BERLIN, Md, — Eggs. Flour. Water.
And lots of love.
About 90 minutes later, a dozen kids and two pastors from parishes supporting Most Blessed Sacrament School were dishing out some homemade pasta bathed in butter and sage.
Some learning. Some eating.
A perfect afternoon.
It’s all part of a program at the school that offers the older kids elective courses that include classes focused on fitness, finances, aquaculture, advanced art, book club, Latin and cooking basics.
The sessions bring in people from the community who help instruct the kids on subjects that are otherwise off the beaten path in an elementary school.
And it’s fun.
“I joke sometimes with the kids that if you’re trying to find someone later in life, looks will fade, money comes and goes, but if you can cook for somebody, you’ll always have that,” said Father John Solomon, pastor of Holy Savior and St. Mary Star of the Sea churches in Ocean City, Md.
Most Blessed Sacrament has students in pre-K through eighth grade and is a regional school supported by surrounding parishes Our Lady of Lourdes, St. Ann/Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Edmond, St. Jude the Apostle, St. John Neumann, St. Luke/St. Andrew, St. Mary Star of the Sea/Holy Savior, St. Michael the Archangel, Mary, Mother of Peace.
Father Solomon and Father Joseph Cocucci, pastor of nearby St. John Neumann parish, spend time in the school and have a hand in religious education. Earlier this year they were asked by school leaders about joining in on the activities period that offers kids a change of pace.
“The science teacher reached out and we mentioned something about cooking. Next thing you know, we’re doing this,” said Father Cocucci. “It’s been good. It’s gone well. It’s a very special place.”
Priests are accustomed to cooking. Most cook for themselves every night.
“It’s a good thing to give them some skills, it’s something fun, and they seem to enjoy it,” said Father Solomon. “I think it’s good for them to see us as the priests there. I think that connection is very helpful.”
The priests said they are happy to demonstrate their everyday skills somewhere other than the pulpit.
“The point of it is to give them some kind of skill that’s related to what they’re learning but also related to their regular life,” said Father Cocucci. “It’s something that you might not get in a classroom normally.”
Students participating in the pasta making were obviously into it. On one side of the kitchen, a row of kids worked at a kitchen table with Father Solomon. At another table was Father Cocucci and his group.
The Solomon group appeared to have an early advantage, edging a lengthy stretch of pasta several feet in length through the pasta machine. They worked it through several times to produce a very long, thin sheet of pasta.
On the other side, the Cocucci group seemed to be behind but didn’t become overwhelmed. That group’s product took a little longer to make. They used a hand-cut process and the noodles were a little thicker, but both batches were nicely seasoned and had distinct flavor and texture.
It was success for both corners.
Upstairs, Chuck Coleman of Johnson Bay Oyster Company had dumped a large batch of oysters on tables in the science room for the aquaculture class.
Some of the students seemed captivated by the “blood sucker” worms that came along for the trip. Others wanted no part of them.
Coleman demonstrated for the students the art of “shucking” the oysters and some large clams. While not everyone slurped down the salty treats, students were focused on the low-calorie, bivalve molluscs that are packed with micronutrients.
Lucy Gunther is a sixth-grader who was attracted to the aquaculture class.
“I like how you can learn how to shuck an oyster, how to clean an oyster and where a good place to farm your oysters are,” she said.
Lucy joined a group of people in the classroom who shucked, or opened, the oysters and slurped them down. She learned how to pull the barnacles off and how to pull them apart. She thinks the special classes are a nice change of pace.
“It’s more hands-on and you get to learn something different and actually get to interact with it.”
Nolan Soares is an eighth-grader who was part of the group making pasta with Father Solomon.
“It was probably about seven to eight feet long once we got it completely stretched out,” he proudly proclaimed.
He said he made homemade pasta with his parents during the COVID pandemic when everyone was at home.
“We did a lot of cooking from home and we just found this pasta maker in our garage and we started making pasta,” he said. He was too modest to take credit for his group’s success at school, but he didn’t completely shut down the idea either. “I guess you could say that.”
“I really like Father Solomon a lot,” he said. “He puts religion into a lot of stuff, which I like, but getting back to cooking he really lets us do most of the work and he lets us figure it out on our own.”
Soares is confident he can help his parents next time they try it at home.
“Give ‘em some tips,” he said.
Father Solomon agreed.
“I think it’s good to be with the kids there. I think it’s good also to teach them something that’s very practical. For me, it’s just great to be able interact with them and to teach them something and see them thinking about it. Kids who are a little more quiet seem to come out in something like this. I always enjoy seeing that and seeing them take to that.”
Father Cocucci also values his time among the students.
“It’s a great school,” he said. “It’s a good, Catholic, happy atmosphere. The kids are great.”
Next up for the group before the school year ends is a Portuguese chicken dish introduced by Father Cocucci.
“It’s going to cover safe knife handling and safe chicken handling,” he said. “And the whole idea of synergy when using different spices and how different things when put together make something different.
“It’s something fun and teaches them something that they wouldn’t ordinarily get in school.”