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!

FourTonsMCCookbook
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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

DorothyFriesen
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.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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