In the gymnasium of B’Nai Jacob Synagogue last week, dozens of people breezed in and out of the kitchen, preparing delicious vegetarian meals and enjoying each other’s company.
The smell of fresh fruit soup, Mediterranean and peach flatbreads coated with olive oil and thinly sliced cheeses, and apricot brandy combined with Moscato wine in the sparkling white peach sangria, mixed to create a mouthwatering, harmonious aroma in the bustling gym.
“I like hands-on and working with people,” said Marilyn Urecki, who was teaching the Farm to Fork cooking event, one of the available summer classes in the WVU/OLLI Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
“Some recipes I have [in my head] and some have come from my family, then other one’s I’ll look at the different menus and different places and then play around. I’ll look through the internet, then I’ll just tweak and I’ll try them out first and then I’ll say, ‘oh this works’ or ‘maybe I wouldn’t do this.’”
Urecki began the day by telling the hall full of participants about the history of the Farm to Fork program.
“In the 1940s, when we started moving off the farm and into the city and everything of that nature, we couldn’t get our food locally anymore,” she said. “It was hard to get fresh food coming into the city and that’s when grocery stores popped up.”
“Around the 1960s and ‘70s what ended up happening was a lot of people were getting tired of not having fresh food, so what happened was there was a big, huge boom that started out on the west coast. People started going back to the farm and then selling their markets, so going to a market or a roadside and selling their goods.”
Almost all the food Urecki chose for the Farm to Fork cooking class was locally picked up from Capitol Market the day before.
“The fresh and local [food] is really nice,” she said. “Not only do we get something really nice, but at the same time we help support our community and the more we support our community, the better our community becomes.”
From the social hall, participants moved to the gym that was set up with several different stations peppered with ingredients to make a specific dish and began cooking.
Menu items included for the first course, sangria punch and sparkling white peach sangria; appetizer, hearts of palm ceviche, heirloom tomato ceviche, and farmers market hummus; soup, cold summer fruit soup; main course, shirazi salad, Mediterranean flatbread, peach basil mozzarella flatbread, berries and fontina flatbread, eight tomato flatbread; dessert, no-bake fruit dessert; bonus dish, tomato salad.
Carolyn Musk, MJ Moss and Linda Casto were making tomato salad at their station and said they’d been coming for two or three years to all the OLLI classes. They just keep getting better, they said.
“It’s good to get out of the house and get involved with other people,” Musk said. “I think that’s the most important thing.”
“We’re never too old to learn,” Moss said.
Liza Youell, from Charleston, said she learned about the cooking class through OLLI and signed up.
“This was so much fun today,” Youell said. “I learned how to make cold fruit soup and I had never made it before so it was wonderful. For summer it’s wonderful.”
“I was the only one at first and then someone else came over and then we got two more people who helped us at the end so we had teamwork going,” she said. “Everybody was doing their share and I hope we came out with a good product.”
After all the separate dishes were prepared, they were taken into the social hall where participants joined to eat what they had made.
The main goal of the class was to educate and demonstrate how one can go to a farmer’s market and discover new things to do in the kitchen with the products available each week.
Urecki purchased all the ingredients herself for the cooking class and prepared all the stations.
“I do this for these women and these men [who] have given to the community and so I don’t feel like that’s necessary for them to have to pay for it, so we do this,” she said.
However, participants did donate to Urecki and the synagogue where her husband, Victor Urecki, is the rabbi.
Marilyn Urecki said she hoped everyone at the event had a great time, enjoyed who they were with and could see the simplicity in each of the recipes.
“They [the recipes] don’t have to be fussy,” she said. “They [participants] don’t have to do 40 bajillion different steps or anything like that. They can enjoy with bounty and help the community and the local farmers.”
Everyone filled their plates with the delicious food prepared, talked about what each other made and, after participants were finished, they got to take home a packet of recipes of the food they made that day.
“This class is so meaningful for so many people,” said Kay Goodwin from Charleston. “All of the OLLI classes are marvelous. It’s a marvelous investment in your time and learning about the talent that we have in the Kanawha Valley here and each time the OLLI classes grow and it’s so reassuring that people still want to learn and do.”