Learning more about Mary Emma Showalter from a friend and former neighbor

P1090147Doris Risser Miller Rosenberger

What kinds of things have you learned or appreciated from friends or fellow cooks? For instance, maybe those who handle surprise guests for dinner with ease—without a run to the grocery?

Doris Risser Miller Rosenberger was a next door neighbor and good friend of Mary Emma Showalter, the author and compiler of Mennonite Community Cookbook. Doris counts it a privilege that Mary Emma and Mary Emma’s eventual husband Ira Eby, were neighbors in Park View here in Harrisonburg for a number of years. MaryEmmaShowalterHomeParkView

Doris lived next door to Mary Emma in Harrisonburg, who lived in this house.

Last year when the 65th Anniversary edition of Mennonite Community Cookbook came out, Doris responded briefly with a comment on the MennoMedia blog that she had lived next to Mary Emma, and shared some highlights and memories. Since she now lives at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community (VMRC) within walking distance of Herald Press, I knew, as editor of that new edition, I wanted to pay her a visit and finally made time to do that recently.


Doris learned a lot from her friend and neighbor Mary Emma, especially in the way of cooking and hospitality. For instance, Doris learned that it was ok when having company to fix a simpler meal, such as just soup, and maybe a salad or bread. You didn’t have to prepare “the whole nine yards” –meat, starch, vegetable, salad and dessert, as many of us grew up having.

Mary Emma also tried to religiously follow her own self-imposed “rule” of fixing a meal from whatever she had on hand—even if last minute guests were coming. The temptation is always to make a quick trip to the grocery, but that ends up in extra expense, food on hand, and time. It may have taken a little more work to scrounge and figure out how to work around a missing ingredient or staple, but Mary Emma took it as a personal challenge to manage dinner for company without going to the grocery. And Doris enjoyed Mary Emma’s example!

Doris also reflected on the college students that Mary Emma consistently had in her home for six weeks or more as they learned about “setting up housekeeping,” looking ahead to their future roles in family and community: how to make and keep a budget, getting chores done, shoveling or arranging for snow to be shoveled, fixing dinner and doing laundry, all the while accomplishing their other school work. “That couldn’t have always been easy or comfortable to have students living with you so much of the time,” Doris noted, “but it was another example of Mary Emma’s willing and giving spirit.”

She remembers when Mary Emma finally got married much later in life, she confided that she had grown lonelier as she got older. She shared that earlier, her career in teaching and administration and managing a popular cookbook was very fulfilling. So adding a step-family of three children was a big adjustment “but over time she endeared herself to her step children,” said Doris. As a neighbor, Doris knew some of the trials Ira’s children experienced in moving to Harrisonburg while they were still in high school or just starting college, coming from a very conservative church in Hagerstown and wearing cape dresses (for the girls), when that style of dress wasn’t as common at their (Mennonite) schools in Harrisonburg.

P1090144Doris’s own creativity blossomed in the realm of making beautiful and artisitc hand-made braided wool rugs, and she allowed me to take numerous photos of rugs she had made in recent years since moving to Park Gables at VMRC about 15 years ago.  For many years she made rugs for a part-time income, but now she mainly makes a few rugs to donate to MCC relief sales or other charity fundraisers.




Doris’s handmade braided wool rugs; one she made
brought $825 at the Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale in 2010!


Doris’s favorite recipe in Mennonite Community Cookbook? Hands down, she loves and has always used the Basic Roll Recipe (p. 4 in most versions)—which she also frequently makes for benefit sales. They usually sell almost as soon as they are put out on a table! She feels their extra good taste and texture stems from the recipe using milk and eggs. Doris also now often subs in a cup or a cup and a half of wheat flour rather than all white flour—and the rolls still turn out great. She uses the roll dough to also make cinnamon buns.

BONUS! Doris allowed me to borrow her copy of a Showalter family history book titled, “A Family Home,” compiled by Andrew Jenner, a former photographer and reporter for the Daily News Record in Harrisonburg. Here are two lovely professional photos of Mary Emma with all of her eight siblings and her parents at two different points in life, not seen before on this blog. (Photos courtesy of Doris Trumbo. Click to enlarge).


Above: The Showalter family of parents plus nine children, about 1930.
Back row left to right: Mary Emma, Jacob, Carl, Howard, Owen.
Front row: (father) Howard Daniel Herscus Showalter (HDH), Ethel, Jim, Kathryn, Doris and (mother) Flossie.


The Showalter family with nine adult children, 1945.
Back row: Carl, Mary Emma, Howard, Jacob, Owen, Kathryn, and Ethyl.
Front row: HDH, Doris, Jim, Flossie.

We thank Doris for giving yet another window into the life and times of Mary Emma Showalter from those privileged to know and live with or near her!

mennonite community cookbook

Basic Roll Recipe (from Mennonite Community Cookbook)

2 cups milk
5 tablespoons sugar
5-6 cups flour (Doris uses 1- ½ cups whole wheat flour)
1 ½ teaspoons salt
¼ cup shortening
1 yeast cake or packet (softened in ½ cup warm water)
1 egg (optional)

Scald the milk and add shortening and sugar.
When liquid mixture is cooled to lukewarm temperature, add yeast that has been dissolved in ½ cup lukewarm water.
Add 3 cups of flour and beat thoroughly.
Set sponge [the yeast and liquids and 3 cups of flour combined] in a warm place for 30 minutes or until light.
Beat egg and salt and add to sponge along with the remaining flour.
Knead until dough no longer sticks to the board or fingers.
When dough is light, cut into small pieces and shape into rolls.
Brush with fat or butter and let rise until light.
Bake at 400-425 degrees until a golden brown (15 to 20 minutes).

Makes approximately 2 dozen medium-sized rolls. (Original from Mrs. John W. Gingerich, Wellman, Iowa.)

Purchase copies of Mennonite Community Cookbook here.

mennonite community cookbook

Share your own story of remembrance of Mary Emma, or about ANY of the many women who contributed recipes to this heirloom volume!