Appetite for Instruction – Teaching Vocabulary and So Much More!By Todd R. Nelson
“Eclectic” is the name of the game for seventh and eighth grade vocabulary sources—words plucked from their free-range appearances in periodical literature. We’ve read articles this year on whiffleball fields in Connecticut and U. Maine Presque Isle’s peripatetic baseball team; gargoyles at 527 West 110th Street and cold fusion in California; urban refugees in Maine and hunters of the Conficker computer virus on the Web; even Paul McCartney in concert (transcendental!). And every so often, an article comes along that combines things that taste good and words that it is in good taste to learn. I love a good food story for the blend of local culture, writing flavors, and vicarious experience. Restaurant reviews—even over-the-top writing—have a tendency to serve up delicious vocabulary. Good ones avoid overbearing metaphors…such as those stuffed into this paragraph.
One week, such an article in The New York Times caught my eye. “Whoopie! Cookie, Pie or Cake, It’s Having Its Moment,” by Micheline Maynard regaled us with the history of what should be the Maine state dessert. Our humble whoopie pie, sold in convenience stores and gas stations throughout the state; assembled with various interpretations of filling and flavor; a dessert, a snack, an indulgence; is enjoying a resurgence and national attention.
“Now whoopie pies are migrating across the country, often appearing in the same specialty shops and grocery aisles that recently made room for cupcakes,” writes Maynard. “Under the name “sweetie pies,” heart-shaped whoopie pies showed up in the February catalog from Williams-Sonoma. Baked in Maine with local butter and organic eggs, they sell for $49 a dozen.”
On Friday, we went over definitions for the fourteen words from the Times article that stood out. They had to be slightly advanced, specialized, or particularly unfamiliar to qualify. We select meanings according to context, thus “celebrated” might need special attention, as applied in this sentence: “In parts of Pennsylvania, whoopie pies remain a celebrated sweet.”
Maynard’s article gave us the chance to learn the following words:
rustic, caloric, upscale, cuisine, among others, in an amusing and delicious context. An article on Maine desserts with words ranging from “rustic” to “upscale” can blend quickie-mart treats with the likes of “peppermint, Cointreau, raspberry and espresso” fillings. Are we ready to call The C & G Grocery a “filling station?” One of our words was “coronation,” as in crowning a “whoopie pie queen.” We could add a little geography into the mix, since for background the writer roamed the state from Bob’s Clam Hut in Kittery to whoopie pie entrepreneurs on Cranberry Island and a food historian on Islesboro, not to mention out-of–state purveyors in Ann Arbor, Evanston, Manhattan and Strasbourg, Pennsylvania. Perhaps there’s truth to the notion that the Amish actually invented the W.P. However, Ground Zero of the whoopie pie in Maine just might be Labadie’s Bakery, in Lewiston, with sales dating back to 1925.
Next stop, school cook. “Can you make whoopie pies for dessert on Tuesday?” I asked her. “We’re having a vocabulary quiz.” Toni generously replied that, yes, apple crisp could wait. And when Tuesday came, it was clear, as any of our school gastronomes can tell you, that our own local version of the humble treat belongs on any Best of Maine map. Toni’s version of the cake is pumpkin. And the frosting is a blend of cream cheese, confectioner’s sugar, butter, vanilla and milk. She offered me the specific recipe. However, I will not share any further details. I know a valuable proprietary opportunity when I taste it. Read on.
“Toni! What’s for dessert on Friday? How about some raspberry tarts. It’s for vocabulary. Honest. And we could sell them for $49 per dozen.” Piece of cake.
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