Teens explore herbs, spices and use of language at West Pittston Library
WEST PITTSTON — The wince on Isabel Middleton’s face as she tasted a variety of herbs and spices looked painful but it wasn’t indicative of the amount of fun she was having.
The 14-year-old West Pittston resident’s sour expression quickly turned to smiles and often laughter as she and three other girls near her age participated in Spice It Up, an event at the West Pittston Library designed to familiarize teens with seasonings, challenge them to explore vocabulary in describing tastes, and encourage fun and reading.
Youth services coordinator Summer Belles said she found the program while doing research on programs designed specifically for teens.
“They’re such a hard demographic to reach,” Belles said. “I think it’s safe to say they’re attracted to anything that has to do with food.”
Belles provided 15 different seasonings served in olive oil, including green herbs like basil and oregano, powdered spices like cayenne pepper and cinnamon and dried vegetable bulbs, garlic and onion. Each participant also got a bowl of bread pieces to be the utensils for sampling.
“I’m also giving them a list of adjectives to describe what they’re tasting,” Belles said.
Adjectives like earthy, peppery, citrusy, salty and smokey populated the list.
Isabel, while appearing displeased with the flavors of basil and oregano, admitted dill was “better than the others.”
Caroline Hintzel, 12, of Pittston, said dill tasted “buttery.”
“Maybe it’s because it reminds me of my mothers’s bread and butter pickles,” she explained.
Morgan Hosier, 13, of West Pittston said she’s a casual fan of spicy food. Upon tasting cayenne pepper, she said, “It’s OK,” while Audrey Moderski, 13, of Exeter said, “It’s really spicy.”
Audrey preferred the taste of cinnamon.
“I think it tastes really good,” she said.
And garlic appealed more to Morgan.
“It was kind of tangy,” Morgan said.
After the taste testing was finished, Belles brought the young ladies to a make-your-own hot chocolate station where they could experiment with some of the seasonings they’d just tasted or rely on more traditional hot chocolate fixings like chocolate shavings, marshmallows and crushed Oreos.
The selection of flavors also featured extracts of vanilla, raspberry, orange and mint, and Belles provided a list of suggested concoctions that made use of everything from cinnamon and cayenne pepper to a spoonful of instant coffee.
While Isabel and Audrey stayed on the sweet side of the spectrum, Morgan and Caroline were more adventurous.
Morgan added cayenne pepper to her hot chocolate, although the amount, she said, wasn’t enough to alter the flavor much.
Caroline concocted a drink she dubbed “the hipster,” which layered chocolate shavings, raspberry extract, mint extract, rosemary, oregano and instant coffee into her hot chocolate.
“I’m going to be awake until 2 a.m.,” she said.
When signature drinks were made and sampled, Belles showed the girls a selection of books about food. Titles included “Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes,” “Homemade Soda” and “The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook.”
When the spices had settled, the little ladies reflected on what they’d learned about seasonings.
“They’re better combined with other things than they are by themselves,” Isabel said.
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or on Twitter @TimesLeaderMatt.