DANVILLE — Edison Elementary School fourth-graders who participated in the school’s 31st annual Taste of the Colonies event Tuesday enjoyed sweet treats and candle dipping while learning about the history of the area’s early settlers.
This was the fourth year the fourth-graders — and their teachers Jim Rogers and Gail Lewis — carried on with the longtime school tradition that previously had been reserved for the school’s fifth-graders. Since the district’s reorganization in 2016, fifth-graders now attend either South View Upper Elementary or Northeast Elementary Magnet schools.
Since pioneer-style cooking is the highlight of the Taste of the Colonies, the event has been adjusted slightly to reflect the skills and abilities of the younger students.
“We’ve cut back on what we cook because we realize they’re not fifth-graders,” Susan Biggs-Warner, Vermilion County Conservation District educator, said. “It takes them a little longer and they need assistance.
“It takes them a little longer to measure things and to cut up things,” she said.
Biggs-Warner has overseen the Taste of the Colonies event all 31 years. It is the longest running school program that she does. The activity originally was started by retired Edison teacher Lyle Holycross and entailed cooking an entire turkey dinner.
On Tuesday morning, 37 fourth-graders made apple cider by crushing five bushels of apples with an old-fashioned wooden press, as well as fry bread and apple butterscotch crisp.
This was the second year that apple butterscotch crisp was on the menu. The crisp has replaced cornbread, which had been around since roasting turkeys had been a part of the event in the early years.
One aspect of the day that hasn’t changed in more than three decades is how the food is cooked. The apple butterscotch crisp is cooked in a cast iron Dutch oven over an open fire, and the fry bread dough is cooked in a cast iron kettle of hot oil over an open fire as well.
The cinnamon-and-sugar-coated fry bread is a perennial favorite with the children.
Little did the children realize, but they were learning math and science lessons as they prepared the recipes and cooked the food.
The two recipes taught the children skills such as how to measure ingredients and how to cut up apples safely with a knife, Biggs-Warner said.
“To prepare for today, we talked about safety when they are around knives, fire, hot wax and hot oil,” Rogers said.
Rogers also uses the event as a teaching opportunity in the classroom in the days leading up to the Taste of the Colonies.
“I read The Little House in the Big Woods to my class,” he said. “We also talked about the early American Colonies in the Northeast.”
Just like in past years, Edison students in kindergarten through third grade visited the food stations manned by the fourth-graders throughout the morning.
The fourth-graders at each food station explained what they made and how they prepared it in cast iron pots over an open fire on the school grounds. All of the classes received a sample of fry bread and a cup of homemade apple cider to try.
Fourth-graders Ashton Anderson and Isaac Forest took turns crushing the apples with the wooden press to make cider.
“It was not hard,” Isaac said of turning the crank on the press.
The end result was worth it, Isaac said, because the cider “tasted good.”
In addition to cooking over open fires as the pioneers did, Biggs-Warner engaged the children in two different games: a potato race in which children had to carry a potato between their knees and hop without dropping it, and an egg toss in which children tossed eggs to one another as the distance between them grew.
“Pioneer kids didn’t have electricity or video games, TV or radios — all the things you guys have — so they had to find things around their homestead to play with,” she told the fourth-graders. “They used toys that usually would have been food.”
The fourth-graders enjoyed the egg toss, even though some of them ended up with a little egg on them.
“I’m the one who got the worst damage,” Bentley Lewsader said about the remnants of an egg on his jeans.
Malik McPeak said, “I think I got egg in my eyebrow.”
Fellow classmate Kayden Moore summed up his feelings about the egg on his clothes with an “Ewww.”
In the end fourth-graders Sophie Osterbur and Lovie Jones were victorious because their egg did not break.
“She threw it and it hit my foot and it didn’t break,” Sophie said incredulously. “How did it not break?”
Sophie added that her favorite activity of the day was cooking the fry bread.
“I liked doing the fry bread,” she said. “It was cool how they baked it over a fire.”