4-H’ers tour Better Homes & Gardens
WEST DES MOINES – 4-H’ers from Boone, Story, Hardin and Marshall counties toured the Better Homes & Gardens test kitchen and gardens on June 5.
According to Lynn Blanchard, Better Homes and Gardens test kitchen director, the long history of Meredith, which owns BH&G, traces back to 1902 when it began publishing Successful Farming magazine, with the introduction of Better Homes and Gardens in 1924.
According to manager Sandra Gerdes, the test gardens are now in their 16th growing season.
Gerdes said staff members evaluate several species of plants on how well they perform in order to publish their findings with readers.
Readers then have first-hand information to use in planting their own gardens and to help them make better decisions at the garden center.
The BH&G gardens, also used for photo shoots for the company’s publications, are used for corporate events and open to the public from noon to 2 p.m. on Fridays from May through the first Friday in October.
In a half-acre of what was once a body shop and a dry cleaner facility, the test gardens contain 22 distinct areas including a courtyard, rose garden, three water features and a rock garden that hold more than 2,500 shrubs, trees, perennials, vines and annuals.
In order to test different plants and keep up with providing new ideas, the garden changes every year, Gerdes said.
4-H’ers on the tour took the opportunity to capture that perfect photograph in hopes of entering their pictures in the photography contest at county fair’s this summer.
Caitlin Maher took her time to explore the gardens and shot many photos.
“I like taking pictures in the garden,” Maher said. “I like capturing movement, like water and the wind moving plants.”
4-H’er Grace Long took her time kneeling next to one of the water features with her camera.
“I am hoping for a picture to enter in the Story County Fair,” said Long.
After touring the gardens, 4-H’ers were given a unique opportunity to get an up-close look at how Meredith assembles parts of its magazines with a visit of the photo studios and props areas, where several photo shoots were taking place.
4-H’ers learned that in addition to photographers, there are also editors and food stylists as well.
A food stylist, the kids learned, will work in helping to make the dishes to look as natural as they can, yet add certain touches, such as oil, water, or a mixture of both and other ingredients to help it photograph well.
Blanchard said she began working at the company as a test kitchen temporary worker before working as a food stylist – a job she said is learned by doing.
She eventually worked her way up as test kitchen director.
The test kitchen, Blanchard said, is where all recipes are prepared that are featured in Meredith publications.
It begins, she said, with consumer insights – looking into what their readers are looking for, by paying attention to what is going on in grocery stores, restaurants and reader feedback.
“They look at everything food,” said Blanchard.
Once a particular food is chosen to feature, the next is to go searching for recipes.
“The editors decide what to feature, and they contact the test kitchen for recipes or use freelance recipe writers,” said Blanchard.
At the test kitchen, Blanchard said they will go through concepts, balancing flavors and providing a variety or recipes for the particular food feature.
There are 10 test kitchen where the recipes are tried. Blanchard said a recipe will be tested three or four times before it is published.
That process, she said, begins three to four months prior to the recipe being published.
Blanchard estimates the food kitchen goes through $400 to $500 in groceries daily to work on recipes that four to five times each day are taken to a taste panel.
“At the taste panel, editors test the recipes along with the culinary specialist and a project manager to talk about all of the factors of the recipe,” said Blanchard. “Not only does it have to taste good, but it has to meet a lot of other criteria.”
While visiting the BH&G’s Showcase Kitchen, the 4-H’ers had the opportunity to do a little taste-testing themselves.
Blanchard prepared pasta and five different kinds of tomato sauce for them to test. The 4-H’ers kept notes on what they liked and disliked about each product.
The notes, she told the group, are important and are kept to help their readers with any future inquiries.
This taste-testing, Blanchard said, gave 4-H’ers a firsthand idea of what the test kitchen workers go through while they try out new products.
Ashley Kahler said she liked the Ragu brand of tomato sauce the best.
“It has more flavor,” said Kahler.
Carla Edelman gave her taste buds a workout sampling the different sauces as well.
“Some were too watery,” she said.
4-H’ers helped brainstorm new potential recipes much like they do at Better Homes & Gardens every day.
During the session of “Surprising Things to do with Different Foods,” Reegan Den Adel said she was trying to think of ideas that she has tried at home or has heard of from friends to come up with different ways to use peanut butter.
“My idea was instead of using plain chocolate with s’mores,” Den Adel said, “my friend uses Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.”
4-H’ers also learned about the different careers there are involved working at BH&G – editors, photographers, test kitchen and food stylists, videography, web development, kitchen design and shopper.
The photography aspect of creating the publication made a large impact on a few of the 4-H’ers.
“I think I would like to get into food photography,” said Maher.
“I realized it’s a lot of hard work to get things all set up to take pictures,” said Edelman.
“I didn’t realize how much work goes into everything, like taking the pictures,” she said.
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