This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The library is more than a place for children to escape from the heat and dive into their favorite stories this summer. At Parkway Central Library, young people have the opportunity to cook up some delicious fun.
Summer Thyme Cooks!, a weeklong program at the library’s Culinary Literacy Center, teaches middle school and high school students how to create their own meals.
“I like expressing my creativity; the feeling of eating what I make is really cool,” said Ella Adamchak, 11.
“My favorite part has been learning how to use a stove and make a pizza, because I want to work at a pizzeria when I’m older,” added Ella, one of 16 children participating in last week’s middle school program.
Frank Alston, an instructor at Summer Thyme Cooks! (Photo: Aishah Fasasi)
“There is a lot we can learn through cooking – culturally, STEM, etc.,” said Frank Alston, a Summer Thyme Cooks! instructor.
The students were divided into groups of four, and they surrounded long, wheeled stainless-steel tables. They worked as groups but created their food individually. On each table was a booklet of instructions, and four additional instructors went around the room to answer any questions that the students might have.
“It’s not as hard as you think it would be,” said Kameron Waters, 12. “They help you through the steps, and once you get ahead of it, it’s easy.”
Over the course of the week, the middle school students made pizza, burgers, and galettes – or, as the children called them, “fruit pies.”
With bowls of cut fruit at their side and multiple spices on their table, students began by rolling out dough. They then were able to choose between apples, pears, and peaches. They put the fruit onto the dough and wrapped the dough around it, making sure the fruit was in the center and the dough was not covering the top. After they added their touches of spices, the galettes went into the oven.
Kameron said he hadn’t had much experience with programs like this one. “I’m more of an athletic kid,” he said. “I wanted to find a way to be more helpful around the house.”
Brianna Burrell, 10, got her first true experience in cooking at the program. “It’s really fun to meet new people and eat new foods,” she said.
The program emphasizes that this is a starting point into the world of culinary arts for all students.
Shayna Marmar, Nourishing Literacy program manager at Parkway Central Library. (Photo: Aishah Fasasi)
“We want it to be really joyful,” said Shayna Marmar, Nourishing Literacy program manager. “We don’t want them to feel judged.”
Alston, the instructor, said they used discussion of ingredients as entry points to learning about cooking, noting that it increases student engagement with the food.
“Some kids are picky eaters,” he said. “And yet they have so many interesting questions and thoughts.”
Marmar and the Summer Thyme team want their students’ cultures to be represented in the recipes, so everyone has some association with what they make. She used the example of talking about pickles as a way to explore Indian cuisine. The children looked for examples of pickled ingredients in Indian food.
“It is important to us that all students feel connected [to the food],” said Marmar.
The Summer Thyme program will be finished next week, but the Culinary Literacy Center (CLC) offers free programs during the school year both at the library and off-site at District and charter schools.
Marmar said the goal of the Nourishing Literacy team is to create a sense of community and show the vast opportunities that libraries can offer families in the city.
“There are so many unique ways to get involved in libraries,” she said. “As long as youth are feeling a positive sense of community with the library, and we are helping to build that sense of community, we are happy.”
For more information about the Cultural Literacy Center, call 215-686-5323.