At Snipes Summer Camp the ‘Sweet Potatoes’ Spend a Day with ‘Chef A’ and Discover Veggies are Okay
At the Snipes Farm, campers discover that fresh, organic vegetables are delicious to eat…if they have cooked them
August 10, 2022
“Hot, Hot, Hot!”
It is a hot August day in the Cider Barn at the Snipes Farm & Education Center as 15 campers yell “Hot, Hot, Hot!” to make way for the girl carrying a hot frying pan full of sautéed vegetables.
The girl firmly grips the insulated handle of the pan as she walks with a determined step from her table to a large pot—into which she carefully slides the freshly cooked string beans, yellow squash, and green peppers.
Her fellow campers clap their hands and cheer for her and two other campers who also make a safe journey from table to pot.
Their cooking coach, Chef Anwar Rasheed, is delighted: “You are the only friends who have made it this far! Congratulations!”
Chef Anwar, a tall man with a compelling flair for the dramatic, is a popular figure at the Snipes summer camp. The kids affectionately call him “Chef A.”
During the school year, Anwar is employed by NYC-based Wellness in Schools. He works as a nutrition consultant with the public schools in Camden, NJ. In July and August, he works at the Snipes summer camp to teach children how to prepare, cook and enjoy the organic produce grown there.
The group of campers getting a cooking lesson from Anwar on this day are called the Sweet Potatoes. They range in age from 9 to 10.
When many children their age are glued to video games and smart phones, the Snipes campers enjoy being out in nature, feeding and caring for farm animals, singing songs, learning about organic farming…and learning how to cook.
Chop, Chop, Chop
The Sweet Potatoes listen carefully as Anwar explains the tasks ahead. He calls it the Cooking Olympics. The children are split into three teams. The first team to get to the finish line wins fruit popsicles.
“Today, we are going to visit the country of Morocco. We’re going to learn how to sauté vegetables, and we’re going to cook a very ancient grain: cous-cous,” Anwar says to the children gathered around three tables. “We’re also going to use Moroccan spices. One spice in particular is a very expensive spice called saffron.”
Anwar uncaps spice bottles and passes them to the children to smell: Cardamom, nutmeg, ginger, allspice and saffron. Two boys wrinkle their noses at the pungent smell of ginger.
Before the vegetables can be cooked, Anwar explains, they must first be chopped into smaller pieces. This is to be done using child-safe, plastic serrated knifes. Anwar demonstrates the proper technique. Use your writing hand to hold the knife handle. Put your non-dominant hand into the shape of a bear claw to hold the vegetables while cutting.
Don’t rush. Don’t hack. Cut using the weight of your body. Work deliberately.
Soon the sound of fresh organic vegetables being cut into small pieces fills the Cider Barn:chop, chop, chop. And then into large plastic bowls the vegetables go.
Pop, Pop, Pop
Next, Anwar pours cooking oil into frying pans placed on three single-burner, outdoor cook stoves, one for each table. The children turn the knobs to light the burners.
“This is a very dangerous part of the Olympics. You have to be very careful,” Anwar says. “We’re waiting. When I hear the oil popping, I know the pan is hot.”
The oil begins to spit and pop. Anwar instructs the children to back away from the tables.
“This is very important. We are cooking very hot items.” The oil in one pan spits loudly. “Hear that? That’s telling us to stand back. Hot, hot, hot!”
Anwar slides the cut vegetables into the three frying pans, then instructs his young charges in the art of the sauté.
Grip the pan’s insulated handle with one hand. With the other hand, slowly push the vegetables around in the pan using a large spoon.
While one child sautés, another drops large pinches of salt into the pan from high above.
Yes, Yes, Yes!
When the vegetables are done, one member of each team carries their full frying pan from the burner to a large pot.
The other children shout “hot, hot, hot” and step aside.
Indeed, it has been a hot day in the Cider Barn. The children can help themselves to freshly made lemonade from a giant glass urn at the entrance to the Cider Barn.
They have worked hard and even the fast-food-lovers among them begin to hanker for a taste of fresh-sauteed, farm-grown organic vegetables.
They line up with plastic forks in hand.
“Are the Sweet Potatoes ready?” Anwar asks.
“Yes, Yes, Yes!” they reply and eagerly sample their fare.
Anwar then cooks the cous-cous in organic chicken broth flavored with Moroccan spices. Slices of pita are fried in the still oily pans.
Anwar carefully places a portion of sauteed vegetables, cous-cous and fried pita bread into 15 small mason jars.
The children’s afternoon snack is ready.
Anwar explains to a visitor that many of the fruits and vegetables grown at Snipes Farm are incorporated into the campers’ daily snacks. It’s a Snipes tradition.
“Even if they don’t like vegetables, they like working with it and cutting it and seeing it, and they are encouraged to try it, and usually the smells are so attractive, they try it anyway,” Anwar says. “Then they have a different perspective about vegetables. It’s wonderful!”