Sycamore Seeds

There’s no such thing as too young to cook. Sure, you wouldn’t let your toddler loose with a sharp knife or leave them stirring a hot pan, but what about mixing batter, kneading dough, rolling pastry, podding peas, shaping meatballs? There’s plenty for little hands to do and even more that older children can get involved with.

As a chef, I do a lot of freezer filling jobs for busy families so I know that the priority is just getting dinner on the table and everyone fed. But on quieter evenings or weekends it’s worth getting your children involved in preparing the meal.

Research shows that children who learn to cook are more confident around food, increase their intake of new flavours and make healthier choices in adult life. I’ve been putting on Sycamore Seeds, an after school cookery class in Crouch End, since the summer and love seeing picky eaters try new things or shy kids beam with pride at their creations.

I’m a Leiths-trained chef and I run the sessions with my husband James who is a teacher. Primarily our focus is hands-on fun but we like to think we offer something that goes a bit further than the cupcakes-and-cookies of most kids cookery classes.

Of course, sweet treats are dear to children’s hearts – I’ve heard more than one little chef shout “I love sugar!” when clocking the ingredients table – and we aim not to disappoint in that area. But we’ve also made bread, quiches, pies and other staples, with an unpatronising emphasis placed on enjoying fruit and vegetables. And I’ve yet to meet a child who doesn’t love turning the handle of a pasta machine.

Sycamore Seeds

Whilst our creations are in the oven we taste and discuss ingredients, do experiments or play games that broaden children’s understanding of what they eat. We’ve had a lot of fun and I think I’ve learned as much as the little chefs have. So I’d like to pass on my top five tips for cooking with kids:

1) Use all five senses
Mindfulness is buzzword right now but that’s essentially what’s going on when you ask a child what they’re seeing, feeling, tasting and smelling whilst they cook. Even hearing gets a look in sometimes with the slap of dough or bubble of a sauce.

2) Develop other skills
Cooking is a great thing to learn in itself but it strengthens all sorts of other key skills too. Reading recipes helps with literacy. Weighing, measuring and thinking about how to scale up recipes to feed more people develops numeracy. Manipulating ingredients improves manual dexterity.

3) See it as a window on the world
There’s very little that can’t be approached through the medium of food. Cooking always prompts questions so is a chance to talk about all sorts of things including different cultures, the history of dishes and where ingredients come from, the science of how to turn one thing into another and the words and language surrounding all these things.

4) Widen culinary horizons
I like to give choice within a core recipe: which berries to put in a muffin for example or what fillings to add to a quiche. I think being given some agency in the process prompts more understanding. My policy is that it’s fine not to like something but you have to try it. Sometimes kids change their minds about previous hated foodstuffs. Sometimes they don’t. Either way, it’s the sense of engaging with the unknown that’s important.

5) Encourage social skills
There’s usually plenty to go round so cooking is a nice way to encourage sharing. I love it when the Seeds tell me who they’re going to share their cake with or come back the next week and tell me how happy the recipient was.

If I’ve inspired you, here’s something to try. Making your own butter from scratch is so simple it’s barely a recipe but it’s kind of magical.

What you’ll need:
150g double cream
Salt
A large jar with a tightly fitting lid
A sieve
A bowl
Ice
Lots of muscle power!

What to do:
1) Put the cream in the jar. It shouldn’t fill it more than half way.

2) Shake the jar vigorously. Put some music on and dance around to keep your energy up and take turns if you get tired. After a few minutes you’ll see the cream get thicker and thicker – you’re incorporating air so are basically whipping it.

3) Keep shaking. The cream will start to look a bit lumpy. You’re nearly there!

4) Just a bit more shaking… Eventually you’ll see a “splish”, hear a “flump” and see that the cream has separated. What you have now is butter and buttermilk.

5) Use a sieve to strain off the buttermilk. Keep it – it’s great for baking with. Then fill the bowl with cold water and carefully wash the butter. Keep changing the water until the butter no longer makes it cloudy.

6) Add a little salt to the butter. You don’t have to do this but it helps it keep and also tastes nice. You could also add flavourings like chopped herbs or garlic if you like.

7) Form the butter into a pat. If the cold water hasn’t firmed it up then wrap it in greaseproof paper and pop it in the fridge for a little while.

8) Enjoy!

 

Sycamore Seeds after school cookery club is every term time Monday at Hornsey Vale Community Centre, 4pm – 5.30pm. We also offer party packages and are now booking for Easter Cookery Camp on 11th April. For more information visit https://www.sycamoresmyth.com/sycamore-seeds/.

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