Seniors' palates introduced to bok choy, fennel, tofu

Dietitian turns state requirement into a tasty time

June 03, 1999|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

In the most American-pie corner of Carroll County, who would expect senior citizens to be experimenting with bok choy, fennel gratin and tofu chocolate pudding?

Dietitian Eleanor Pella is pleasantly surprised to find more than a dozen elders every month waiting for her to put some razzle dazzle alongside the chicken rice casserole and bran muffins that are standard fare at Taneytown Senior Center.

In May, Pella introduced them to "Uncommonly Good Fruits and Vegetables" -- a guide to some of the unusual offerings in the produce department. In April, it was "Arugula to Watercress," a class on greens. Disguised as a cooking course, these lessons are a creative way of fulfilling the state requirement for nutrition classes at centers.

Now if Mary DeBerry sees bok choy in the grocery store, she'll know the vitamin- and fiber-packed green can go right into a salad.

"We were dairy farmers," said DeBerry. "We were bread, meat and potatoes. And a lot of desserts. I made an awful lot of cherry pies in my time."

Now she lives alone and doesn't cook much. She might give one of Pella's recipes a try, she said. But she confessed that she couldn't remember the names of the greens Pella used to make a salad in April.

"My memory's about as long as my nose," DeBerry said. "Oh my goodness, what was in the salad? Oh, I don't know. It was some new thing, some new greens we haven't used before.

Some of those things you don't find here in Taneytown.

"It was very good, though," DeBerry said. "She used different seasonings but they blended together."

Pella is a dietitian for Gettysburg Hospital, which provides free public education. Taneytown Senior Center Director Brenda Lerner received a flier on the nutrition class, then called to ask Pella to bring it to the seniors once a month. The state Department of Aging requires senior centers to offer nutrition education at least twice a year.

It's often in the form of a talk, whether by a dietitian or a center manager, said Jennifer Drzik, nutrition program manager for the Department of Aging.

"Sporadically, there are cooking classes in other senior centers," Drzik said. "Anytime there are samples, it gets the point across better. And a lot of times you see these things at the grocery store and you think it would be interesting but you don't know what to do with it."

Taneytown's center draws a lot of former and current farmers more likely to grow their food than browse for exotic produce at the grocery store.

Mary Davis, 75, liked the fennel au gratin. She's going to look for seeds to raise the plant, a cross between celery and anise, in one of the two large gardens where she grows all the corn and potatoes for her extended family.

The gratineed fennel, in which sliced and blanched ribs of fennel were placed in a baking pan and sprinkled with bread crumbs, salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese, was the hands-down favorite. By the time the last of the group came to try it, there were barely any crumbs left.

The collards, watercress and other greens Pella brought for the first class were hardly new to the audience, but she showed them more healthful ways of preparing them.

"They know these greens. They just shouldn't cook them all day long," she said. She showed them how to put raw greens into a salad, or give them a quick steaming.

A few people recognized the chayote, which Pella used to make a crunchy slaw. Most people knew kohlrabi, but they never had it blanched and marinated with a wake-up dose of hot pepper flakes.

This month, she'll teach them how to cook with soy products, which have been proven to lower blood cholesterol and are thought to offer protection from breast cancer and prostate cancer.

But she'll have to break down soy's image problems first.

Ruth Strzelczyk rather liked the gratineed fennel. But the mention of tofu, chocolate-flavored or not, causes her eyes to narrow.

"I tried it in the Chinese place," she said. "They put it in place of chicken, but believe me, it didn't taste like chicken."

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