Mennonite Community Cookbook Peanut Brittle


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.

Peanut Brittle

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?

mennonite community cookbook

And remember, the Mennonite Community Cookbook special 65th anniversary edition is still on sale until Christmas 2015 for 30% off! Stock up for weddings, birthdays, anniversaries to come!




Mennonite Community Cookbook’s Vanilla Pie (Better than Shoo Fly?)


Is it shoo fly pie or is it vanilla pie? You decide.

That shoo fly pie is associated with Mennonites, Amish, and in general plain people, is undeniable. What’s not so clear is how widespread is the love? (No pun intended.)

Pennsylvanians from Mennonite, Amish and other backgrounds from Anabaptist-related groups are frequent fans. But growing up in Indiana in a Mennonite home and church, I never tasted shoo fly pie until I went into Mennonite Voluntary Service with three Pennsylvanians in my unit/housing. Then I became a fan of the milder versions of shoo fly pie.

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 egg
1 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla

Top part:

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

Thickening the gooey part.

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.

Pastry cutter to make crumb topping.

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??

mennonite community cookbook

To buy a copy of Mennonite Community Cookbook 65th Anniversary Edition, check here. It includes a fascinating 12-page historical section.



MelodieDavisBlogPhotoMelodie Davis, Managing Editor at Herald Press and sometimes food blogger at 

8 Terrific Table Traditions at Mennonite Churches (and the Theology that Supports Them)

Or, Why Mennonite Food No Longer All Looks Like Mennonite Community Cookbook Fare

East Union, Iowa, work project.

1. Combining Fellowship With OutreachEast 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.

20110326 Dessert from Chicago Community
Ross Bay’s Trifle from Chicago Community

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

Ángel Tamayo, associate pastor with child’s parents, Emmanuel and Emily Laubach Mwaipopo.

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.

Fall Open House dessert table.

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!

Table group deliberation at MCUSA Convention in Phoenix, 2013.

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.)

Pancake race participants dress up in “housewife” clothing of old. See United Kingdom tradition!

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.

Beth-El Colorado Easter Breakfast

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.)

Sushi and Deviled Eggs, side by side.

7.  Extending the Table  Grace 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.

Traditional Laotian dishes  and traditional Canadian favorites mix it up at joint potlucks.
Traditional Laotian dishes and traditional Canadian favorites mix it up at joint potlucks.

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.)

Last Meatball Standing, photo by Marcia Bauman Shantz.

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?

This post part of Mennonite Community Cookbook‘s 65th anniversary year of blogging! Purchase cookbook here.

What Would Mary Emma Showalter Say?

What Would Mary Emma Showalter Say?

By Melodie M. Davis

We’re having a blast—with Mary Emma Showalter’s mammoth cookbook rolling out again Feb. 2 in its 65th year! No retirement party for Mennonite Community Cookbook, no siree, Bob. We want to keep this brainchild of Mary Emma’s cooking for another 50 years, at least!

This is what a shipment of 8000 pounds of cookbooks looks like!

So what on earth would Mary Emma say if she were still living? She lived long enough to know about computers and the Internet and online marketing—but she wasn’t around when Facebook first launched on college campuses across the land and then, quickly, became the go-to social media of choice, even for those in the 65+ age bracket (and now mostly abandoned by the college-age crowd). She would be amazed to know she’s on Twitter and Pinterest and yes, even Instagram, a bit.

But would she be supportive of these newfangled marketing efforts?

Artist Naomi Nissley, left, and author Mary Emma Showalter inspect the first printing of Mennonite Community Cookbook, 1950.

I’ve gotten to know her a bit through all my research in the past year–in office files, interviews, the archives at Eastern Mennonite University Historical Library, talking to relatives, the husband of the illustrator, friends, and combing endlessly through past articles that she wrote or that were written about her (and you’ll hear more about all these in weeks and months to come). But there is one incident that tells me perhaps she would be a little put off at first, maybe even a little aghast, and then she’d dig in and do whatever needed to be done to help see her baby reach new audiences, new generations, new cooks—even though cooking has changed so MUCH in the last 65 years.

Mary Emma serving tea–reprinted from The Way We Are: A Celebration of 75 years of Eastern Mennonite College.

That incident is told in the back of the new 12-page historical section for this book. So of course I can’t spill the cookies here, but it does have to do with baking lots and lots of cookies. Right at the end of the semester, when grades were due from professors, and what she, as head of a college home economics department, told the PR firm who requested the Mennonite cookies. And what they told her back.

If you love the cookbook or are fascinated by vintage Mennonite cooking or adapting recipes for your tastes today, or admit to being a bit of a foodie or love a good Mennonite potluck meal or reunion, you’ll love the stories in our new edition.

Mary Emma did put her foot down in response to certain promotional stunts. You’ll find that story too.

Gravestone of Mary Emma Showalter Eby near Broadway, Va.

I’ve been in her former house. I’ve talked to her grad school roommate. I’ve devoured a historical piece about her written by a colleague. I learned she had a great sense of humor. I’ve cooked from her book. I’d love to take people on a Mennonite Community Cookbook tour and drop by her gravesite or at least pass by the outside of the home she lived in, where the original photographs for the cookbook were taken.

The home Mary Emma was living in when the original Mennonite Community Cookbook food photos were staged, using beloved heirloom antique family dishes and place settings.

I don’t know for sure how she’d feel about the new edition and all the social media we’re going for here: the contests with weekly cookbook prizes on fun themes. I think they’d give her pause and then she’d say, if it keeps the book alive, if it keeps people eating more purposefully and meaningfully, go for it.

That’s just my take.

What do you think?

I know one thing. Mary Emma would have LOVED to see these photos below and hear the thoughts and memories so many people associate with their copy of Mennonite Community Cookbook. Below are just some of the cookbook covers sent or posted by fans and readers.

And before we lose you, if you want to get a copy of the new edition at a great 25% discount, for just $18.74 until Feb. 2, act fast, and go here, or call 800-245-7894. (Discounted price will appear in cart until Feb. 2, 2015.)

And get cooking to enter the current contest showing one of your fav recipes from Mennonite Community Cookbook: two drawings will be held, one this Friday Jan. 30, and one Feb. 6. More info here! Entries to be featured here on the blog in the future. Thanks!

The remains of food stylist Cherise Harper’s mother’s #MennoCooking cookbook.


The well used cookbook of Alma Unrau, head of customer service for Herald Press and MennoMedia.


The still shiny copy of Sylvia Hertzler Saunders, which came from her grandparents in 1976 as a birthday gift.


Wilma Cender shared the backcover jacket for the cookbook, which she received for a bridal shower gift from a special aunt and cousin.


From Dorothy Friesen: This copy belonged to and was heavily used by a gay Mennonite couple in Chicago, who, not welcomed in the church gave it to me in the 1980s.


Book belonging to Sue Stuckey, who says she’s excited to see the new edition!


Amy Hertzler says: “My favorite cookbook! It was a Christmas gift from my great aunt, Florence E. Horst, in 1978.”


Marian Thomas’s shot of “my beloved old friend.”


MelodieDavisBlogPhotoBlog post by Melodie M. Davis, managing editor for this edition.