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Wanted: Home cooks

With cans the source for most of her vegetables, Sirah Brautigam first tried parsnips at a local food pantry.

"It's not at all what I expected," says the Medford resident. "Super easy; you don't have to get 'em out of the can."

Skillet-roasted with carrots and tossed with garlic and parsley, parsnips pleased recipients of ACCESS emergency food boxes last week in Eagle Point. The savory samples concluded a short cooking demonstration at the pantry, which ACCESS plans to replicate around the Rogue Valley with help from a contingent of volunteers.

"Accomplished home cooks" are needed to bring culinary skills to the larger public under a new program devised by ACCESS and several community partners. Volunteers will learn in a free, two-hour training session how to present a cooking demonstration. Trainees will then present the program's recipes — ingredients and equipment provided — at least once per month at a local food pantry, preferably one in their community.

"We give them everything," says Jill Kennedy, Food Education Program coordinator for ACCESS. "We just need their time and their interest."

The effort is among the first to arise from last year's Rogue Valley Food Summit, tasked with improving both the food security of area families and the region's food economy. After launching the project at food pantries with funding from Meyer Memorial Trust and Ashland Food Co-op, ACCESS will expand it to senior centers, social-service organizations and other settings, says Kennedy.

"It's gonna morph into all over town."

Demonstrations are designed to run for about 20 minutes or less and utilize no more than a dozen ingredients, says Michele Pryse, an Oregon State University Master Food Preserver who devised the curriculum and serves as the program's educator. Some of the demonstrations will show ingredients with long cooking times, such as dried beans, in stages, she says.

"Just because a recipes tastes good doesn't mean it's a good recipe for a demonstration," she says.

The stars of the show, says Pryse, are "fresh produce" and "fresh, whole foods." More and more fresh produce is available in local food pantries courtesy of community gardens and local farmers, says Kennedy, who managed the Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters Market's Saturday session in downtown Medford.

"Local farmers are getting on board," she says, explaining that growers often deliver surplus produce to their community's food pantry.

However, the seasonal bounty is lost on many food-pantry clients, who don't know how to prepare it, says Kennedy. So the program's recipes, says Pryse, not only need to be simple enough but "delicious enough."

"While they're sitting there waiting," says Kennedy, "they're going to start smelling these smells."

Even before some chopped garlic hit the pan, the aroma of root vegetables sauteing in a bit of oil permeated the sanctuary at St. John Lutheran Church, where Brautigam and others waited for food boxes. Whether well-versed or unfamiliar with the vegetables, observers said they appreciated the demonstration and printed recipes.

"It helps," says Linda Babb, 60, of Eagle Point. "A lot of people realize you can cook fresh vegetables, and they're good."

Reach Food Editor Sarah Lemon at 541-776-4487 or email slemon@mailtribune.com.

Wanted: Home cooks