Getting a taste of food basics

For students who skipped home economics — or didn’t pay attention in class — Alison Crerar’s “Understanding Foods” course is feeding their brains and stomachs.

It comes as no surprise to Crerar that some of her first- and second-year students don’t know how to use kitchen appliances or even how to turn them on. They may have grown up in families that were too busy to prepare home-cooked meals and relied instead on take-out and frozen dinners.

“You definitely see the learning,” she says. “They gain that confidence because they know the ‘why’ of what’s happening. They’re able to adapt recipes and create their own recipes because they know how one ingredient interacts with other ingredients.”

Students not only learn the basics of cooking but also the science behind food preparation in class and food safety. They then apply their knowledge in a food lab, which consists of a fully-equipped kitchen and pantry. Whirlpool recently donated eight new stoves, a washer/dryer and a stand-mixer to the kitchen.

Not to be confused with U of G’s food science program, “Understanding Foods” is aimed at non-science students such as those in hospitality and nutrition – the course is a requirement for both degrees.

Students learn about a new food group each week and try recipes using those foods. They began the fall term learning about salads, followed by fruits, then vegetables. When cooking vegetables, Crerar recommends adding a small amount of lemon juice to Guelph’s alkaline water to keep them from getting slimy.

The baking component of the course teaches students how to use common ingredients found in cakes, muffins and desserts. “Even though they’re all the same ingredients, but in different ratios, you get a totally different product,” says Crerar, who studied nutrition at U of G and took the course she now teaches. The order in which ingredients appear in a recipe also matters. Adding lemon juice too early to a lemon meringue pie, for example, will turn it into soup.

As for grading, the proof of the pudding isn’t in the taste. Students are graded not on how well they executed a recipe but how well they demonstrated their learning of the material. Crerar can tell what their concoctions taste like by the looks on their faces.

“Accidents happen, but they learn from accidents,” she says. “Sometimes the accident is edible, sometimes not. There’s a learning opportunity in everything you do.”

What’s the most popular recipe? Crerar often gets emails from former students, asking her for the beef stew recipe they learned in class. “It comes out when they try to impress their significant other’s family.” – SUSAN BUBAK