For the sixth year in a row, Lowell High School teacher Jessica Landers has developed a cookbook with her immigrant students. The award-winning 'Tasting History' project, which starts in her U.S. History II Seminar classroom, has broadened to allow the whole school district to try new cuisines.
"If you had asked me when we were starting to do our first cookbook if it would be running this long, I'd had no idea both that we'd be still doing this project and that it would have grown in so many different way," said Landers, who was named Massachusetts History Teacher of the Year in 2023.
Each year, at the end of a unit on immigration, Landers asks students to bring a recipe from home and a story that goes along with it. She then works with her students to write a cookbook, and this year's edition features dishes from 17 from countries across the world, along with personal narratives from immigrant students. The newest cookbook, along with versions from past years, are available for purchase.
Nearly 30% of Lowell's residents were born outside the United States according to the most recent census data, and that diversity is reflected in the book's pages. Students from Guatemala, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Colombia have shared their culinary heritage. Maneth Nan, who moved from Cambodia to the United States in 2022, shared his family recipe for Cha Pa’em chicken.
Nan's recipe for the sweet-and-salty chicken dish is seasoned with garlic, brown sugar, chicken soup powder, fish sauce, oyster sauce and black pepper, and served with rice. In the book, Nan notes it was initially hard to find the ingredients to make the meal, but he makes it frequently after finding the right source. Eating the dish now reminds him of home.
"I think about my house in Cambodia and my brother in Cambodia, because we had eat it together when we have party or something, or has dinner together," said Nan.
His older brother, who still lives in Cambodia, came to visit recently and the brothers cooked the meal together.
His classmate, Gentillle Gikundiro, said Nan's meal is "delicious." She's originally from Rwanda and brought in her family recipe for Umutsima Na Isupu Yinka, a beef soup with fufu.
"It's my mom's favorite," Gikundiro said of the meal. "So I just decided to pick it for my mom."
Students outside of of Landers' classroom have also reaped the benefits of the creative lesson. After hearing about the project, Lowell Public School Food Services proposed a collaboration where the dining service makes some of the recipes and serve them at cafeterias across the district. The dining service adapts recipes from the book to be made on a large scale, and brings test dishes back to Landers' classroom for student input on how they can improve.
The dish is then served to the 14,000 students across Lowell
"This collaboration over the two last two-and-a-half years has led to the cafeterias for the first time serving food from Cambodia, Colombia, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Somaliland, Guatemala," said Landers. "And how powerful that is for our students to see the foods they cook at home valued and served in the cafeteria."
This segment aired on January 22, 2024.