The majority of the youngest students at Pine Log Elementary School gave a rating of "Yum!" to a new dish they got to sample during lunch Wednesday.
The pre-K classes were the first group to try a recipe for Caramelized Skillet Peaches as part of the Georgia Grown Test Kitchen, a program started in 2013 by the Georgia Department of Agriculture to promote local and healthy eating in schools across the state by supplying school nutrition directors with recipes that use Georgia Grown commodities.
The 395 students at Pine Log, chosen as Bartow County's test-kitchen site for 2018, were invited to taste-test the peach treat — made from huge peaches from Jaemor Farms in Alto and topped with whipped cream — and show their approval or disapproval by placing a sticker under the "Yum!" side or the "Maybe Next Time" side of a poster.
"It's like peach cobbler without the bread," Director of Nutrition Services Pam Blakeney said. "We wanted to do something while peach season was still in."
Two preschoolers who really liked the dish and wanted more were 4-year-olds Aiden Hill and Ashton Keaton.
"I already eat all of them," Aiden said. "They were good."
"They taste good," Ashton added.
But Raimi Sewell, also 4, had a different opinion.
She said she didn't like them "because they're nasty."
Some kids liked the whipped cream better than the peaches, but one little girl asked for a second serving.
Overall, the peaches were a hit, "and many wanted seconds," Blakeney said.
The school system is entering into its fourth year of offering its cafeterias as test-kitchen sites, starting with Clear Creek Elementary in 2015 and followed by Adairsville High in 2016, Woodland Middle in 2017 and now Pine Log in 2018.
"Once [your system is] chosen, you're not automatic, but you can tell them you're going to do it again, and then we choose which school," Blakeney said. "What we've been doing is we've been trying to rotate it around because I'd like for every school to do it at some point in time."
The director said she and her department have a couple of reasons for wanting one of their schools to serve as a test kitchen each year.
"We like to get the feedback from the kids," she said. "Kids get involved, and it helps make the decisions on what they're going to have. It's also promoting Georgia-grown products. That's the criteria is that it's got to be Georgia-grown. It's whatever is in season in Georgia. Sometimes when you get to the middle of winter, it's kind of hard to find something."
One year, she said, the nutrition staff froze squash in the summer so they could have it for the winter.
"That's when it's ripe," she said. "It ain't going to be ripe when we get ready to eat it."
New School Nutrition Coordinator Emily Rollins said she thinks the Georgia Grown program is "wonderful."
"It gives the kids a chance to try something they may not have tried before or try it in a new way, and then it kind of gives us an idea if they like it or not and if we could maybe put it on the menu," she said.
The program also helps the kids "learn where their food comes from, that hey, peaches are grown in Georgia and to kind of see that peaches don't have to be by themselves," Rollins said.
"In this recipe, they can be like a dessert," she said, noting it's "super-simple to make."
Needed to make the dish for eight people are four firm peaches, ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, 2 tablespoons margarine, ¼ cup brown sugar, 3 tablespoons water and whipped topping or vanilla ice cream.
Dip whole peaches in boiling water and immediately submerge them in an ice-water bath. Slice, peel skin and remove pit and cut into bite-size pieces. Toss peaches with cinnamon.
Melt margarine; add sugar and water on low heat until sugar is dissolved. Add peach mixture and cook until caramelized, about 5 minutes. Serve warm with whipped topping or ice cream.
Since most students liked it, the new recipe will "more than likely" become part of the lunch menu for all schools, Blakeney said.
"Sometimes we'll find what we can do to make it a little better and then we roll it out," she said, adding she often tries a recipe at home or the staff will make a small sample to "see if it's going to work" before serving it to students.
The director said the nutrition staff will be preparing 10 recipes total — one every month that school's in session — at Pine Log this year.
"We develop our own [recipes]," she said. "We first select the featured Georgia Grown item by what is in season for that month. Next, we do a little research for recipes that use that item. For the Caramelized Skillet Peaches, we found inspiration on some internet sites like Food Network, Southern Living, Georgia Grown, etc. Then we tweak the recipe to use ingredients we have or take out items we do not want included. The recipe then becomes a combination of different recipes with our creativity added."
The next taste-test will be in September, but Blakeney said she doesn't yet have a date or a recipe for it.