Finding joy in cooking

Chef Barbara Wright leads a cooking demonstration.

With the many farmers markets, backyard gardens and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares, some folks are finding it impossible to keep up with a bounty of zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant and other fruits and vegetables.

At Holy Wisdom Monastery, cooking and canning classes are helping not only to solve that problem but hopefully inspire a love of cooking.

Participants also have the chance to work with a professional chef. The instructor, Holy Wisconsin Monastery Chef Barbara Wright, is the former owner of the Dardanelle's a Mediterranean restaurant that was on Madison's West Side.

"I'm one of those people who is passionate about getting people to cook," Wright said.

Wright noted that this areas offers plenty of opportunity to find locally grown produce, but much of the time, the missing piece is an interest in cooking.

"There seems to be some kind of generational divide," she said. "People who are probably 50 and over have a completely different experience than people who are 50 and younger."

The older generations grew up with gardens and probably saw their parents canning.

"For the younger generation, a lot of people are missing that ability to actually cook," Wright said.

Good for you, community

The benefits of purchasing and eating locally grown foods are many. First, fresh foods are healthier than packaged food.

But Wright points out the economic benefits not only affect individual families but span throughout society.

"The more people buy locally, the more is available. It creates more farms. It's something that is not only their benefit, but benefits their community but also the society as a whole."

Wright added with more fresh foods, there is less reliance on "the big agricultural system, which has been shown not to be the healthiest food."

Many people have not really eaten well prepared, fresh food.

"There's a huge difference in not only the taste, but in how it reacts in the body," Wright said, and added that current health problems often stem from poor diet.

The cooking class is meant to provide the missing link, to teach people basic cooking skills that are stimulating and interesting.

Classes began initially this summer just for members of Holy Wisdom's Assembly. They filled quickly, said Mike Sweitzer-Beckman, director of development at Holy Wisdom.

"What I find around here is that food and sharing around the table is popular," Sweitzer-Beckman said.

Sweitzer-Beckman and the instructors decided to offer classes for non-members, as well, and a Sept. 12 class focused on creating sauces.

A second class will be open to the public on Oct. 25 from 6-8 p.m. Its focus will be on holiday cooking.

Wright said the intention is inspire excitement about the meals people can create.

"With the amount of frozen doughs out there, you can make things pretty easily," she said, citing puff and phyllo pastry dough.

The class will teach participants to create dishes that will "wow" their relatives, Wright said.

"What I'm trying to do is connect in people's minds the need to eat a healthier diet and enjoy the art of cooking at the same time," she said.


With all the bounty from the garden, learning to preserve fruits and vegetables extends their use.

Patricia Hobbins-Kemp will lead a canning demonstration from 6:30-8 p.m. Oct. 4. Hobbins-Kemp has taught caning through the UW-Madison's mini-courses and sells her canned goods and preserves.

She began canning at the age of 18, when her father bought a home with several fruit trees.

"I'm now 65. I raised my whole family on home canned food," she said.

Hobbins-Kemp has seen an increased interest in canning. She said it takes time, but she believes people want to know more about where their food is coming from.

"There's much more of a desire to know where things come from but also to be part of the process, so we're not so alienated from the food we eat," she added.

Hobbins-Kemp said shopping locally is also more more economical.

"When you can just pull something out the garden and can and freeze it, it's much better taste-wise and nutritionally," she said.

Hobbins-Kemp will go over cherry jam and jelly, and will teach canning techniques.

"The main thing in the process of canning is to know when the product is safe," she said.

Many people are afraid to can, she added.

"Women have been doing this for eons. You're not going to poison your family. I didn't poison mine," she said.

Now her own children also enjoy canning, she said.

A Benedictine tradition

Utilizing the land and hospitality are part of a 1,500-year-old Benedictine tradition, Sweitzer-Beckman said. The Sister of Saint Benedict have long been stewards of the land surrounding the monastery, with gardens, apple and pear orchards.

"It's very important to keep the cycle going, to keep having fresh produce here to enjoy. The scraps get composted on the property as well," Sweitzer-Beckman said.

Wright noted that part of the Rule of Benedict from the 7th Century has to do with hospitality and eating for good health. She added that the Sisters are exceptional gardeners.

"The food coming out of the garden boggles the mind," she said. "Their gardening techniques are so good, even in a drought year it's very prolific."

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