Hello, again! I am finally back from India and slowly but surely getting unpacked and caught up on the loads of laundry and, most importantly, the Christmas decorating. Needless to say, I can’t wait to share some highlights about our India trip with you, but you’ll have to be patient with me. In the meantime, I’ve been wanting to touch on one of the ways French learn to love cooking from an early age…
Anyone who knew me à la belle époque knows that I was a little potelée growing up. I believe the politically correct and somewhat endearing english term would be “pleasantly plump.” If you couple that tidbit of knowledge with the fact that my parents owned a Froyo shop, you can pretty quickly conjure up a relatively humourous image of a shorter, heftier version of me, downing cup after cup of frozen chocolate yogurt topped Reese’s Cups, chocolate syrup, and rainbow sprinkles. I’m pretty sure my friends assumed that I ate myself into a sugar coma every day after school, but the truth is that I was pretty blasée when it came to the treat that everyone else adored.
As a child, whenever my birthday rolled around, my parents brought Froyo or a Froyo Cake to my class. I may not have been all that impressed, but it goes without saying that my birthday was a huge hit with all of my classmates. I guess this is where I should thank my parents for having made me cool by association…
As thankful as I am for all those years that my parents provided sweet treats for my class on my birthday, I have to admit that I’m awfully relieved not to have to bring in twenty-eight cups of Froyo (or to make peanut-free, gluten-free, refined sugar-free cupcakes) on my kids’ birthdays. As a matter of the fact, here in France, my kids are responsible for making their own birthday treats for school.
Before you start pitying my children, let me clarify. My kids don’t spend hours in the kitchen here at home making cupcakes for their class, but rather they prepare a special birthday treat à l’ecole with their classmates.
Towards the end of every month, each teacher in our preschool organizes an atelier cuisine to celebrate the birthdays from that month. A parent of each birthday boy or girl is invited to assist the class as they prepare a dessert for their monthly birthday party. Previous desserts include, but are not limited to, a gâteau à l’orange, a gâteau au yaourt, a clafoutis, an apple crumble, and des sablés.
For Leilani’s last birthday, I helped her class make des cookies aux pepites de chocolat. Knowing that Leilani is Franco-American, the maitresse specifically chose an “American dessert” for Leilani’s birthday month. How thoughtful! Cookies are not a French forté, to say the least. They only do them one way: hard. Cookies, in case you were wondering, are considered by the French to be an American specialty.
The atelier cuisine that I attended went off without a hic. The kids had spent some time the previous day cutting out images of the ingredients, the steps, and the utensils needed for their recipe and pasting them on a direction sheet that teacher had prepared. This meant that the kids were already familiar with the recipe. All of the ingredients sat pre-measured on a table in the back of the classroom. The maîtresse first sat all of the kids in a circle and re-read through the ingredient list, les ustensils, and les consignes for making the dessert. I watched, amused, as she questioned the kids about the recipe.
What do we do before we start cooking? On se lave les mains!
Do we put the entire egg in the bowl? Bien sur que non!
The kids were visibly enthusiastic about cooking, though I was admittedly a tad anxious at the idea of a bunch of preschooler wielding knives…
After reading through la recette, we were divided into groups of seven to eight kids and one adult, with each table having its own copy of recipe pictured above. To begin, I asked each child in my group to fetch an ingredient for us. Once we had everything we needed to get started, I supervised as the kids followed the recipe step by step. They cut the butter, they poured the flour, sugar, and baking soda, they cracked the egg, they added the chocolate chips, and they mixed the dough.
On at least one occasion, I went all “germ police” on them and made them pause for a hand washing session, having caught them licking the dough off of their fingers and then immediately plunging their little slobber laden paws back into the dough. Berk!
In no time at all, our dough was prepared and the kids took turns forming the cookies into various shapes and placing them on the baking sheet. With a sheet full of cookies ready to go in the oven, the kids washed up one last time and delivered the cookies to the teacher’s lounge where there’s a small convection oven. They left the cookie sheet on the table and returned to the classroom, proud of their culinary feat and ready to continue their day.
My part of the cooking workshop ended there, but later that day the kids enjoyed the fruits of their labor at their monthly birthday party. When I picked her up that afternoon, Leilani was glowing with pride as she handed me three cookies that the kids had carefully wrapped in a napkin and set aside as a remerciement for my help.
The monthly birthday cooking ateliers are only one of the ways in which French preschoolers are introduced to the kitchen. One year, Leilani’s whole class went to the grocery store where they chose their vegetables and ingredients before returning to school to prepare a potage.
Just a few weeks ago, the kids went to an apple orchard where they picked loads of apples that they brought back to school. Part of the apples were then bagged up and sold to the parents to raise money for the school, while the rest of them were divided between the classes and turned into applesauce, a few apple pies, and a few apple crumbles.
As someone who loves to cook, j’adore the hands-on approach to food that’s an integral part of the curriculum in our French public preschool.
How does your preschool measure up? I’d be curious to know if this is a trend or if it’s uniquely French…
A la prochaine,