Do you like to make (or just eat!) peanut brittle at Christmas?
Thelma Swartzentruber shared some memories of her mother’s contributions to Mennonite Community Cookbook on Facebook earlier this year, but many may have missed them there. So we thought we’d highlight them here on the blog.
This also gives us a chance to highlight a recipe for Peanut Brittle—a treat many of us enjoy or make at Christmas if no other time of year. The recipe for Peanut Brittle in Mennonite Community Cookbook was contributed by Thelma’s mother, “Mrs. Paul Maust,” on page 445.
Thelma WROTE: “Your article brought back memories of how my mother received her cookbook. She was one of those who collected recipes for Mary Emma Showalter. This is the story my mother told me:
‘[As part of her master’s work] Showalter needed to test X amount of recipes and was also required to publish [something]. So she combined the two and did the cookbook.’
“I don’t read that in the cookbook, but I do read the part mom told me, about Showalter writing to people all across the country and asking them for recipes. Mom was one of those who collected recipes for her and was rewarded by receiving a free cookbook when they were published. I remember the day our cookbook came in the mail.
“Mom’s recipe for peanut brittle is on page 445, Mrs. Paul Maust. We used the Ice Cream Candy recipe to make taffy (p. 442) and also a favorite cake recipe was the Devil’s Food Cake (p. 208). In May 2015 we [celebrated] our 50th anniversary. On our wedding day we received a Mennonite Community Cookbook as a wedding gift from a friend with this inscription inside the front cover: ‘The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.’ The cookbook is very soiled and taped but sure brings back memories.”
Here’s Thelma’s mother’s recipe for Peanut Brittle as it appeared in the 1950 version and the 2015 edition.
2 cups sugar
1 cup white syrup [Karo]
½ cup water
3 cups raw peanuts
1 teaspoon butter, melted
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
Combine sugar, syrup and water.
Cook to the soft-ball stage (236 degrees).
Add peanuts and melted butter and continue cooking until syrup is a golden brown (290 degrees.) Stir during last few minutes of cooking.
Remove from heat and add soda and vanilla.
Stir until mixture thickens.
Pour into buttered tins and break into pieces when cold.
If roasted peanuts are used, add to syrup before removing from heat.
Recipe originally submitted by Mrs. Paul Maust, Montgomery, Ind. and Mrs. M.T. Brackbill of Harrisonburg, Va., (who was the photographer for the original and longstanding photos used in the cookbook).
Thank you, Thelma, for sharing your story and highlighting this wonderful recipe for some good old fashioned homemade peanut brittle! Perhaps mix some up this weekend?
We think Mary Emma Showalter would have loved this turkey-disaster story, coming as it did from a former unit hostess in a Mennonite Brethren Christian service program. We thank Joanie Buttercup for sending it, one of the few to send a “How I ruined the day – cooking disaster” story, in our year long (2015) special roll out of the 65th Anniversary Edition of Mennonite Community Cookbook!
One of my first holiday seasons away from family came in 1971, when my husband and I, still pretty much newlyweds, were on assignment with Mennonite Brethren Missions/Services “Christian Service” program, almost 4,000 miles from our California origins, in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
Since we were living in what was known as the “unit house,” it fell to me to roast one of the turkeys for the Thanksgiving dinner for all of the Christian Service volunteers serving in the area.
Having only casually observed my mom’s method of preparing such a feast, I merrily prepared the stuffing, and put some of it inside the turkey. Since we would be a group of about 20 at dinner, I made extra stuffing, which I put into a bread loaf pan. I put it into the oven along with the turkey.
About two hours into turkey-roasting time, there was dark smoke coming from the oven. Why??? The turkey was nowhere near done yet!
I carefully opened the oven door, and very sheepishly withdrew a black brick—all that remained of my otherwise delicious sage-and-onion stuffing. Oh… (disappointed sigh!) …I guess the stuffing didn’t need as much time to bake as the turkey did.
Needless to say, there was not enough stuffing to go around that day. And it very quickly got me dubbed as a not-very-good cook.
I have not made that mistake twice. Nowadays, my stuffing goes into a slow cooker, and there is always enough to go with even the leftover turkey!
Joan adds, “These days, I stay away from white bread, including in my stuffing. I use good quality multi-grain bread for the stuffing. Yes, it’s a little more work than buying the pre-cut bread cubes in a box or a bag, but it’s a lot healthier and tastes sooo much better!”
–Joan Schmidt, Chilliwack British Columbia
If you’re looking for an awesome discount on this special edition of Mennonite Community Cookbook, its 30 % off between now and Christmas (making the book just a little over $17 US!) Here’s more info and a promo code to use, and additional discounts (and promo codes) for other selected books.
What is your favorite (best or worst) Thanksgiving memory or moment? We apologize to all our Canadian friends whose technical Thanksgiving holiday is long past; you are free to share yours too! Thanks! We’ll be happy to publish your story here!
As I looked for a recipe I might like, someone mentioned Mennonite Community Cookbook’s recipe for vanilla pie. Vanilla pie? I had heard of wet bottomed shoo fly and dry bottomed shoo fly, but vanilla pie? What was that?
Eureka. There on page 382 of most editions is a recipe for this pie (and you’re getting the recipe here free, below). I’ll also include my tweaks and additional directions in italics, because these older cookbooks–even as good as Mennonite Community Cookbook is, are kind of lacking in the “extra” comments and directions that some of us love and need.
I think the only reason this is called Vanilla Pie and not Shoo Fly is because this uses vanilla! Otherwise, they are very similar.* There is also flour, egg, and brown sugar in the gooey part for this recipe, which softens the strong taste of the pure molasses, sorghum, or dark Karo or (or whatever you use). Someone also suggested King Syrup is less bold and more agreeable for newbies. (I also suggest reading the whole recipe plus directions before beginning.)
Bottom part: 1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses (I used 1/4 cup molasses and 1/4 cup light corn syrup)
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup shortening (butter)
1/2 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pastry for 1 (9 inch) crust
Combine ingredients for bottom part and cook until thickened. [The thickening took awhile! Stir almost constantly. Also, a blog post at Our Heritage of Health recommends making your crumbs first–see directions below–so that the molasses part doesn’t lose frothiness while you mess with the crumbs.)
Pour into unbaked pie shell.
Top with crumbs made by combining sugar, flour, soda, baking powder, and melted shortening. (I did not melt the shortening. That didn’t sound right. I cut it in with a pastry cutter–or use two knives–to make a traditional crumb type topping.)
Bake at 375 degrees for 40-45 minutes. (I wish I had taken mine out at no more than 40 minutes, it looked a little brown, but it depends on your oven.)
Makes 1 (9 inch) pie.
From: Mrs. Amos Leis, Wellesley, Ontario, Mrs. Noah Hunsberger, St Jacobs, Ontario, Mrs. M. C. Showalter, Broadway, Va. [no doubt a relative of Mary Emma’s. Can anyone confirm?]
I shared with our office staff who seemed to enjoy it–especially those who were accustomed to the strong taste of molasses. One said, “I don’t usually like shoo fly pie, but this is good.”
That’s good enough for me. I did not have one crumb to take home. One grateful service-minded co-worker even came back to wash the pie plate for me. Now that’s appreciation.
What is your favorite recipe for Shoo Fly Pie? Have you tried the Vanilla Pie? Any additional suggestions or tweaks? We welcome any and all feedback, photos of your attempts, someone eating a pie??
*If you have an older version of Mennonite Community Cookbook, I noticed the ingredient list for Shoo Fly Pie changed fairly significantly somewhere between 1950 (my copy) and 2015, the current edition. Does anyone know when??
To buy a copy of Mennonite Community Cookbook 65th Anniversary Edition, check here. It includes a fascinating 12-page historical section.
1. Prize-Winning Chocolate Mint Brownies. These mouth watering morsels are prize-winning because they have just been declared this week’s winner in the Best Church Potlucks Ever photo contest! Shared and prepared by Grace Whitlock Vega from Columbia Mennonite Fellowship in Columbia, Missouri, Grace was also kind enough to share the recipe with us. Enjoy (if you dare!). Photo from Columbia Mennonite.
Chocolate Mint Brownies
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 9” x 13” pan.
½ cup butter, at room temperature
1 ½ cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ¼ cups flour
¼ teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons cocoa powder
2/3 cup chocolate chips (optional)
Cream butter and sugar in electric mixer until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs one by one and add vanilla. On medium speed add in flour, cocoa, and salt, mixing until combined. Fold in chips. Spread batter in greased/floured pan and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool completely before adding mint layer.
½ cup unsalted butter (softened)
2 cups powdered sugar
¼ cup crème de menthe (could substitute mint extract plus green food coloring)
½ teaspoon vanilla
When brownies are cool, beat butter and powdered sugar, scraping sides until combined. Add in crème de menthe and vanilla and mix until smooth. Spread on brownie layer, then refrigerate until set, about 1-2 hours.
Chocolate Fudge Layer
1 ½ cups chocolate chips
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
Melt chocolate and butter together in 30 second increments in microwave, stirring until smooth, then pour over top of mint layer. Refrigerate until set 1-2 hours.
2. Beautiful Fruit Kabobs. Karen Sauder prepared these healthy and appealing fruit kabobs for the women’s annual salad luncheon at St. Jacobs Mennonite Church, which is a favorite traditional event for women of the church. Does your church have an annual luncheon or supper focusing just on salads? We’d love to hear about it in the comment section on on our Facebook page! Such a variety of dishes fit the “salad” motif. Photos by Marcia Bauman Shantz
3. Scalloped Potatoes.
Perhaps plain old potatoes are never quite as attractive as colorful fruits and salads, but this filling comfort dish often finds a place at the table of St. Jacob’s Mennonite Church (SJMC) in Ontario. Everyone has their favorite recipe for scalloped potatoes, and cookbooks abound with variations; here’s one recipe with a step-by-step tutorial, if you don’t have your own favorite recipe! Photo from Marcia Bauman Shantz.
4. Greek Tomato Salad.Got tomatoes? Got cucumbers? This salad from (yes, St. Jacob’s Mennonite) is a sure winner for late July and August! A great recipe for Greek Tomato Salad or Tomato Cucumber Feta is in the 2015 edition of Simply in Season, filled with beautiful dishes and recipe photography. Photo by Marcia Bauman Shantz.
Here’s how to make it:
8 medium tomatoes, peeled and sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 green pepper, chopped (optional)
1 cucumber, chopped (optional)
The staff of MennoMedia/Herald Press at the main U.S. office in Harrisonburg, Va., have a potluck lunch once a month. Recently we featured recipes from Mennonite Community Cookbook, and Dorothy Hartman, editorial assistant and permissions manager, prepared this beautiful and traditional banana pudding. Score the recipe here! Photo by Melodie M. Davis.
Combine pudding and milk and stir until smooth.
Cook until thickened, stirring constantly.
Remove from heat and cool.
Whip the cream and add sugar and vanilla.
To the cold custard add 2/3 of the whipped cream, 3 diced bananas and 10 graham crackers rolled very fine.
Combine ingredients well and our into serving dish.
Spread the remaining cream on top of mixture.
6. Apple/Pineapple Swan, made by Ann Weber of SJMC; photo by Marcia Bauman Shantz. There’s not much recipe to this, but if you study the photo and watch this video, you should be able to figure it out, or we can put you in touch with its creator for more complete directions!
7. Mennonite Cinnamon Rolls, baked by Heather Weber of SJMC; photo by Marcia Bauman Shantz.
Rebecca Thatcher Murcia is a professional translator, mega-soccer mom, coach, and player. Several years ago she shared a fantastic church cinnamon roll story on the Mennonite radio program Shaping Families. It seems that one Sunday she ran out of time to make her rolls at home and dragged all the ingredients to church with her, and … (see cinnamon roll story here and adapted recipe here).
What’s your favorite church potluck food? Does your women’s group have “salad luncheons” or other women only events? How about men’s food events?
We have one more post in this series related to church potlucks. Next up: A cautionary note about potlucks from a thoughtful reader!
Or, Why Mennonite Food No Longer All Looks Like Mennonite Community Cookbook Fare
1. Combining Fellowship With Outreach – East Union Mennonite Church members in Kalona, Iowa, young and old alike, prep food around work tables for “Kids Against Hunger” at a monthly food and fellowship event which also incorporates occasional mission/service projects. Dubbed CHOW (Church Happenings On Wednesday), on each first Wednesday of the month from September through April, a light dinner is served from 6 – 6:30 p.m., followed by activities, classes, or a shared service project such as here. Activities end at 7:45 to accommodate families with young children, and child care is provided for wee ones. Adult Sunday School groups take turns providing/planning adult activities and meals.
2. Sweetening the Soul a la Trifle – Megan M. Ramer, pastor at Chicago Community Mennonite Church tells how the trifle came to symbolize their congregation. “Asked to prepare a dessert that represented our congregation for a conference gathering, [what a great idea!] our answer was clear: a trifle it shall be. Our monthly potlucks are opportunities not only to share the sustenance our bodies need, but to sweeten our souls as well. We delight in culinary playfulness and creative expressions of food fanciness. Our trifle-making extraordinaire, Ross Bay, purchased a trifle bowl specifically for CCMC potlucks and brings different trifle variations to nearly every potluck. Visit CCMC also on Facebook
3. The What To Do After a Baptism Or Dedication Dilemma. We love this photo of Kianna Mwaipopo checking out pastor Ángel Tamayo, associate pastor of Nueva Vida Norristown New Life Mennonite Church (Pennsylvania) with her parents, Emmanuel and Emily Laubach Mwaipopo, (Emily’s sister in background) and clutching her comforting pacifier. (Photo by Tim Moyer.) Most people know that in Mennonite churches, babies are “dedicated,” not baptized, a change which started the whole Anabaptist movement back in the 1500s and resulted in many persons being persecuted for not following state mandated requirements to automatically baptize every child into the church. Among Mennonites, the belief in “adult” baptism at an age when a child or person is able make their own decision and truly make a commitment to Christ and a community of believers, is a key difference between Mennonites and numerous (but not all) Christian groups.
And what does this have to food? (Okay, it’s a stretch, but had to get the cute baby in here.) Most baby dedication ceremonies—or adult baptisms— are followed by a gathering around a table or two for a meal—either potluck with the whole church community, or simply celebrated among a smaller group of family and friends at home or restaurant. In the second picture, Pascale Cruickshank, left, cuts a sweet potato pie, while Gloria George, and Steve Brown prepare to enjoy a fall open house celebration at Nueva Vida. The beautiful yellow celebration cake is made of all Jello, and was created and decorated by a Mexican friend of the congregation. Sharon Williams, who shared the photos, says the cake demonstrates that “the Word of God is sweeter than the honeycomb!
4. “At Table” But No Food. A common practice at many Mennonites conferences and conventions, where delegates deliberate and help make many major decisions—is the round table, allowing persons to look into the faces of those they may disagree with. At the recent Kansas City Mennonite Church USA convention, Herald Press author Donald Clymer, for one, reflected on the Christian love expressed at his Table Group: “As we progressed through the agenda of the week, it became obvious that we differed substantially on nearly all the issues. But we discussed everything civilly, learned to trust each other, and to deeply respect each other’s point of view. Could I even say we “loved” each other?” There may be plenty of water at these tables and even a mint or two, but at these tables the focus is on conversation, dialogue, and hearing each other. Thus, we celebrate the “at table” tradition where no food is served or consumed—another holy table! (Photo from a Mennonite Church USA convention, by Ken Gingerich.)
5. Pancake Races – Imported Lenten Practice. Benton Mennonite Church near Goshen, Indiana has had an outstanding practice at the beginning of Lent. They hosted an annual “pancake race” on Shrove Tuesday before the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday for a number of years (read all about this fun tradition imported from the United Kingdom here, and how the folks at Benton carried it out). Benton also reaches out to visitors by having a potluck lunch after every service through the school year—and regulars are welcome even if they skip church that day, according to one member! For this practice alone, we salute them and encourage visitors/newcomers in Northern Indiana to put this church on your “must check out” list.
6. Potlucks Create Community.Beth–El Mennonite in Colorado Springs, Colorado, sees eating together as integral to congregational life. Church member Rhonda Wray writes: “Sharing a meal allows for more conversation. Sampling new foods, inclusion of special dietary needs, a break from the Sunday routine, and the efficiency of eating at church also contribute to potluck’s popularity. We hold a monthly ‘second Sunday’ potluck and special meals, like our Easter breakfast, featuring breakfast casseroles, cinnamon rolls, and fruits. We don’t have a specific dish or cook to send for this contest, but we affirm the excitement of a shared dishes.” (Photograph by Jerry Martin. Sent by Jeanette Martin, Administrative Assistant, Beth-El Mennonite.)
7. Extending the TableGrace Lao Mennonite Church began when St. Jacobs Mennonite Church in St. Jacobs, Ontario began sponsoring and welcoming refugees from South East Asia in 1979, and continuing for the next several years. Various clusters of families would gather around one refugee family to provide support (finding apartments/employment, adjusting to a new culture, friendship, etc.). Many of these refugees were of Buddhist background. Through the support and relationships formed, many of those folks became interested in Christian faith and were baptised. They began by worshipping together with St. Jacobs Mennonite Church (SJMC), but eventually formed their own congregation, Grace Lao Mennonite, in 1990. The 1990 addition to the SJMC building included a large upstairs gathering room to house the worship space for Grace Lao. Sunday School remained shared. In 1999, Grace Lao bought its own church building on Lancaster Street in Kitchener. The two congregations continue to share a close relationship.
A partnership council meets regularly to provide mutual support and encouragement, and we worship and eat together at an annual Sunday School picnic, where everyone seems to enjoy the new food traditions offered and prepared so beautifully by members of Grace Lao! (Photos of Laotian dishes, courtesy of Marcia Bauman Shantz, St. Jacobs Mennonite Church.)
8. Last Meatball Standing or Last Person Through the Line. Potlucks can be tricky* and even ego wounding. Everyone wants their dish to be enjoyed, and cooks don’t mind taking home one meatball, but a crockpot full of mostly untouched meatballs? Not so much. And there are usually certain people in every church or group whom you can count on to hang out near the end of the line and refuse to go until they’re the very last person served. What’s up with that? Humility? Or pride in being “the last” who, according to Matthew 20:16, shall someday be first?
[*Coming up in a future post, we’ll share a longer essay from a Mennonite woman reminding why for those with severe food allergies, a church potluck is NOT the place they want to be.]
Marcia, the potluck coordinator and chief photographer at St. Jacobs Mennonite Church in Ontario, even wrote a sort of ode to potlucks to the tune of The Sound of Music’s “My Favorite Things.”
“The Church Potluck Song” (by Marcia Bauman Shantz, St. Jacobs Mennonite Church, ON Can. – May 2015)
(Sung to the tune of “My Favourite Things” from the movie The Sound Of Music; with musical metered liberties assumed in the singing thereof!).
Devilled eggs and sushi, and spring rolls and salads, Sausage and casseroles with crisp onion toppings, Humus with pita, and crackers and cheese, Save me a piece of ground cherry pie, please!
Pineapple rings rest in grape-flavoured Jello,
Ham slices, summer sausage, crunchy dill pickles.
Pies, brownies, trifle and Rice Krispie squares,
Are those chocolate whoopie pies I see down there?
When the grace’s sung.
When the kids run.
When we’re feeling full.
We simply remember these wonderful things,
Of what a church potluck – does bring!
Coffee cakes and paska, Easter cheese with fresh Maple syrup.
Laotian, Brazilian, Hungarian, European.
Small group planned-potlucks in each other’s homes,
Get out your calendar, who’s turn to host next?
Welcome Back Breakfast – September’s beginning. Sunday noon potlucks and Women’s Salad Suppers. Church camping, church picnics and church weeknight study, Who makes that good borscht for Sunday Suppers?
When the grace’s sung.
When the kids run.
When we’re feeling full.
We simply remember these wonderful things,
Of what a church potluck – does bring!
Thanks to all churches who submitted photos or short essays for this blog post, or allowed us to draw from your website!
Our second winner in the “Best Church Potlucks” photo contest is Ross Bay of Chicago Community Mennonite Church for his faithfulness in creating beautiful trifles! Claim you prize from these choices: Simply in Season, More-with-Less, Extending the Table, Mennonite Girls Can Cook Celebrations, or Saving the Seasons.
What is your go-to potluck dish to prepare? Has that changed in the last 20 years? What foods–whatever the ethnicity–are favorites at your church potlucks?
The Bible is filled with stories of food and sharing meals—and many of us have experienced the deepening fellowship that happens around tables and food. Jesus made the breaking of bread and sharing a meal into something holy. Jesus’s last meal before his crucifixion, and his first meal after the resurrection, speak to us of the spiritual dimension of food—such a great and wonderful gift of our Creator God.
So we’ll offer a series of four photo essays over the next weeks on the topic of food, eating, sharing, and some great recipes.
First up, just for fun and compliments of a volunteer, Marcia Bauman Shantz from St. Jacobs Mennonite Church, St. Jacobs, Ontario, are eight great reasons you just may want to hang out sometime at a Mennonite potluck!
1. You might catch a snooze. Isaac, a child of St Jacobs Mennonite Church, catches an early nap after a church potluck. Who knew a potluck could be so exhausting?
2. Someone is guaranteed to give you a smile, with or without sticking a carrot in it, as Jonah from St. Jacobs does creatively here! And carrots star in Vitamin A: you get 203% of your daily requirement for this essential vitamin with one average carrot, while missing all or most of the baddies like sugar, sodium, fat and cholesterol.
3. Blueberry love. Kai can’t hide his love for blueberry pancakes at the church’s annual Shrove Pancake supper! At a summer potluck or picnic, you’re sure to get plenty of anti-oxidant-rich foods like blueberries! What’s not to love? WebMD ranks blueberries the #2 food in nutritional quality.
4. Will you be my Clementine? Zoe sports a cute clementine nose at a church potluck (do we see a theme here, maybe even someone egging her on?). Easy to peel, clementines are now frequently offered with some “kid” fastfood meals and are juicy, sweet, and less acidy than oranges. Only 35 calories and 7 grams of sugar.
5. You might see someone who looks attractive, with or without real grape eyes. Here Tina models the grape eyes. Purple grapes rank #1 on WebMD in nutrition!
6. Young Mennonites can receive early training on the Mennonite vice of choice, ice cream (and other dangerous desserts. Seriously.). Rumor is that at the Mennonite Convention USA in Kansas City this week, the bars will be empty and the ice cream shoppes will have lines stretching for blocks (pretty much the same thing happens at Mennonite Church Canada big get togethers too!). Here Levi demonstrates the ice cream “nose smush” at the church’s Saturday night campout potluck. The ice cream cones were stuffed with chocolate cake, then a layer of ice cream, then a little chocolate icing, as made by church camper, Elaine.
7. You might end up with watermelon lips! A cooperative Levi also models the newest look in wearable, tasty lipstick. (In case you think he looks like Kai, they are brothers.)
8. It is perfectly acceptable—even biblical—to take a Sabbath rest after lunch. (And if you think the young man looks a little like the guy showing the blueberry love above (#3), bingo. Same Kai, when he was younger!)
All photos and some of the captions courtesy of Marcia Bauman Shantz, volunteer photographer for St. Jacobs. Parents gave permission for their child’s photo to appear here, but not for use elsewhere. Thanks for honoring our request.
For all of Marcia’s work and obvious potluck love exhibited by St. Jacobs Mennonite Church, we are awarding them the grand prize, one copy of the new 65th anniversary edition of Mennonite Community Cookbook. Other drawing winners, to be announced later, will receive their choice of five other Herald Press cookbooks.
Everyone’s a winner—both in the kitchen and nutritionally—with the lovely and updated new Extending the Table and Simply In Season cookbooks as well, with beautiful new food and recipe photography. Check them out too …
Summer’s here. Know any students looking for summer jobs?
The summer when Mary Emma Showalter’s now classic Mennonite Community Cookbook was released in 1950, various college students sold the cookbook as a way to make money for their college expenses.
Eugene Souder was one such entrepreneur who had about 15 young women and men selling cookbooks under his loosely organized effort.
He says the John C. Winston Company, (publishers in conjunction with the early “Mennonite Community Association” in Scottdale, Pa.), put out a notice that they were looking for someone to round up students, who could sell the cookbook to acquaintances, church members, friends, or neighbors—and perhaps door-to-door. “I don’t think I saw that initial notice put out for sales reps, but someone recommended me. So they came recruiting me,” recalled Eugene in a phone interview recently.
“It was simple—I had one or two meetings of interested persons at Eastern Mennonite College (now EMU), inviting them to earn some extra money that summer.” Eugene himself was between his junior and senior years of college. For all who know Eugene, most would agree that the “e’s” in his name stand for entrepreneur par excellence. He reflected, “It was fun to recruit. That was basically all I had to do. I got a commission off of each sale, and the total that year was enough to cover my expenses for my final year of college.” Eugene added that he didn’t sell more than five himself, and that there were more women than men selling the cookbook.
Dan Hertzler, a classmate of Eugene’s and former editor of Gospel Herald, recalls that a year at EMC at the time cost $550, with a $100 discount for Bible majors. While Dan was later connected with the Mennonite Community Association and has long been associated with Scottdale, Dan didn’t help sell the cookbooks.
Eugene confesses he didn’t sell many himself because he was heavily involved in a budding men’s quartet at EMC that went on to help launch the long running Mennonite Hour radio program in 1952, which led to the whole international Mennonite Broadcasts, Inc. organization—(which eventually became Mennonite Media, which joined with Mennonite Publishing Network to form MennoMedia in 2011. A quick mini history, more here!)
“So that summer of 1950, I didn’t really have that much time to actually sell; I was surprised at the good return for my time,” Eugene says. The cookbook initially cost $3.50 for the plain edition; a deluxe “chapter tab” edition was $4.50. “They were very fair in the commission they paid me.”
Eugene went on to a long career as a pastor, graphic designer, and founder/editor of at least three church magazines: Our Faith, Together, and Living. Living is the only one still alive—and I’m the editor. You might guess that Eugene recruited me for that job, so I know what a good convincer he is!
Jay B. Landis, a former professor in the English language and literature department at EMC, was one of those who sold the cookbooks. But neither Jay nor Eugene remember it being through Eugene’s circle of sellers. “I sold a few—maybe to my mother and a few others,” Jay confesses. Jay was just out of high school and working a full time job to make money for college, so his involvement was definitely limited.
Jay and his wife Peggy now live in the home where Mary Emma and her eventual husband, Ira Eby, lived in Harrisonburg. When Peggy was an officer of the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community Auxiliary, she offered a dinner for their annual auction: a meal at their home with recipes cooked from Mary Emma Showalter’s cookbook, including the famous seven sweets and seven sours. “Some of Mary Emma’s nieces and nephews were the eventual recipients of the dinner, and during the course of the evening, we read several of the essays Mary Emma included at the beginning of each chapter of the book,” Jay recalls.
Eugene summarized his experience of earning enough money for a whole year of college as “The easiest money I ever made. Sometimes it is surprising what good things come your way.” Like other students of his time, he graduated debt free.
We would love to hear any stories from others who were involved in “selling Mennonite Community Cookbooks” in the early 50s! Most sellers would be in their mid to upper 80s by now. Do you know anyone? A parent or grandparent? Let us know!
Mennonite Community Cookbook made a great shower or wedding present in the 50s. It still does! Order here.
Mennonite Community Cookbook, a bestselling cookbook first published in 1950, was relaunched early in 2015 in a 65th anniversary edition.
But perhaps not all Shenandoah Valley residents know the Virginia roots of this beloved collection. Author and compiler Mary Emma Showalter grew up on a farm near Broadway, Va.; many of her Showalter relatives still live in the Valley. Two of her step-children, Phyllis Showalter and Eleanor Mumaw and many other kin (sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles) have called this area home.
The cookbook is nearing 500,000 copies in print and is published by Herald Press, now located in Harrisonburg.
If you are from Virginia and look at the list of ten dishes from Mennonite Community Cookbook which Phyllis and Eleanor mentioned as some personal favorite recipes of Mary Emma, you may recognize many of them as Virginia favorites, though certainly not exclusively.
Mary Emma Showalter’s favorite dishes from her cookbook:
Shoe fly pie
Fruit pies – apple, peach, berry
Stuffed baked fish
Home canned pickles
(See bottom of this post for other Virginia recipes in the book.)
With the possible exception of shoe fly pie—so popular in Pennsylvania and the stuffed baked fish, all of these dishes are “must haves” for many longtime or older Valley residents. The baked ham included in the cookbook is Mary Emma’s own recipe and it calls for center slices of cured ham rubbed with dry mustard and covered with brown sugar and milk. You then bake the slices for about an hour, until the milk is absorbed. Mary Emma writes about curing meats in her great grandfather’s old smokehouse, a tradition still carried on in current day practice for numerous Valley residents.
Readers also can see Valley life represented in some of the stories Mary Emma shares, such as how her grandfather would come in for dinner, smell Grandma’s freshly baked bread, and could be counted on to say with heartfelt pleasure, “Bread is the staff of life.”
Becoming the author of the first best-selling Mennonite cookbook was only one of Mary Emma’s many accomplishments.
Mary Emma writes about frequently asking to see her mother’s handwritten recipes. Eventually she canvassed most Mennonite communities of the day (late 1940s) to collect recipes, so the cookbook itself goes far beyond Valley cooking. Still, it is fun to find Virginia recipes sprinkled throughout.
Becoming the author of the first best-selling Mennonite cookbook was only one of Mary Emma’s many accomplishments. She graduated from (then) Madison College but World War II was raging. In 1942 she began working as a dietitian in Civilian Public Service (CPS), a government program for conscientious objectors who worked in mental hospitals, starvation projects, road construction, forest fighting units, and more.
While assigned to a CPS camp in Grottoes, Virginia, Mary Emma worked in the kitchen and began teaching the men to cook. The classes were so popular she developed a three-month training program and manual, and was asked to visit fifteen CPS camps across the United States doing similar training. (For more on how CPS camps were launched with the U.S. Government between World I and II, see a new biography about one of the men who helped start the program, Orie O. Miller, My Calling to Fulfill by John Sharp.)
In her travels, Mary Emma noted similarities and differences in Mennonite foods and cooking in various communities—the seed for her idea to compile Mennonite Community Cookbook.
In 1944 she was sent abroad by a Mennonite relief program on an American troop ship with three thousand soldiers. Stationed in the Sinai Desert, she worked as a dietitian in a refugee camp, feeding 1,075 children and teaching their mothers and nutrition.
When she returned from the war and relief efforts in 1946 and began postgraduate studies, she worked on the cookbook off and on for three years. It became part of her master’s research at the University of Tennessee, documenting food history among Mennonite communities. She finished her master’s in 1948, and by the time the cookbook was slated to come out in June of 1950, she was a professor at Eastern Mennonite College and head of the home economics department. Later she would complete a doctorate at Pennsylvania State University (1957) and become the first female professor at EMC with a doctorate. She married widower Ira Eby, then of Hagerstown, Maryland in 1960, a barber. They lived out most of the remainder of their lives in the Valley. Mary Emma died in 2003 and is buried at Trissels Mennonite Church just south of Broadway.
Her husband, Ira Eby, was a well known barber in the Park View part of Harrisonburg until he retired in 1978; he died in 2004.
Today the cookbook, while certainly featuring numerous appealing and delicious “family favorite” recipes, functions also as a historical record and treasury of vintage recipes. That was one of the goals Mary Emma had for her master’s project. In her introduction, she wrote, “The daughters of today [are]guilty of pushing [old dishes]aside in favor of the new, just as I had done one day. … I realized in many instances our mothers would be the last generation to use them … and thought that now is the time to preserve them. So this book is an attempt to preserve for posterity … cooking that has been handed down for many generations.”
Mary Emma added that in order to make the book more inclusive and appeal to more users, “It also includes favorite recipes of our own day. Grandmother recorded no salad recipes or casserole dishes or numerous other dishes that our present  appetites call for.” One fun recipe gives “Food for a Barn Raising” with a menu to feed “175 men.” Some “green” recipes or methods for making homemade laundry soap, lotion, and a pesticide-free solution to get rid of garden worms on cabbage will appeal to today’s gardeners and those looking for environmentally healthy options.
The new edition contains appetizing new photos of prepared recipes while eliminating photos of dishes most modern readers consider “antiquities” such as stuffed pig stomach. Mary Emma herself confesses in the book that she “never learned to appreciate” Grandma’s milk and rivel soup. Rivels are a little like noodle dough in a tiny ball, “no larger than cherry stone,” which loose their shape if not eaten right away, according to Mary Emma’s comments about “Corn Soup with Rivels” recipe in the book.
If you appreciate simple home cooking with common ingredients found in almost everyone’s pantry, there are 1100 recipes to choose from in this mammoth and classic perennial seller. The book’s first publisher, The John C. Winston Company in Philadelphia, predicted a shelf life of maybe five to seven years for the cookbook. The book’s been around for 65 years. Hats off to Virginian Mary Emma and her brand of Mennonite home cooking.
Many more historical details about the publication, marketing, and artist’s drawings in “Mennonite Community Cookbook” are found in the 2015 anniversary edition, and sign up to receive updates from this blog (in the margin). Almost weekly drawings are being held through the reminder of 2015 at a Facebook page for the book, called “Mennonite Community Cookbook.”
MELODIE DAVIS is editor of Valley Living and also served as the managing editor for the 2015 edition of “Mennonite Community Cookbook.”
We’d love to hear from you if you know anyone with a recipe in the book! Please send the name of the cook and the recipe! We’ll do a follow-up post. Comment in the comment section or send to us at email@example.com
A partial listing of some of the recipes listed from Virginia cooks (pages indicated):
Parkerhouse Rolls – p. 6
Buttermilk Biscuits – p. 13
Graham Raisin Muffins – p. 19
Salt Rising Bread – p. 21
Southern Spoon Bread – p. 22
Dewey Buns – p. 25
Fried Mush – p. 30
Corn Chowder – p. 38
Beef Soup with Dumplings – p. 43
Beef Potpie – p. 55 (By Mary Emma’s Grandmother Showalter)
Creamed Dried Beef – p. 68
How to Cure Dried Beef by dry salt method – p. 57 (Mrs. Owen F. Showalter, Broadway)
Hamburger en Casserole – p. 59
Meat Balls in Tomato Juice – p. 61
Shepherd’s Pie – p. 66
Pork Chops, Breaded – p. 73
Sausage Casserole Dinner – p. 78
What’s for Dinner? Blogger Marian Beaman Serves Up “Pennsylvania Dutch” Dried Beef Gravy
Reposted from “Plain and Fancy” Blog (
“Just two generations ago, preparing meals was as much a part of life as eating,” so says Mark Bittman in an article entitled How to Eat Now published in the October 20, 2014 issue of TIME magazine. Although a recent Harris poll reveals that 79% of Americans say they enjoy cooking, probably most get at least a third of their daily calories outside the home. Bittman goes on to show how easy it is to get a nutritious home-cooked meal on the table and includes 3 simple recipes: Vegetable soup which borrows from the freezer aisle, a whole roast chicken with garlic and lemons, and skillet pear crisp recipe which makes for easy cleanup.
My mother cooked two main meals every day. I could count on the fingers of one hand the times we ate in a restaurant. Her recipes were hearty, reflective of the Pennsylvania Dutch cooking she grew up with, never skimping on the butter.
When I came back from Pennsylvania a few weeks ago, I brought on the plane frozen ham loaf and chipped beef. After the ham loaf is thawed, it’s a cinch to pop it into the oven and serve in a few hours with virtually no prep time.
Preparing chipped beef gravy though, while not enormously time consuming, does require assembling ingredients: dried/chipped beef, butter, flour, milk or cream, and a touch of pepper and then stirring in a skillet on the stove.
Last Wednesday, I pulled out my trusty Mennonite Community Cookbook by Mary Emma Showalter, a book of 1100 favorite recipes gleaned from Mennonite families all over the United States and Canada. Usually, I use Mother’s recipe in my head and knowing the ingredients for what she called dried beef gravy, I add a hunk of this and two cups of that: “just what you think” as she used to say. This time though I will follow the cookbook’s recipe for creamed dried beef, which I see browns the beef with the butter.
Next I assemble all of the ingredients and fire up the stove, beginning with melting butter in a hot skillet.
Adding the dried beef to the melted butter sends a hearty aroma throughout the kitchen. Then, sprinkling flour over the butter and beef, I create a roux to which I slowly add milk. Depending on your sensitivity to calories, you could use water, milk, or cream. I always use milk. Keep on stirring until the mixture becomes smooth and thick.
Finally, your creamed dried beef, which Mother always referred to as dried beef gravy, is ready to serve over toast, over mashed potatoes, as you wish.
Dried Beef Gravy over Mashed Potatoes
Mark Bittman would probably raise his eyebrows over the amount of butter and flour in the creamed dried beef recipe. And of course this menu is heartier than his lower calorie menu of vegetable soup, roast chicken with pear crisp but, oh, is it delicious!
* * *
For years I thought of creamed dried beef as a Pennsylvania Dutch dish. After all, it appeared on page 58 of the Mennonite Cookbook, 1972 edition. Recently, my sister-in-law Terry told me her mother made the same recipe when she was growing up in California.
How about you? Did you enjoy creamed dried beef (or a variation) growing up? Is this recipe part of your cooking repertoire now?
The follow up to our earlier list of delicious-sounding Amish- or Mennonite-style restaurants is finally here! It is exciting to see the tradition of quality cooking reveal itself in a variety of ways in the Mennonite and Amish communities, from restaurants to cookbooks to family meals.
Which of these restaurants have you been to? Which restaurants did our list miss? Let us know in the comments!
What do diners say about it? In a Yelp review, Emily T. from Arlington, VA says, “I have found the best donuts in the world, and they are here at Rise ‘N Roll.”
What makes it famous? Donuts, donuts, donuts. Reviewers simply rave about them, especially the cinnamon caramel flavor.
Want to try it on your own? If you want to try your hand at donuts, you can find recipes for Fastnachts and Raised Doughnuts on page 24 of Mennonite Community Cookbook. MennoMedia’s Amish syndicated columnist Lovina Eicher recently featured a recipe called “Rise’n Roll Bars” which are kind of like the famous Rise’n Roll donuts, without the deep-fat frying.
What do diners say about it? Rick F. writes on a Trip Advisor review, “They are an authentic Amish restaurant and bakery. They serve everything from breakfast to dinner, the broiled haddock is my favorite.”
What makes it famous? The pies, vegetable stew, and mashed potatoes all come highly recommended.
Want to try it on your own? Mary Emma includes a whole chapter on pies and another on desserts for readers to try on their own.
Comments? We’d love to hear from you. Bridal shower and wedding season is coming up and this traditional cookbook makes a treasured gift! You can buy one or several here.
Ben Mast is a writing intern for MennoMedia and Herald Press. He studies English and Writing Studies at Eastern Mennonite University.