classes three times a week in her Bethesda home.
Working with children in different age groups, the teachers' techniques are somewhat different. But several links seem to refute common assumptions about what children can, will and should do in the kitchen.
They will follow a project through from start to finish; they can use knives and work near heat without injuring themselves; they do taste and even enjoy foods their parents assume they can't stand.
Not that the teachers are making parents scapegoats. "It's a lot of work and it can become a real mess," said bristol one afternoon as she helped a half-dozen pupils knead dough for pizza. "It's easy to understand why people feel they haven't the time or patience to have children cook in a home situation. Furthermore, we tell the children they have to try whatever is made. At home that can cause tension. Here there is peer pressure and it helps a lot."
As Burch and Bristol see it, the weekly luncheons their students have been preparing for the past two years are valuable for a variety of reasons:
"The children cook on Thursday and eat on Friday," Burch said. "It began because we both like to cook, to make food from scratch and wanted to bring cooking into the curriculum. It lets us work on reading skills, numbers and measuring skills. They learn how to set a table, to ask to be excused before they leave. They wash their plates and silver and put them away, so they have to accept responsibility."
"The work - kneading, mixing, cutting - is good for coordination," Bristol added. "We don't use many mechanical things. They beat with a whisk. If we're grating something, we collect a bunch of different graters to show them. And for many of them food is something that comes from a can or a freezer. To start with the basic foods is really a learning experience. Except for Thanksgiving, people don't spend much time in this country cooking, shopping or even eating."
Bristol and Burch have organized their program so that four or five volunteer cooks do the work each week on rotating basis. "Not every child wants to cook," Bristol said, "but most of them do. Both boys and girls volunteer. There's no sex barrier.It's too difficult if everybody works at the same time and it is hard for them to wait to take a turn. Part of the fun for them is doing the whole thing from beginning to end."
It begins as the class goes through a list of ingredients on Monday. Volunteers are asked to take notes home and obtain whatever is requested. The children not involved in food preparation do other activities on Thursday. On Friday, they all sit down for the meal, along with a guest from another part of the school. Last year's grand banquet was a meal for invited fathers featuring eggs esoteric: spaghetti, sloppy joes, soups. They have, however, made crepes and quiche.
"It's been a case of trial and error," Burch said. "We suggest dishes from our own sense of what will work. They have to try it and most ask for seconds or thirds. Some don't like onions when they cut them, but find them different when cooked. It's the same with green peppers. Sometimes they want these things next to the food rather than on top, but it's amazing what they will eat here that they won't eat at home."
Sandra Bresnick is dealing with older children, but some of their prejudices have only strengthened with age. "I do things I make to think the children like to make," she said. "We do two or three items each time and have done omelettes, blue-berry muffins, a Chinese menu, stuffed chicken. Last year we did spinach salad, but it was too sophisticated. I've done some revising. I've learned myself."
One thing she said she learned was to be precise in directions. During the creation of a calm chowder last year she said, "Throw the calms into the pot," and one student did - from across the room.
Bresnick is firm about limiting her classes to five or six students, partly because the size of her kitchen is limited and also to keep the students involved. "I only take children who want to do it," she said. "I don't encourage them when it is the mother's idea. At this age (10 and up) they love to work with their hands and watch something happen - a souffle rise, for instance. They don't enjoy making sauces. It's too slow. But they love something that is here and now, like decorating."
At a class earlier this fall, Bresnick had supervised a group of subteen girls as they skinned and boned chicken breasts, made cookies and learned a recipe for stuffed baked potatoes.
She had them touch and taste the potato mixture to understand the desired texture and flavoring. She adroitly aided a student with a hot cookie sheet, then pushed it back so the student could repeat the whole process herself. "If you don't try, you'll never learn," she told them. "If you do it wrong, we'll try it again."
Her recipe selection might be criticized because it contains a fairly high percentage of desserts, but the children respond enthusiastically to making and eating them. Some weeks the two-hour classes will be ethnically oriented, some weeks not.
"I began because I love kids," she said. I love to teach and I couldn't get a regular teaching job."
In addition to the afternoon classes for children Bresnick has begun morning classes twice a week for adults. (For details, call her at 229-6741.)
Bresnick's students receive lists of basic terms, basic preparation steps, cooking utensils and questions about eating preferences. There is no homework and usually no leftovers to exhibit, but sometimes students will take home dough and at least one father has called "overwhelmed" whne his daughter prepared his entire dinner.
Meanwhile, back at Georgetown Day, the students were stamping their feet and shouting "pizza" in unison with all the vigor of Redskin fans crying "defense". It came, was distributed and quickly disappeared. When it was over, as the cleanup began, there were a few mushroom bits and pieces of green pepper on scattered plates. But most were quite empty, reflecting credit on the cooks, their fellow students and the teachers.
A sample of receipes follows VISCHYSSOISE (8 to 10 servings) 3 leeks 1 onion, peeled 2 tablespoons butter 4 medium potatoes 4 cups chicken broth 2 cups cream (or half-and-half)
Mince the white part of the leeks and the onion. Saute in butter. Add peeled and finely sliced potatoes. Add chicken broth and cook covered for 15 minutes or until vegetables are soft. Put in blender, 3 cups at a time, or rub through a fine sieve. Add cream and blend or mix in. Serve hot or cold. WHOLE WHEAT ENGLISH MUFFINS (Makes 20) 1 cup warm water 1 packet yeast 2 tablespoons honey 1 egg, beaten 3 1/2 to 4 cups whole wheatflour or mixture of white and whole wheat 3 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon salt
Dissolve yeast in water. Add honey, beaten egg and some flour. Mix, then add oil, salt and remaining flour. Knead about 10 minutes or until shiny and non-sticky. Let rise in a bowl in a warm place, covered with a towel.
Dump dough onto a floured board and let rest. Then roll out until 1/4-inch thick. Cut into 3-inch circles, cover and let rise for about 45 minutes. Place a few at a time on a hot, lightly greased griddle, reduce heat and cook 5 to 6 minutes on each side. Can be kept in the refrigerator. Toast to reheat. PIZZA (12 pieces) Crust 1 packet yeast 2 tablespoons hot water 1 tablespoon oil 1 1/2 teaspoons salt 1 cup boiling water 3 cups flour Topping: 4 tomatoes, cut up (optional) 1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce 1 onion, cut up 1 clove garlie, crushed (optional) Fresh or dried oregano, thyme, basil to taste Grated cheese to taste 1 package (8 ounces) mozzarella cheese
Dissolve yeast in a 2 tablespoons hot water. Mix oil, salt and boiling water in a bowl. Let cool, then add yeast and mix in flour. Turn onto a floured board and knead lightly. Divide dough in half and pat into two lightly oiled pizza pans or make into squares on two cookie sheets. Brush with additional oil and add topping.
Sprinkle grated cheese over oiled dough. Spread on tomato sauce, then add tomato pieces, onions, garlic and herbs as desired. Top with grated cheese. Bake in a preheated 450-degree oven for 25 minutes. Remove from oven, place as many thinly sliced pieces of mozerella as desired on top and return to oven until cheese melts. BAKED POTATOES (4 servings) 4 medium Idahe potatoes 3 teaspoons vegetable oil 1/2 teaspoon salt 5 or 6 grinds of pepper 1/2 cup sour cream 2 talespoons chopped chives 4 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese Milk (optional)
Wash and dry the potatoes. Rub oil over potatoes, put them on a rack ina preheated, 425-degree oven and bake 1 hour. Prick with a fork to be sure they are soft to the center. Remove from oven and reduce heat to 350 degrees.
As soon as the potato cools somewhat, cut a slice from the top and, without breaking the skin, scoop the pulp into a bowl. Mix in the salt, pepper, and sour cream and chives. Use somewilk to moisten the mixture if the potatoes are dry. Stuff the shells with the mixture, piling it high.
Sprinkle cheese on top and place in a baking dish. Return to oven for 10 to 15 minutes to brown the tops.