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Hungry for heritage, students create cookbook

The fifth-graders compiled favorite family recipes - and along the way learned a little about publishing and their ancestors.

By MICHELE MILLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2000


LAND O'LAKES -- When it comes to learning about family heritage, sometimes the best place to start is in the kitchen.

Just ask the fifth-grade students in Mrs. Linda Brocato's class at Sanders Elementary School. They recently spent some time toiling in the kitchen. The payoff for all their hard work: a cookbook filled with their favorite family recipes titled Food From Around the World.

As part of a unit on culture that began at the beginning of the school year, the students were given the assignment to interview family members to trace their own heritage. They were also asked to share some old family photographs and help prepare and bring in a favorite family dish for all to taste. The potluck luncheon, held just before the winter holidays, was such a success that the students decided to compile their own cookbook.

Mrs. Brocato said the students were involved in almost every facet of creating the cookbook, from designing the front and back covers, typing the recipes on computers and editing to cutting and pasting student illustrations. Last week the cookbook arrived fresh from the printer, ready for binding -- another student task -- and is now on sale at the school for $6. The students will see about $1.50 profit on each book. Money raised will either go to purchasing a playground ball for the classroom, a pizza party or a special luncheon at a local restaurant.

Among the favorite recipes passed down from generation to generation: Mom's Meatballs, Grandma's Irish Red Stew, Coq Au Vin, Scotch Teas and Coquito, a Puerto Rican eggnog that is part of a religious tradition for Jorge Calabria's family in celebrating Christmas and New Year's.

The cookbook was a definite collaborative effort, Mrs. Brocato said.

"They became editors and proofreaders and even voted on which illustration to use on the front page," she said, "They've learned a lot about the business world."

Students also had to put their math skills to the test in working with fractions, a definite plus for the math section of the FCAT, Mrs. Brocato said. Best of all, they had an opportunity to discover more about the people closest to them, she said.

"With today's busy world, children don't always talk to their parents and grandparents like I did. My family came over from Italy and we had all this great food, all these great stories," Brocato said. "I told them to interview their relatives so they could hear those stories because that's what they'll pass on to their children some day."

Fifth-grader Sarah Yawn said she really enjoyed the whole process, from learning how to cook latkes (a traditional food for Hannukah) with her dad to designing and typing the table of contents to her work as a proofreader.

"We had to correct things so many times, and then when we thought it was perfect, the computer crashed and we had to start over," Sarah said. "Now I appreciate how much work goes into a book. This was only 20 pages and it took us like half a year."

Virginia Ochoa's contribution was Mom's Crispy Flautas, a favorite Mexican dish. Virginia said she spent some good time with her grandmother in the kitchen preparing the dish.

"I never knew my grandmother could make so many good things. There were so many recipes to choose from," she said. "I learned so many things about my family, like I didn't know that my mom's dad had passed away when my mom was just 8 (years old)."

"I thought it was interesting because we got to know what the business world would be like," Brandi Hall said, adding that she used a different font on the computer to catch the readers' attention for Grandma May's Sugar Cookies, a special treat her stepmother prepares for birthdays and the Christmas holidays.

"This is really special," said Brandi of the cookbook. "You can treasure it forever."

"It was pretty good. It was better than just writing a paragraph," said George Thomas Ford, who shared his favorite winter warm-up food, Grandma's Red Irish Stew. Compiling the cookbook may have taken a lot of time, but it was worth it, George said.

"Hard work pays off," he said. "And you really should try the chocolate-covered cheesecake.'

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