In her entertaining memoir, Save Me the Plums, Ruth Reichl—revered chef, food writer, critic and final editor of Gourmet magazine—recalls that while accompanying her father to bookstores, she would leaf through vintage copies of Gourmet. She found tales of food in faraway places within its pages—and her interest was piqued. She credits this as her entrée to the food writing world. I’m not suggesting that every child who is excited by the contents of a culinary magazine—or might help his or her parent out in the kitchen—will grow up to be a famous food editor. But an interest in food and far-flung cultures can result in a lifetime of curiosity about the world. While we’re all still isolated in our homes, hit the kitchen for educational and stimulating activities that can open up a wondrous new world through food preparation in the context of travel.
As a travel writer, I have always extended my journeys by bringing home cooking techniques, flavors and recipes. Many of my favorite adventures have included cooking classes. I will always think tenderly back on making cold cherry soup in Budapest, Hungry; strudel in Vienna, Austria; and cooking with chestnuts in Orvieto, Italy. I always leave the destinations I travel to with a deeper sense of their culture.
Here are a few subjects you can add to your homeschooling bag of tricks to help bring the outside world in for your children, without having to set foot outside your home.
Teach Kids Cultural
(a.k.a. Human) Geography
Reference website thoughtco.com describes this concept as “the study of the many cultural aspects found throughout the world and how they relate to the spaces and places where they originate.” As you cook with your child, tell them about the place where the dish was created, not just the dish itself.
Get Kids Interested in Chemistry and Math
Kids can learn basic chemistry and math through the measurements and reactions that go into a good recipe.
How About Agritourism?
Studying agritourism can open up countless doors for children who are stuck at home. The concept is that farms, ranches and vineyards welcome tourists, who stay right on the property and learn all about the origins of their products. And agritourists can even pitch in and make some of the products. Sounds fun, right? Find a few online that your child wants to do when this is over and create an itinerary.
Or, Maybe, Anthropology?
Say you decide to make a batch of gazpacho with the help of your child. Prepare a list of questions such as: Where’s its country of origin? Is it an ancient, modern or somewhere-in-between type recipe? Has the dish popped up in other countries under a different name? All of these questions have answers!
And Of Course, History, History and More History!
Dig deeper into a dish’s land of origin. Who first prepared it, and what was the world like when it first arrived on plates?
Class is in Session!
Now that we’ve tossed around some ideas, let’s begin by choosing a country to study and a dish to make from it. Pull together tools such as maps to help illustrate where the dish comes from. Create a wish list based on what has intrigued you about the country and why you’d someday desire to travel there. Research any Capital Region markets that may sell the harder-to-find ingredients in your dish. Investigate the type of cooking utensils and methods used in its preparation. Can you substitute any of its items? For example, a Moroccan tagine might not be among your collection of pots and pans. Try using a Dutch oven instead, or get the kids involved by fashioning a tagine-style lid out of a large funnel and tin foil. Use a heavy skillet as your base, and voila! Your kitchen will be laced with the scents and flavors of a Casablanca market in no time.
With or without the COVID-19 crisis isolating you at home, the Internet is your best resource on all things ethnic foods. YouTube, Pinterest and cooking blogs are jampacked with great advice about delicious dishes and have actual cooking demonstrations on them. One of my favorite local cooking demos is done by Tara Kitchen’s Aneesa Waheed.
“Cook, Learn, Share” is the new “Eat, Pray, Love.” And who knows? You might even tempt your picky eaters with your new “travel dinners.”