The story printed this week in the Asheville Citizen Times and is one I feel proud to have been associated with. Kudos to the students and Storybank leader, Marin Leroy: a devoted team of trailblazers.~
(Leader of chicken processing: Adam Billings of Four Feathers Farm)
(Students, teachers and local farmers involved with chicken processing)
This year, Slow Food Asheville and Evergreen Community Charter School teamed up to create the Appalachian Journey Food Storybank Project, an oral history of local food traditions.
An extension of the school’s Appalachian Journey studies, guided by environmental education coordinator Marin Leroy, the project aimed to record stories from voices across the region while giving the students an opportunity to practice conducting formal interviews, to be archived at the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.
Each group of eighth-grade participants collected reflections and recipes from interviewees nominated by fellow community members. The recipes were used by the students for their project’s finale, which included a shindig potluck featuring traditional Appalachian dishes they cooked themselves.
Experiential education was the foundation of the project, with a focus on hands-on learning. The students even learned a valuable lesson about processing poultry.
“They learned to make stack cakes using apple butter they made themselves, cooked collard greens in yesterday’s chicken fat, pickled beets harvested from our school garden, and made scratch-made chicken and dumplings using chickens they slaughtered themselves,” said Leroy. “Through the discovery of Appalachian flavors, the student’s connection with the curriculum has been profound in a way they could have never experienced through reading textbooks.”
As part of a food culture often dotted with drive-thrus and rife with prepackaged convenience food items, Evergreen students chose to swing the pendulum in the opposite direction by getting their hands dirty and creating recipes from scratch.
“For me, this experience was really beneficial with learning about how people used to always do things,” explained eighth grade Storybank participant Ili Wickliffe. “If a family wanted meat, they would have to harvest it themselves. Simply going to the store to buy meat wasn’t a very common option.”
Students from Ili’s group opted to prepare their traditional recipe of chicken and dumplings from the very beginning. With the help of two experienced local farmers, the students processed the chickens themselves.
“I was affected by the experience, because I witnessed something I never had before, and now I have a better understanding of where my food comes from,” said fellow group participant Gavin Reep.
Although the chickens were harvested on one of the coldest mornings of the season, the group showed genuine devotion. They helped pluck the chickens and prepare broth from the harvest for their recipe.
“This project has left many different impressions on me,” said Rebecca Molaro. “But the one that really sticks out the most is the element of reality that is added to what you’re eating when you actually slaughtered it yourself.
“When you don’t see or know the process, it’s easy to just see the chicken on your plate and think nothing about it,” she continued. “Now that I have experienced this, I know how real the animal was and still is.”
Students used their interviews to create written profiles of the interviewees, record recipes and better understand Appalachian history.
The shindig served as a place to celebrate each group’s hard work throughout the project with good food, a video compilation of interview highlights, live music and festive contra dance. Reflecting on the project, student Drake Tomlinson said, “The whole thing was a really unique experience and I’m grateful that I got to participate.”
As the shindig festivities continued in earnest, onlookers could witness the gap between field and plate, middle-schooler and baby-boomer diminish.
A smiling teacher watching the students dance alongside fellow classmates, interviewees, parents and facility, turned to assistant administrator Sarah Shoemaker and said, “This is by far, the best night of the year.”
For more information on the Appalachian Journey Food Storybank Project, visit http://www.evergreenccsEE.com
(Ili, Gavin, Drake and Becca processing the chickens)
(Becca, Ili, Marin, Drake and Gavin making the dumplings for their dish)
1 whole pastured chicken, roasted, meat removed from bones
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 small sweet onion, chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
5-6 carrots, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
5-6 cups chicken broth
1 cup frozen peas
Place a large heavy soup pot over medium heat with olive oil or butter. Add onion, celery and carrots. Saute 5 minutes, stirring often. Add garlic. Saute another 2 minutes. Add all meat from chicken. Season with sea salt and pepper. Pour in the broth. Bring to a slow simmer, and cover. Allow to simmer for at 15 minutes. Season to taste. Meanwhile, make dumplings.
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon aluminum free baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 cup buttermilk
Sift together dry ingredients. Cut in the butter and incorporate into flour mixture with fingertips until it resembles a coarse meal. Add parsley. Stir to blend. Pour in buttermilk and gently mix with a fork until all dry ingredients are incorporated. Working in batches, spoon about 3 tablespoons of batter into palm of your hand and gently form into a ball. Drop into simmering broth one at a time to create dumplings. Repeat with remaining batter. Dumplings should cover the top of the soup pot. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cover for 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Sprinkle contents with frozen peas. Allow to cool before ladling into bowls and serving.