Charlene Patton gets things stirring in kitchen with new book

by Clarke Davis

It’s a large, colorful recipe book designed to appeal to children. The instructions in “Baking with Friends” are simple to follow and its intent is to put people of all ages in the kitchen with a bowl and a spoon.

One of the authors who has dedicated her life to stirring up interest in home baking and cooking is Grantville native Charlene Patton, the Homebaking Association’s executive director.

Charlene Patton

Charlene Patton, co-author of “Baking with Friends”

At what age should children be introduced to the kitchen? How about when they are in their baby carrier or highchair. That’s Charlene’s answer and she’s experienced, having raised four daughters, the oldest two being twins.

But then for this mother it was a matter of carrying on tradition. The daughter of Juanita and the late John Kendall, she grew up in a farmhouse where the food was created in the kitchen and where she had two grandmothers teaching her as well.

Grandmother Tressie Uhl was an immigrant from Czechoslovakia and brought recipes from her native country. Making kolaches, a filled pastry, is a family tradition passed down from this grandmother. One of her recipes is shared in the book.

Baking With FriendsPatton sees a resurgence among parents wanting to return to the kitchen. She believes a generation or two have been skipped and the kitchen ignored, but now with concerns for better nutrition and the need to cut costs—not to mention having fun—stirring things up with a spoon is becoming more popular.

At the heart of the recipe book — along with inspiring children to want to bake — is teaching adults and older children how to teach younger ones.

With that purpose in mind, she attended the 4-H National Congress in Atlanta, Ga., where all the national 4-H winners had come together in November. In a series of workshops, she taught these 4-H leaders how to bake a pie without a kitchen so they could go back to classrooms in their home school districts and teach smaller children how to bake.

There were 212 4-H youths who were given the ingredients to go to work. They made 960 small personal pies baked in the ovens of the host hotel, with nearly 500 of them donated to a local mission and Habitat for Humanity.

Patton’s career of working in and for the food industry and becoming a local television personality began in Grantville as a 4-H member and as a Jefferson West High School student.

Her demonstrations and work in the Grantville 4-H Club and writing a newspaper column on foods and nutrition led her to become a state and national foods and nutrition winner. Her sister, Karen Norris, Overland Park, was also a state award winner in foods and nutrition.

Charlene was inspired during a home economics class in high school when a representative from the former Kansas Power & Light Co. visited the class and gave a cooking demonstration.

“Gosh, someday I want to do that,” she said. With a degree in foods and nutrition in business and communications from Kansas State University, she was soon on her way.

Charlene was employed in the marketing division of the state Department of Agriculture from 1975 until 1996. The high point of those years was the “From the land of Kansas” promotion that helped market Kansas food and other products across the country and overseas.

She now has her own consulting business with her two largest clients being the Homebaking Association, which she directs, and the Kansas Soybean Commission.

The Homebaking Association is nonprofit and underwritten by 32 different organizations, ranging from growers of Kansas soybeans to California raisins.

Charlene and her husband, Dan, live in Topeka, but they have kept their roots tied to Grantville — to the farm, the community, and the United Methodist Church. The couple still attends church there and taught youth groups and Sunday school for over 20 years as their daughters were growing up.

Their girls belonged to a 4-H club closer to home, Shunga Valley, and the family was awarded the distinction of being the Kansas 4-H Family of the Year in 2008.

The book’s co-author is Sharon Davis, Manhattan, who Charlene has known for over 30 years. Davis, a teacher, was working with the Kansas Wheat Commission when Charlene was with the Department of Agriculture. They collaborated on the recipes and the content of the book while the publisher found an illustrator, Coleen McIntyre, for the art work.

Their book goes beyond recipes to include fun facts, children’s literature that is tied to a recipe, vocabulary words, and a measurement guide. There’s also a substitution guide and Patton is quick to remind one that each of us needs 25 grams of soy every day and the ratio for baking is 1 to 7, wheat flour to soy.

One page is dedicated to what is the appropriate age for kitchen tasks. A 2-year-old can learn proper hand washing, play with safe utensils, and add ingredients to a bowl. A 4-year-old can form dough shapes and mash fruits and cooked vegetables. The 9- to 12-year-olds can learn safe knife skills and begin dicing and chopping.

Patton notes that the book is just a starter to ignite some interest. Cooking covers so many subject areas from reading to math and that children can be taught to go shopping and compare prices and learn the difference in savings between making it yourself or buying it prepared.

The book comes with an audio CD that is also entertaining and teaches children about food nutrition in a fun way. For older children who want to go out and teach classes to younger children, there is a Baking Certificate that can be copied from the book and distributed to those who complete the course.

“The steps are easy and spelled out 1, 2, and 3. It’s easy for young mothers to follow who want a place to start with their children,” Patton said.

Patton appears regularly on local morning and noon programs on television stations in Topeka, Pittsburg, and Wichita.

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