Girl Scouts' cookbook tackles unusual veggies

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Pattypan squash. Swiss chard. Purple potatoes.

Farmers may be familiar with those vegetables, but most of us probably have never seen or heard of them -- and those who have probably don't know how to prepare those veggies to eat.

When Girl Scout Troop No. 51327 of McCandless helped with the North Hills Community Outreach Bellevue food pantry and its Rosalinda Sauro Sirianni Garden, the Scouts were unfamiliar with some of the vegetables they were growing.

Many of the people who received the produce -- the clients of the food pantry -- weren't familiar with them, either, said Rosie Wise, garden and youth coordinator for NHCO.

"Our seeds are mainly donated, and there are varieties that folks are just not familiar with. As a gardener, you can't resist the temptation to grow new varieties," she said. "I noticed a packet of pattypan squash in a bundle of donated seed packets when planning out the garden beds early in the spring. But with our pantry clients being unfamiliar with it -- I have only seen it sold at Whole Foods -- they just don't take it."

The abundance of the squash and the reluctance of recipients to take it led to a cookbook the Girl Scouts produced called "Simple Sides."

"The idea for our cookbook just kind of grew from there," said Shannon Serody, a co-leader of the troop with Rhonda McGuire.

The girls had helped with the Produce to the People project through the Greater Pittsburgh Community Foodbank but wanted to help in their own neighborhood, Mrs. Serody said, so they began volunteering at NHCO.

The Scouts researched the various types of produce, taking photos, scouring the Internet and asking friends and families for their favorite recipes. Early on, Ms. Wise and the girls decided photos would be vital to the project.

"Pictures of the veggies was an important educational tool and simple recipes were key. We discussed the layout of the book, how keeping it simple was the best option," she said.

Recipes were limited to four or five ingredients, and the ingredients had to be things most home cooks would have in their kitchens or that would be easy to obtain.

"The simpler, the better," Mrs. Serody said. "We wanted the clients to use the recipes, not be scared off if they were too complicated."

Jessie Serody, a Scout, worked with 11 different vegetables for the cookbook.

"We tried to show not only how to prepare the vegetables but the health benefits," she said. Jessie also edited the cookbook.

Katie Scott was another Scout who worked on the book. "I asked my family for recipes and used one of my mom's for cauliflower," she said.

The troop had 100 books containing more than 150 recipes printed, paying for them with money they had raised and private donations.

"I was so happy with the book when it was finished," Katie said. "I was amazed at how nice it looked."

The Scouts also prepared a "Home Remedy" pamphlet containing information on using simple ingredients such as baking soda, vinegar and table salt.

All seven girls in the troop volunteered at NHCO and created the publications to achieve the Girl Scout Silver Award.

In addition to Jessie and Katie, the "Cookbook Club" included Andrea Clendaniel and Olivia Kraus. Girls in the "Home Remedy Club" included Sarah McGuire, Maia Sowers and Vanessa Verbaarschott.

Both publications were given to the clients of the NHCO Bellevue food pantry.

The girls all attend North Allegheny Intermediate High School. According to Mrs. Serody, the Silver Award is for girls in grades 6-8, but since the girls started the project in eight grade, they were allowed to complete it this fall. The award requires more than 50 hours of volunteer work.

Nancy Jones, manager of the NHCO North Boroughs site, said the book was well received by pantry clients. "With the advent of our community garden, the clients were reluctant to take things they didn't know what to do with, even though it is fresh produce," she said. "This book is truly awesome and helped explain not only what the vegetables are but how to use them."

NHCO hopes a sponsor steps forward so that more of the books can be printed to give to more food pantry clients and for use as a possible fundraising tool.

"Anyone would find this cookbook useful. There are helpful hints on storage, fun facts and dietary information," Ms. Wise said. "I will be trying out the recipes myself."


Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer:


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