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Teaching with food – go with the seasons

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Submitted Photo Chipas cheese rings are part of Veronika Ederers class material when she teaches children in Switzerland.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Veronika Ederer

Special to the Daily Record

When I started teaching in schools it became obvious to me that I was too curious to cover “only” subjects in cultural anthropology. I already wrote in this column about my classes on archaeology and famous explorers — subjects which are kind of close to cultural anthropology — but I am and always was also interested in biology and nature. Since my father is a gardener and very interested in nature, I learned a lot from him. I spent my first seven years in a small town, half an hour south of Munich, Germany, with pastures beginning only two houses down the street I lived on. I would bring caterpillars, tadpoles and newt larvae home to watch them grow, pupate and change into butterflies, frogs, toads or newts. Even when we moved to Munich, I stayed close to nature with our house being located in the middle of the city next to a creek with a small garden and a lot of animals. We had several aquariums for the little fishes I caught in the creek, only to feed them, watch them grow and set them free before our summer vacation. My family fed lost ducklings, saved sick birds, adopted some stray cats, and even caught a lost budgie who was sitting at the bird feeders in the snow one New Year’s evening. I had pets too, such as guinea pigs, a rabbit and a hamster. Feeding and caring for animals was part of my daily life growing up.

On our Sunday walks through the countryside and parks, I learned the names of native trees and plants and got to know the calls of different birds. During those walks my parents and I always went looking for something: Berries in summer, mushrooms in fall, deer antlers in winter and caterpillars in spring. Later on my father developed an interest in fossils, and from that time on we spent a lot of holidays with the nose on the ground. Near the area in Bavaria where the famous archeopteryx was found, we went as well and collected ammonites, fossilized shellfish and snails. We looked for fossilized plants, fish and of course, we dreamed of finding a pterosaur — that never happened. (There are quarries north of Munich where visitors and tourists are permitted to dig for fossils. In 2010, a private collector found an archeopteryx that scientists analyzed and declared as the missing link between dinosaurs and modern birds.) For a short while, I thought of studying biology or paleontology after finishing school, but I was always bad in chemistry, so I decided against it.

When I started teaching gifted children, I made sure to combine my interests and knowledge about nature with teaching. There were already some biologists whose teaching included nature in the city, so I decided to design a class about Earth’s evolution. I was able to teach about fossils and explain the development of species. Of course, this class didn’t include food, not like my other classes. Nevertheless, it was a great class because I could include stories about the origins of species, mistakes that were made in science, as well as new recent discoveries. I myself learned a lot preparing the lessons. And of course, I’d bring my own fossils to show and for the kids to touch. Children in this class are usually older, 8-12, and some of them already attended my classes and knew of my collections. They would ask me: “And this is all stored in your apartment?” “Yes, it is,” I’d say.

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Three years ago, I decided to create a new class for the gifted children where I again wanted to combine culture and nature. I named it “Journey through all seasons.” I didn’t want to design a class around spring, summer, etc. because children learn about the seasons in the regular classes. I wanted to go further — why do we have seasons? Since when? Do you know about the ice age? What about people living in the arctic winter? How do animals and plants cope with the seasons? How do people live without seasons in the tropics?

I know we have seasons because of the ecliptic orbit of Earth around the sun, but this is a tough subject for first graders. It meant that I had to understand the subject very well to be able to explain it with simple words. For this first basic lesson I prepared a globe, with a little person standing on the part of Switzerland, a yellow ball representing the sun and a glass with some sand and water.

For this class it was difficult to find matching recipes, because I needed to find meals according to the different seasons.

The kids liked the class a lot, especially the nature part. Kids are very interested in certain animals like big cats, some are interested in the rain forest, the landscape in Australia or the behavior of animals. So I painted the big picture, including geography, seasons, plants and animals, as well as human culture and history. One part I wanted the kids to remember was that everything is connected, and if something like the climate changes, plants, animals and humans have to adapt.

This time, I want to share one of the recipes from Paraguay with you. Chipas is a traditional bread which in pre-European times was made only from cassava, also known as manioc, or from maize flour by the Guarani people. After the Jesuits introduced livestock, native recipes were enriched with butter, eggs and cheese. Today, chipas is a very common bread and sold by street vendors not only in Paraguay, but also in other South American countries. It is also a traditional bread for the Christian Easter celebration.

1 2/3 cups cassava flour (substitute with cornstarch or tapioca starch if cassava flour is not available)

1/2 stick butter

1 Egg

3 Tbsp ricotta cheese

1/3 cups grated cheddar

¼ tsp salt

¼ tsp aniseeds

Preheat the oven 350F. Combine Butter, egg, ricotta and cheddar cheese in a bowl. Stir in cassava flour, salt and aniseed to make a firm dough. Form rings with the diameter of your thumb and place on a non-stick baking sheet. Leave a bit of space between the rings. Bake for 12-15 minutes and serve lukewarm.

Veronika Ederer received her PhD from the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, Germany, in cultural anthropology. Originally from Germany, she has worked several years in Switzerland in museums such as the North American Native Museum in Zürich and with the gifted program “Universikum” in Zürich. She has visited New Mexico and Roswell for her research and is looking forward to returning as soon as the pandemic is over.

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