This week marked the end of Carnevale, and the beginning of Lent. Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, and the day before – Shrove Tuesday – is the last day of Carnevale. In Italian it is called Martedi Grasso – Fat Tuesday – like Mardi Gras. In Australia, we know it as Pancake Tuesday. The origin of these names is the tradition of feasting on that day to use up foods that are not allowed during the Lenten fast – things like butter, sugar and eggs.
Cooking food with children at kinder is about involving them in the process. Our choice to make Australian pancakes is partly a nod to that tradition, but also partly due to practicalities. Pancakes are one of the easier things to make and cook in class.
I call them ‘fritelle’ in the Green Group program. I don’t know what pancakes are called in Italy, or whether they even eat them. But in the part of Italy I know best ‘fritelle’ are the Carnevale speciality. There, they are a kind of small donut, and are deep fried. Pancakes are also small and fried, so I figure ‘fritelle’ is a fair enough translation. But pan frying in an electric frying pan is much safer, and is something I am prepared to undertake in class.
We gathered as a whole group to make the pancake batter – burro, farina, uova, latte, zucchero e un pizzico di sale. The children took it in turns to add a spoonful of flour and stir the ingredients together. I had some keen volunteers to break the eggs, but I decided to do that myself rather than turn it into frittata by adding 13 eggs.
Another useful property of the pancake recipe is that it is very forgiving. I needed to be able to offer gluten and dairy free pancakes, and substitute ingredients work well. I had White Wings gluten-free self-raising flour, Nuttelex buttery margarine, and ricemilk. As it happened, I did not need to go dairy-free on the day, so I went with butter and cow’s milk. I made the pancakes fairly rich, with a bit of sugar, and plenty of butter and egg, so they were tasty enough to eat plain.
We cooked the fritelle around lunch time. While the children ate their lunch, I took children aside one at a time to cook a pancake with me. By doing it with one child at a time, I felt better able to control the risk, while still giving each child the maximum opportunity to be actively involved. The children poured a ladle of batter into the pan, watched the pancake for bubbles forming on top and told me when it was time to turn it, flipped it over with a spatula, counted to 20 while it cooked on the other side, and turned it out onto their plate.
Doing it one child at a time was lengthy, so it was important that the other children were not just waiting. They were engaged with eating their lunch, packing up and moving off to play. At the same time, they were in the room while it was happening, and were able to participate vicariously while others did it first. This can be important for children who are cautious about trying new things.
There is a lot of good learning to be had in an experience like this. Children are directly involved in doing something that is often done for them*. They are involved in making healthy food. They witness ingredients changing state from solid to liquid to solid. It is a memorable experience, with cultural resonance. It introduces new language in both Italian and English.
But the component I particularly noticed this time was the impact of my decision to work with each child individually to cook their pancake. I read something last year about the value of warm individual interactions with educators, where children can feel competent and appreciated. My initial motivation in setting it up as an individual activity was simply to provide close supervision around a hot frying pan. But I soon noticed it was providing a context for me to have an extended, supportive interaction with each child. And perhaps that was, in the end, the most valuable part of the whole exercise.
*These reflect various aspects of the Early Years Learning Framework including agency, wellbeing, science, memory, risk, cultural competence, language.