Alex Seman, 7, is a seasoned cook who adds cheese to scrambled egg mixtures and helps her father bake bread.
But she was nonetheless enlightened by a lesson on scratch cooking at the Young Scholars of Western Pennsylvania Charter School in Baldwin Township last week.
"I learned that yeast is like magic," the Mt. Lebanon resident said of its role in making homemade bread rise, as was demonstrated by Chris Fennimore, WQED Multimedia Pittsburgh's director of programming and host of "QED Cooks."
"I like that he kept putting the cap on it and it kept popping off," Paige Fredrick, 6, of Baldwin Borough said.
Paige, who drops banana slices in the blender as her mother makes smoothies, said she was so motivated by the presentation that she might help make homemade muffins.
"Scratch foods are better for them, and it gives them a closer connection to what they are ingesting," Mr. Fennimore said. "It is not enough information if it tastes good or bad.
"And kids are fascinated by this stuff, like magic tricks."
"We're always trying to push our students to be healthier," fifth-grade teacher Stephanie Michael said.
Alpaslan Ozdogan, the school's CEO, said that besides the nutritional benefits, the invitation was extended to Mr. Fennimore with an eye toward students' adulthood.
"We are trying to open the door for them -- maybe there is a future cook among them, or a cook in their own homes," he said.
Mr. Fennimore conducted two presentations: on Jan. 16 for 100 students in kindergarten through second grade, and last Thursday for 90 students in grades 3 through 6.
He said the plan to demonstrate making one's own dough using water, yeast, sugar, flour and salt fell flat on the younger students.
"I gave them pieces of dough, which stopped them in their tracks as it was a little sticky, and they kept squeezing it," he said. "Then again, how great is that, as it is also about tactile learning."
The lesson resonated with Darby Majcher, 6, who asked her mother, school nurse Rachel Majcher, that evening for "scrap" to make something to eat.
Mr. Fennimore grew up with the scratch cooking of his mother and grandmother.
His first introduction to processed foods was a frozen pot pie he longed for after seeing it advertised.
But it turned out to be nothing like the home-style version his mother made by combining her own ingredients of corn, carrots, peas and other vegetables.
"It didn't even look like food," he said of the frozen pie.
Besides the dough demonstration, Mr. Fennimore held up various fruits and vegetables and asked what could be made from them. For apples, students responded with pie, sauce, juice, cider and cobbler.
For potatoes, he asked: "Is buying a packet and adding water 'scratch cooking'?
"If you make it with a potato, that's mashed potatoes."
Emily Seliciano, 11, of Whitehall said she learned that scratch cooking is fun and healthier, and that she might make pizza dough by herself using the five basic ingredients.
Satema Traore, 12, of Sheraden had never thought of what goes into bread before the demonstration.
Hansa Sen, the school's mathematics coordinator, said the best part was the lesson on the difference between scratch cooking and using a ready product.
"They learned that chicken nuggets in a box is not scratch," she said.neigh_south
Margie Smykla, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org