Food Management knows the world of onsite food service has been altered in severe ways with the impact of COVID-19. While we’re providing up-to-the-minute coverage of news, insights and solutions of coronavirus, we also want to share some stories that were reported before the outbreak. Our intention is to provide inspiration and ideas for when the outbreak resides.
Think serving fresh, housemade pasta at a school café is impossible? Not with the can-do spirit at Waconia (Minn.) Public School District, where the school food team is making spaghetti, ramen, ravioli, fettucine, lasagna and more, all from scratch, for five schools every week, with local flour to boot.
There’s clearly a pioneering spirit at work here.
That guiding hand is a pioneer ancestor: the grandmother of Barb Schank, LD, director of the nutritional services department at Waconia. Schank is a direct descendant of a woman famous for that can-do spirit, Martha Tweeten, a local-hero farm wife who stepped outside the boundaries of traditional “women’s work” in 1950s North Dakota.
According to a newspaper article memorializing Tweeten, she “grew up as her dad’s farm helper, taught by him to hitch and drive horses to fetch coal from Underwood for the winter…as a farm wife with no previous construction experience, built an addition to their farmhouse by herself. Who, with no previous plumbing experience plumbed her own bathroom.”
Schank remembers her grandmother as a woman who ground her own wheat into flour and used honey from bees in her backyard to bake hundreds of loaves of bread each week. She also sewed quilts for babies in the hospital and sang in a band in her spare time(!)
“She taught me that women are completely capable, tough, expressive, resourceful and independent,” says Schank, who applied that pioneering attitude to the present-day school cafeteria.
The district has promoted fresh ingredients and edible classrooms for some time, but the pasta-making machine, named “Martha” after Schank’s indomitable grandmother, takes things a step further into the fresh food zone.
A grant writer working with the district to get a USDA farm-to-school grant encouraged Schank and the team to think big. “What if there was no limit?” Schank says. “With that concept, I thought: Pasta.”
With memories of her grandmother’s pasta-making parties, involving several farming families at a time and lots of flour, fun and pasta draped on every available surface, Schank began looking at industrial pasta makers. Soon, the new pasta maker arrived from Italy with a sales rep who taught the team how to get rolling with fresh pasta.
“The man who came in to set up and train us told us he couldn’t believe he was selling this to a school district,” Schank recalls.
Photo: Stuffing ravioli with local ingredients like butternut squash makes housemade pasta even more locavore.
Pasta making starts with flour from just a few miles away, and many times—as with ravioli and pierogis—even more local ingredients can be stuffed inside, like butternut squash. The machine, “Martha,” works every day for about two and a half hours with two people rolling out, cutting and shaping pasta that will show up in at least two different ways every week on the menu.
To Schank and her team, the extra labor required is worth it.
“That’s our whole philosophy in our district: ‘LEAF.’ Love eating authentic food,” she says. “It’s near and dear to me and the team that I built. We see the value in the extra effort and the pride in the staff and the farmers who bring us the ingredients.”
In all, fresh pasta is part of 28 menu items, including classics like spaghetti and meatballs, ravioli, chicken fettucine alfredo, pierogies, lo mein noodles and buttered ribbon noodles and also wild creations like blueberry pie ravioli and apple pie ravioli. “It’s a comfort food that kids seek out,” Schank says. “They adore it and they love it when it’s on the menu.”
Contact Tara at Tara.Fitzpatrick@informa.com
Follow her on Twitter @Tara_Fitzie