As a mother of two young ones, I know it’s hard to find things to do in the summer that don’t involve the hustle and bustle of the beach. Don’t get me wrong – the beach is great – but one of the luxuries of living here is being able to enjoy the beauty of the second season, come September and October. Otherwise, there’s the park and the library, and, of course, playing with the cousins and friends. But it takes some energy to try to find something different and fun. Enter Epicurean Kids.
Chef Maria of Epicurean Kids comes once every week to Parsons Farm on Amory Road. Every Wednesday at 10 a.m., kids can come and meet the goats Tammy and Lola and then pick the vegetable of the day, learn about it, take a hay ride around the farm and then come together to prepare a meal with the very veggies they picked.
Because Chef Maria is a mother herself and knows her way around an outdoor kitchen, complete with goat-petting, there is hand sanitizer and wipes available for everyone before any food preparation.
Chef Maria said she has a love of food and is trying to instill good eating habits in the youngsters.
“There is so much processed food out here, the kids tend to have that as their favorite,” she said. “We’d like to bring it back to nutrition.”
The cooking classes came about because of her core belief that if people prepare food themselves, they are more likely to eat it. Epicurean Kids also does birthday parties and other events and has worked with homeschooling parents and churches to bring Chef Maria’s classes to kids.
On Wednesday, July 15, we learned about eggplant – that it is a fruit, native to Southern India and is 95 percent water. We learned to pick the bigger ones, and we learned that the plants, which start out with little purple flowers that grow into the actual eggplants, will grow to about 5 feet tall. Eggplant harvest season runs from July to the first frost.
The kids – eight in all, ranging in ages from 22 months to 6 years – and all the chaperones rode out on the hayride to where the plants were growing, and each kid got to pick out two eggplants. Then we rode back to the table to start preparing the meal. After another hand-washing session, the kids got aprons and were ready to work.
Because eggplant is unique in that it is usually cooked because of its natural bitter taste, Chef Maria had already prepared a bruschetta-type appetizer, complete with grilled eggplant, tomato and red pepper with olive oil and garlic (just a bit for the kids) on a small baguette slice.
The kids then got to work with their raw eggplants and made Mr. Potato Head-type faces with other veggies, including tomatoes, squash, zucchini and carrots. They also got to try the grilled eggplant Chef Maria had prepared earlier. (It was great!)
“Use your own creativity to make something spectacular!” coached Chef Maria, for the Mr. Eggplant Head project.
“They love coming here,” said Tristan’s mom, whose family has come to almost every session since strawberry season. Tristan said coming to the class was “good!” and shared that the strawberry shortcake was his favorite dish that he had prepared.
“We’ve not missed a week since strawberries, and that started June 3,” said Paul Parsons of Parsons Farm – even with the rainy June. He added that the weather has held out every week.
Chef Maria said they plan for Epicurean Kids to run through August, with maybe a harvest party at the end at which people will be able to pick their own pumpkins and gourds. Parsons Farm has also planted blueberries, raspberries and black raspberries, which will be available in the coming seasons.
After a sampling of the grilled eggplant and dipping the extra veggies from the project in dressing, the kids got on the road with their very own chef’s hats and a recipe for eggplant sticks to try at home with Mom or Dad.
In an hour, they learned a lot — including where their food comes from and some ways to prepare it, and they learned that eggplant doesn’t always have to be hidden in a parmesan or a lasagna to be good.
“I’m a firm believer in ‘If you make it yourself, you are more likely to eat it,’” said Chef Maria.
Next week: cantaloupes!
The Epicurean Kids cooking classes cost $15 each. For more information, visit www.epicureankids.com online or stop by Parsons Farm on Armory Road between Dagsboro and Frankford.