• A Recipe for Fun: Harvest of the Month at Hosford

    When students from Cleveland High School’s Advanced Commercial Foods and Baking class visited Hosford Middle School last month to try out a new recipe they called Baked Pears Goat Cheese Sunflower Seed Delight, the results of an informal sticker poll were very much on the positive side: 26 kids liked it and 30 loved it. Twenty-two were on the fence.

    Sixth grader Isaac Huynh was in the latter category. “I’ve had goat cheese before, but this goat cheese tastes different,” he said. “I think the whole thing might have been better with whipped cream.”

    Such honest feedback is a valuable part of a new program that brings together high school culinary students with their younger peers for regular taste tests of original recipes that feature fresh, healthy, and often locally sourced ingredients. 

    The program came about last January when Whitney Ellersick, Senior Director of Nutrition Services for Portland Public Schools, approached Phillip Hale, culinary instructor at Grant High School. 

    Ellersick was looking for ways to incorporate student-created recipes into the district’s lunch menus. She and Chef Hale thought it might be fun for culinary students to compete to have their recipes served at the district-level, and they decided to plan the whole thing around the Harvest of the Month, which spotlights and prioritizes seasonal produce.

    February’s Harvest of the Month was the pear, which just happens to be the state fruit of Oregon – which just happened to join the United States on February 14, 1859. Grant High School students will see what they can do with mushrooms in April, while Lincoln students tackle asparagus in May. 

    Cleveland junior Tygan Doll was part of the four-person team who created the winning Baked Pear Goat Cheese Sunflower Seed Delight. He and his teammates – Jenny Pham, Sophia Pulliam, and Otto Etting – were aiming for a layered recipe with a pleasing taste and texture.

    “We had the pear and agave syrup for its sweet side, and then goat cheese is somewhere between sweet and savory and it adds a nice texture,” he said. “So do the sunflower seeds. They gave it this really cool crunch.”

    Otto said they arrived at the recipe in part through trial and error. “It took us about a class period to hammer it out. Some of it was throwing a bunch of stuff at the wall and seeing what stuck.”

    Their teacher, Caitlyn Hacklander, said they’ve all learned an important, real-life lesson in cooking and catering for large groups.

    “Our class is a CTE class, and this is a great way to take the skills they’ve learned in the classroom and apply them in the real world,” she said.

    Hacklander’s students walked from Cleveland to Hosford to serve their pear dish and hear first-hand from middle schoolers like Isaac Huynh what they thought of it. 

    According to PPS's FoodCorps School Nutrition Service Member Cal Verstrate, it’s that direct interaction with the people who’ve sampled their food that can be really helpful for the high school culinary students.

    “In my opinion, young children are some of the most honest people you’ll ever meet,” they said.

    And what about those young, brutally honest children? How do they benefit? Ellersick said she hopes this program expands their palettes. 

    “We want kids to eat more fruits and vegetables,” she said. “This is one way to make that happen. If kids try something new and healthy that’s made by other students and they like it, they might start making healthy foods a bigger part of their daily diet.”

    She added that she hopes that things like the competition, the Harvest of the Month program, and community school gardens have the power to transform how people see and feel about so-called ‘cafeteria food.’

    “It’s fun to see kids grow their own food and then cook it and eat it, to see how excited they are during that cycle and the pride they take in what they grow and make. All together, it really could change the stereotype of school lunch.”