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A note to editors: For electronic images to illustrate the following news feature, contact Mary Lou Peter-Blecha at 785-532-1164 or

Released: November 28, 2007

Cooking Class a Tasty Success …
      K-State Extension Program Can Help Novices and Veterans Alike

LAWRENCE, Kan. – This year, Kasey Barton volunteered to bring the pies for the family’s Thanksgiving dinner.

That’s something, given that eight weeks ago she wouldn’t have considered volunteering to bring food, she said.

Master Food Volunteers Serve Community

MANHATTAN, Kan.-- The Extension Master Food Volunteer program is similar to Extension Master Gardeners in that it teaches those who have an interest in the subject matter more about the subject itself and how to share that information with others, said Gayle Price, Kansas State University Research and Extension family and consumer sciences area specialist.

“Volunteers complete 40 hours of training from food scientists and nutrition and health specialists. In exchange for the training, volunteers provide 40 or more hours of community service education, teaching others about food, food safety, nutrition, health and basic cooking,” she said.

In addition to teaching cooking classes and demonstrations, Extension Master Food Volunteers also volunteer to teach food and food safety tips to school and community groups.

Since its introduction in 2002, the program has trained more than 100 Master Food Volunteers in Kansas. It is currently active in 18 of the state’s 105 counties, and the curriculum, which was developed at Kansas State University, has been purchased by eight other states.

Price and Karen Blakeslee, a K-State Research and Extension food scientist who also coordinates a rapid response center answering food and food safety questions for Extension agents in Kansas, supervise the innovative state program.

More information on the Extension Master Food Volunteer program is available by contacting Price at  or
620-431-1530 or Blakeslee at  or

Kasey is 24 years old and a law student at the University of Kansas Law School. This fall, she also enrolled in Cooking 101, a basic cooking class organized by the Kansas State University Research and Extension Douglas County office in cooperation with Extension Master Food Volunteers.

Kasey is one of 13 students enrolled in the class, said Susan Krumm, Extension agent in family and consumer sciences from the northeast Kansas county.

Krumm, who often fields calls about Extension cooking classes such as “Dining with Diabetes” and “Choosing Heart Healthy Foods,” picked up on the need for a basic cooking class and worked with the Master Food Volunteers to make it happen.

“We sent a news release to the ‘Lawrence Journal World,’ billing the class as ‘just what you always wanted to know about cooking … and never learned from your mother!’” she said.

Registration for the class included a new “Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook” (chosen to serve as the textbook for the class), food used during the lessons and hand-outs.

“Based on previous program requests, we had no idea who would really respond,” said Krumm, noting that students varied in skill levels and age, from 16 to 70, but shared a common goal – eating more healthfully at home.

Chris Moore, a 24-year-old electrical engineer who recently accepted a job in Lawrence, said the class interested him because he knew enough to know that he should eat more healthfully, but realized he was limited in what he could fix at home.

In this class session, with a little coaching, Moore prepared a near-perfect omelet – and savored every bite.

In its first weeks, class sessions focused on choosing a variety of foods, reading and interpreting a recipe and making a cost-saving grocery list.

Eager to cook, the class then moved on to food safety and basic cooking skills.

Typical class sessions have included food preparation for three to four recipes chosen from the cookbook. This week, for example, each class member will make his or her own omelet, participate in preparing a quiche, minestrone soup and a chicken stew with cornmeal dumplings.

Rebecca Alexander, who is attending the class with her son Adam, a sophomore in high school said, “I needed the basics. I realized that I was squashing food, rather than chopping it because I didn’t have a sharp knife.”

Alexander has purchased a new knife and is slowly adding basic cooking equipment that will help her, as well as her son, build on the cooking skills they are learning, she said.

“We are much more conscious of what we eat,” said Alexander, who said that she and Adam now eat out less and enjoy cooking meals together. She also has saved to replace a 50-year-old stove.

Tom and Janet Mosser, husband and wife, wanted hands-on experience they could share. For this class session, Tom sliced mushrooms, chopped peppers and whisked eggs for the omelets, while Janet kept an eye on the minestrone soup simmering on the stove and checked in periodically with her husband.

The cooking class is not the first for Tom, who once took a Chinese cooking class.

“For awhile, I was a one-dish wonder,” quipped Tom, who said that he has expanded his cooking skills in the current class.

Carla Sturgeon, mother of a three-year old, said she signed up for the class after she realized she needed to know more if she and her daughter were going to eat to be healthy.

Grocery shopping and time management tips in the class have been helpful, said Sturgeon, who said she hadn’t thought of buying a larger piece of meat and cutting it into small-family-sized portions to save on groceries.

Tuna noodle casserole and red beans and rice have been among the favorite recipes prepared during the sessions, and tonight, Bar Geyer, Extension Master Food Volunteer helping to manage the class, is teaching one of her favorite recipes: Minestrone Soup.

Geyer, an artist who also has a passion for cooking, chose the basic recipe because it calls for whole cans of ingredients, rather than a little of this and that. Still, she shares one of her favorite cost-saving tips in the kitchen – freezing leftover tomato paste by the tablespoon for future use to minimize waste when preparing recipes that call for a small amount.

Deborah Burns, who led the class’ effort in preparing the chicken stew with cornmeal dumplings, said that she typically “learns something herself during the class sessions.”

“I’m an intuitive cook and don’t always follow a recipe,” she said. Teaching others to follow – and interpret – recipes has expanded my interest in food, too.

Two Extension Master Food Volunteers, Carole Boulton and Helga Barton, have taken a leadership role in making the cooking class happen, Krumm said.

“They love cooking and take great joy in helping people,” she said.

Preparing for the class takes most of the day, said Boulton, who shops for ingredients and gathers cooking equipment before packing it all into storage tubs she’ll transport to class.

Cooking with such a crowd might seem daunting, but then Boulton, a cellist, also has 11 children, 10 of whom are adopted.

Boulton, who said, “food tastes better at home,” has raised her children on recipes from the “Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.” She owns four different editions, including the latest that includes the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s newest recommendations for healthy eating.

Prior to her training as an Extension Master Food Volunteer, Helga Barton volunteered at the Lawrence Interdenominational Kitchen, which feeds the homeless, and at a food pantry.

“So often,” she said, “I would see people shy away from perfectly good food – dried beans are an example – because they didn’t know how to cook the food.”

Barton recognized the need for basic cooking lessons and enrolled in the Master Food Volunteer training so she could help others.

Orphaned (in Germany) during WWII, Barton learned kitchen skills and cost-saving tips early in life. She was later adopted by an American military family, and has made helping others a priority in her life.

One of her favorite recipes – succotash – was not an immediate success with the class. The vegetable side dish combines corn and lima beans and, according to Barton, is easy, inexpensive – and great with barbecue.

Not everyone likes lima beans, though, she said.

In the last of the eight-week sessions, Boulton included a lesson on one of her family’s favorite desserts – Red Velvet Cake.

To Boulton, the luxurious cake seemed an appropriate choice for the last session.

Each of our students is leaving as a more confident cook, she said.


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.

Story by:
Nancy Peterson
K-State Research& Extension News

Additional Information:
Susan Krumm is at 785-843-7058 or
Gayle Price is at 620-431-1530 or
Karen Blakeslee is at 785-532-1673 or