Willa Hinerfeld (left) and Raizel Maghel-Friedman making latkes. (Photo/Courtesy Eden Village West)
Willa Hinerfeld (left) and Raizel Maghel-Friedman making latkes. (Photo/Courtesy Eden Village West)

What’s schneken? Ask the campers in this culinary program

Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.

While Eden Village West’s Jewish identity as a summer camp is not in doubt, it takes the world view when it comes to food. In fact, it might just be the only Jewish summer camp where campers are learning how to make German cinnamon rolls, miso soup, tamales and daifuku.

On a recent Friday in Healdsburg, kids in the culinary arts program lined up at “Eatin’ Village” to tell their fellow campers and a few visitors about the special afternoon meal they had prepared, describing each dish and naming all of the ingredients for the benefit of those with food allergies. Some campers also took the opportunity to comment on what they had learned in the past two weeks.

“Caramelized onions are just olive oil and onions,” said 11-year-old Raizel Maghel-Friedman of Berkeley. “We just cut up onions and sautéed them in a pan for a really long time. They’re so sweet, you think we must have put sugar in them, but we didn’t. It’s amazing how something can turn so sweet just from cooking it for a long time.”

It was up to Sophia Bevis-Lipton, also 11 and from Berkeley, to explain how the group had learned to pickle radishes and cucumbers, using vegetables grown on the camp’s organic farm.

“Pickled stuff is stuff that is pickled,” said Bevis-Lipton. “The process is pretty simple. You make a vinegar sauce, sort of, and put the vegetables in it for a long time.”

The menu for the afternoon meal included veggie-patty sliders (the camp is fully vegetarian, kosher and organic) on slider buns made from scratch (regular and gluten-free); sweet potato and regular fries, pickles, and homemade ice pops with flavors like lemon-honey, lemon-honey with basil and mint (grown on the farm), and coconut mint chocolate chip. The berry swirl mini cheesecakes were a favorite dessert for most campers.

Maghel-Friedman and Bevis-Lipton both chose culinary arts as their elective at camp (the other options were forestry skills and working on the farm). For two weeks, the budding chefs spent hours in the kitchen, learning about and making different dishes each day. One week, it was stuffed foods from around the globe — tamales, empanadas, stromboli and blintzes were all on the menu. The next week, every day was designated for a different Jewish holiday, and the campers made the traditional foods associated with it — cheesecake for Shavuot, apple cake for Rosh Hashanah, latkes for Hanukkah and the like.

Because Eden Village West is set up at a Seventh-day Adventist boarding school, campers had the good fortune to cook in a home economics classroom furnished with six distinct kitchen units (albeit stocked with ancient appliances).

“I’ve heard the campers say they’ve taken cooking classes or programs before where each one gets to do one little part, like mix something in,” said Jesse Yurow, one of three culinary arts program specialists. “Here, it’s special because each group has their own full kitchen, and they can do the whole recipe from start to finish, so they see it the whole way through.”

One of the kitchenettes was designated as gluten-free. On a day when the campers made crêpes, the gluten-free group made daifuku, a Japanese sweet mochi (glutinous rice) dessert.

The campers also learned a bit of culinary history. One of the program specialists brought in a recipe for cinnamon rolls called schnecken, written in her great-grandmother’s cursive in German. Another relative had translated it into English so the kids could make the rolls.

Ashira Langer-Levin, 11, of Berkeley, said a highlight was learning how to make stromboli. The group made two versions, one savory with pesto and cheese; the other sweet with a blueberry filling.

At least two young minds were blown by how easy it was to make miso soup. Miles Wise, 9, of Berkeley, and Willa Hinerfeld, 11, of Los Angeles, both said they’d always thought of it as a restaurant dish.

Abigail Wallis, 11, from Oahu, said her favorite part of the culinary program was “seeing raw ingredients you wouldn’t eat on their own, but together they make yummy food.”

Campers said they planned on taking their newfound skills home, along with new recipes.

“I came to camp really good at baking, but not as much with cooking,” said Bevis-Lipton. “But here I got a lot better at cooking, too.”

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."