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Two years ago our town organized the first Farmer’s market. I went there in the early morning full of expectations, it was the first time you could shop from our local producers gathered into the main square. There were the cheese mongers with the best cheeses produced with cow, sheep and goat milk in the nearby hills: the ricotta was so fresh and deliciously white that was still dripping tiny milk drops into the small baskets. You could also find a fine selection of sausages, salami and hams made with the local pork and the cinta sense, a kind of white and black pork whose meat and fat have a more intense flavour, something in between the normal pork and a wild boar.
Along with cheese and meat, the vegetables were the protagonists of the scene: ripe, still warm from the summer sun, they were arranged into large baskets according to shape and colour, a blaze of freshness from the fields directly into our main square. Time after time, many activities and producers were added to the farmer’s market: fresh herbs, homemade pasta and sourdough bread, eggs, raw milk, honey, wine and organic olive oil… a vivid painting of the best produce of our area. That first time I could not imagine that one year later I would have had my first cooking class for children during the farmer’s market.
Since then, once in a month I wear my most colorful apron and wait for the children to come to play with seasonal fruit, vegetables and cheese.
We have a goal: make the children appreciate fruit and vegetables, make them understand how a whole carrot or tomato look like, introducing them to the seasonal products. Strawberries are delicious, but only if you eat them when they are supposed to be naturally picked up. Winter is for crispy apples and tangy oranges, summer stands for ruby cherries and juicy peaches. We go shopping among the farmers stalls, filling our baskets with vegetables, cheese and golden olive oil, then we gather around a long table and it’s time to roll up our sleeves. The most important thing is to have them chop, stir, peel, beat, spread… make them play, make them work, make them assemble and season their meal and they will – if not appreciate – at least taste what they have cooked on their own, being it vegetables or fruit.
An example? At the beginning they didn’t even dare to taste fava beans, but eventually they shelled them, mashed them with fresh pecorino cheese and olive oil and then spread the green velvety cream over toasted slices of bread: at the end of the morning they were licking their fingers after having enjoyed a whole tray of fava bean crostini! You don’t have to hide fruit and vegetables in a dish, because children should learn to appreciate and eat veggies, they don’t have to be cheated, otherwise they won’t develop a personal awareness of the tastes of fruit and vegetables.
Tales are a good trick to have them eat things they usually don’t want to try: one of the first times we made fruit skewers, we were just at the beginning of summer and the fruit was juicy and sweet, yet they didn’t want to taste them. I told them a story about a fairy who covered the best fruit of the realm with snow (coconut flakes) and ice (coarse sugar) for the prince and the princess birthday party… they were so involved into the fairy tale that ate all the fruit, developing a new taste!
About the author: Giulia Scarpaleggia is a writer and she is passionate about Tuscan food. Giulia also has afood blog.