As Gardening Australia featured Stephanie Alexander, in the kitchen gardens of landscape designer of Paul Bangay and at a school in Victoria, for its final program for 2018, we were visiting a Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden in Canberra.
Namadgi School in Kambah has been working to a Stephanie Alexander Foundation program since 2013. The teacher in charge, Peter Curtis, and learning support assistant Julie White, teach pupils from four years old at pre-school and kindergarten to year 4 when they are nine and 10 years old. The students all garden or cook at least once a week. Scarlett Brown, 10 years old, said she wants to be a chef when she is older and Lachlan Watts (aged seven) said he helps his dad cook at home.
Peter Curtis explained they do not talk about health in class but, rather, about tasty food which is really simple to make. The children are encouraged to feel garden soil and plants for sensory awareness and texture, and to taste and smell the edibles.
There are books everywhere so the children can investigate other food cultures. Namadgi has the highest Indigenous school population in the ACT. Peter says Stephanie’s Foundation curriculum resources are fantastic for schools as there is so much material with which to work (see: www.kitchengardenfoundation.org.au).
Peter and Julie are a team and she leads the children in the garden while he is most involved in the kitchen. Peter was a cook in Melbourne for 13 years after he retrained as a commercial cook through TAFE. In the garden there is a salad patch with a variety of lettuces, a dozen herb varieties, a range of pumpkins and tomatoes, capsicums, zucchini, cucumber, silver beet, eggplant, celery, bok choy, carrots and potatoes. Among fruit trees are espaliered orange in full blossom, mulberry, nectarine, plum, apple, pear, fig, lemon and lime. The first strawberries were picked during our visit but the idea in spring is to plant as late as possible so there are vegetables in February when school returns, plus blueberries, raspberries and thornless balckberries.
As we walked across the vast campus Peter was mobbed, like a rock star, by little children. Then we reached the garden which has lots of beds and greenhouse on the flat area with a cubby, and plants in an old doll’s pram and wheelbarrows, and lavender and rosemary hedges propagated on site which lead up a hill to raised vegie beds and a scarecrow. There is a worm farm and the little gardeners make their own composted soil.
In the large kitchen area the smells were enticing. Peter and student Aman Jok Nhial (aged nine) were making pizza (recipe follows) and Julie was helping Scarlett and Lachlan make rice paper rolls. Peter says for little hands which find it hard to manage fiddly things, this mixture makes it easy to place the filling in the roll. Children can then focus on preparing the rice paper and the rolling technique.
The filling included jasmine rice, cucumber, red capsicum, cabbage, red onions, coriander, chives, lettuce leaves, Vietnamese mint, spring onion stems, rice vermicelli, Japanese rice vinegar, soy sauce and sesame oil.
We were joined by Namadgi School principal Gareth Richards, who said the kids cooked a three-course meal for parents in term 2 - sweet potato and spinach or pumpkin soup, five varieties of pizza and bread and butter pudding.
Potato, leek and rosemary pizza
- 400g bread flour (preferably Italian -style “OO”)
- 200g semolina
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tsp instant yeast
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 150 mls water
- 150 mls milk
- 2 medium potatoes
Start yeast in half cup warm water and sugar. Mix all dry ingredients. Once yeast is active, add to dry ingredients with the milk and water. Knead for three mins then let the dough rise, knock it back and knead again for five minutes and make into balls. Let them rise again ready to roll into base.
Slice potatoes, coat in olive oil and par cook with the rosemary in the oven until they start to colour. Sweat leek until soft. Roll out the base and spread leek evenly over base. Place potato slices evenly over the base and sprinkle fresh rosemary over the top. Add parmesan or tasty cheese over the top too. Bake in a very hot oven for 15 minutes. (Peter uses pizza trays with holes in the bottom to help the crust crisp up, and pizza stones.)