Spotlights
Day One: The Sensory Sleuths
10/23/2013

Spotlight

First came the little clear plastic cups. Inside, dabs of a pasty brown substance, sprinklings of two white spices, and a reddish syrup of some sort. And using a popsicle stick dipped in water, Grade 3 students at Powhatan Elementary School warily tasted a bit of each one.

“It’s salt!”

Faces squinched together as each student reached for a cup of water to rinse out the taste.

“It’s sugar!”

Smiles, and then another lick of the popsicle stick.

Then came the plates – arugula, lemon wedges, parmesan cheese slices, and grapes. More tastes and textures. More faces.

Finally, the reward: cups of jelly beans -- red ones, dark blue ones, and cream-colored ones. But there was a catch: students couldn’t taste them without pinching their nostrils shut and guessing the flavor.

“Grape!” “Coconut!” “Cherry!”

Nope, nope, nope, said chef Vicky Barkely. “Take your hands off your noses and tell me.”

Of course: blueberry, buttered popcorn, and cinnamon.

“So you see how your sense of smell helps you to recognize and enjoy the foods you eat,” said Barkely, a gourmet chef with The Classic Catering People of Owings Mills. “We use more than just our sense of taste when we eat good foods.”

Learning to hone their senses of taste was just one of the lessons of the first day of a program that began October 15 at Powhatan and several other Baltimore County public schools. “Days of Taste” is a three-day excursion into food knowledge and appreciation for students who might not otherwise enjoy the delicate taste of arugula or the meaty heft of goat cheese.

The national “Days of Taste” program, now administered by the American Institute of Wine & Food, was created by chef Julia Child as a way to educate elementary school children about the importance of fresh food, where the food comes from, and how to better appreciate what they eat. It was modeled after a successful French program known as “Journée de Gout.”

“In this age of fast and frozen foods,” Child said about the program, “we want to teach school children about real food – where it is grown and how it is produced – so they can develop an understanding and appreciation of how good, fresh food is supposed to taste.”

In Baltimore and Howard counties, the program has been bringing food savvy into the schools for 14 years, said Harriet Dopkin, president of Classic Catering and an advocate of the program. As she watched children test each taste at Powhatan, she nodded in approval and delighted in the students’ reactions.

“This is a lot of fun for them, and it’s certainly providing them with some good skills about looking for and selecting fresh food,” she said.

The first day’s lessons, dubbed “The Sensory Sleuth,” was all about developing a sophisticated palate, or at least learning how to test the taste buds in an effort to be more discriminating about what we eat. “Many children these days aren’t used to fresh foods,” Dopkin said. “This is an effort to broaden their horizons when it comes to their food choices and the differences between something that is fresh and something that isn’t.”

Follow-up lessons will occur each Tuesday for the rest of October. On October 22, students will travel to a local farm to see how food is produced, including vegetables and dairy products. The final day on October 29 will see the young epicureans try their hands at assembling a farm-fresh salad and salad dressing.

The “Days of Taste” program has been taking its savory curriculum into Baltimore County’s schools mostly in the northwest and western parts of the county, Dopkin said. In addition to Powhatan, other BCPS schools involved in the program this year include Riverview, Hebbville, and Fort Garrison elementary schools.

Story and photos by BCPS Communications Specialist Charles Herndon
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