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!

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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!

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!




What is Your Thanksgiving Disaster Story?

2013ImportOf2011Photos 167We 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.

2013ImportOf2011Photos 160
Roast turkey breast.

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! 



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 www.findingharmonyblog.com 

7 Scrumptious Dishes You Just Might Find at a Mennonite Potluck (Plus 3 Recipes)

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.

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. FruitKabobSt.JacobsKaren 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. WomensSaladSupper3EditedDoes 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.

ScallopedPotatoFavoritePerhaps 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.Women'sSaladSupperGot 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)

Combine in a dish

2 tablespoons fresh basil, mint, or parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)

Mix and pour over the vegetables; toss lightly. Salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with ½ cup freshly shredded mozzarella or crumbled feta cheese, Kalamata olives, or sprigs of fresh herbs.

Serves 6. Recipe from Simply in Season, Herald Press.

5. Banana Cream Pudding. P1070315

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.

Banana Cream Pudding

2 boxes vanilla pudding (not instant)
4 cups milk
1 cup whipping cream
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
14 graham crackers
4 bananas

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.

Garnish with remaining crumbs and sliced bananas.

Makes 6-8 servings. Original recipe in Mennonite Community Cookbook from Dorothy Shank, Harrisonburg, Va.

6. Apple/Pineapple Swan, made by Ann Weber of SJMC; photo by Marcia Bauman Shantz. SwanEditedThere’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!

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.

8 Great Reasons to Hang Out at a Mennonite Potluck

Mennonite Community Cookbook blog, Third Way website and MennoMedia/Herald Press (yeah, they’re all connected) recently sponsored a “Best Church Potlucks Ever” photo contest (ended June 15, 2015). Okay, it was mostly a ruse to be able to collect and share some great photos from across the Mennonite church on the topic of food. Mary Emma Showalter, who collected the original recipes for Mennonite Community Cookbook, would be thrilled!

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!

WhoKnewPotluckCouldBeSoExhaustingEdited1. 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 withoutPotluckCarrotSmileEdited 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.

BlueberryKidSt.JacobsEdited3. 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 churchClementineNoseEdited 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.

GrapeEyesEdited5. 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 theIceCreamConeSmushEdited 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.

WatermelonLipsSt.JacobsEdited7. 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.BlueberryKidNappingEdited (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.

***mennonite community cookbook

You can buy the Mennonite Community Cookbook 65th Anniversary edition here.


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 …

Home cooking Mother or Grandmother might have loved: Dried Beef Gravy

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.

DriedBeef RecipeNOname


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.

Dried Beef+ButterFlourStir

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.


Typical Menu

Dried Beef Gravy over Mashed Potatoes

Garden peas


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?

Inquiring cooks want to know. . . 

Vintage Potluck Dishes (Adapt-a-Recipe to Make Healthier)

Do you like to cook from vintage cookbooks? The staff located at MennoMedia/Herald Press offices in Harrisonburg, Va., recently had a “vintage potluck,” preparing dishes from two now-classic Mennonite cookbooks, Mennonite Community Cookbook by Mary Emma Showalter and Mennonite Country-Style Cooking by Esther Shank (both Shenandoah Valley, Va. natives, by the way.)

We enjoy a once-a-month potluck on various creative themes. Here’s a partial list from this past year:

  • From the Garden (vegetarian)
  • Wish I Was There (foods from travels)
  • It Came From Beyond (any way you want to interpret that)
  • I Know It’s Only Soup & Roll, But I Like It (soup and breads)
  • Christmas Party (needs no explanation, right?)
  • Funeral Foods (foods often served for family dinners at memorials or funerals)
  • Do the Can-Can (Mystery Tin Can Swap)
  • Old Menno’s Cupboard (Recipes from vintage Herald Press cookbooks, focusing on Mennonite)

Isn’t that a great list? You got it here–free–to use with your small group, Sunday school class, or office! We brainstormed this list at a staff break. Management’s dictum related to potlucks is: no sign up sheets, no planning, involve the least amount of staff time possible.

But we have fun and eat well.

Last week for our vintage “Old Menno’s Cupboard” theme left the entire office smelling like a church fellowship hall. My personal favorite? Dried corn. That was the dish I requested every year for my birthday dinner. We dried the corn ourselves. Angela Burkholder, whose family also dries corn, brought the dish. Yum.

I’ll leave the dishes all a row here like at a potluck so you can enjoy them vicariously.

Rice Vegetable Souffle from Mennonite Community Cookbook, p. 129, prepared by Beth Nealon.
Chicken Curry from Mennonite Country-Style Recipes, prepared by Jerilyn Schrock.
Dried Corn, Mennonite Community Cookbook, p. 154, prepared by Angela Burkholder.
Scalloped Corn, Mennonite Community Cookbook, p. 151, prepared by Cindy Miller.
Butterscotch Squares, Mennonite Community Cookbook, p. 282, prepared by Melodie Davis.
Banana Tea Bread, Mennonite Community Cookbook, p. 12, prepared by Vica Shindyapin.
Blueberry Muffins, Mennonite Community Cookbook, p. 16, prepared by Barbara Finnegan.
Deluxe Chocolate Marshmallow Brownies, Mennonite Country-Style Recipes, prepared by Lois Priest.
Luscious Cherry Cheese Pie, Mennonite Country-Style Recipes, prepared by Kimberly Metzler.

(Let us know how enjoying these dishes vicariously worked out for you. And contrary to what it looks like here, we have some awesome male cooks on staff who usually bring a dish.)

BUT! You might notice there are mostly main dishes and desserts here. No salads. No fruits really, except in desserts. And that could be a valid criticism of Mennonite Community Cookbook in 2015. You can find a few reviews on Amazon that worry about health consciousness in this cookbook.

That was vintage cooking in 1950 and earlier, when many of these recipes were popular and passed from cook to cook, from family reunion to church potluck to informal coffee or tea time in kitchens. Everyone knew how to prepare straight up vegetables, canned fruits, or simple salads, and so did not have, or use actual recipes for those items. I’m happy for how we eat in 2015.

And as Mary Emma points out in the introduction to her “Meats and Meat Dishes” chapter in Mennonite Community Cookbook, “The people who lived in houses that were inadequately heated, and who were up doing chores before the peep of dawn, required a heavier diet than we need today.” Grandfather butchered a beef on shares with a neighbor, six hogs, plus chickens as needed. “With such a bountiful supply of meat, it is no wonder that Grandmother’s menu could include scrapple for breakfast, meat potpie for dinner and fried ham for supper.”

And so we invite readers and fans of Mennonite Community Cookbook to submit your adaptations of these or other old family recipes to make them healthier for today’s families. March is National Nutrition Month and we’d love to share your healthy recipe on this blog, and our Facebook and Pinterest pages. Enter this contest by the end of March!

Directions: Send via Facebook, or by email: mennocooking@mennomedia.org. Our hashtag for all stuff related to the cookbook is #mennocooking.


**Don’t have a Mennonite Community Cookbook? Buy the new 65th anniversary edition here!

**Sign up to get our free emails announcing each contest, with fascinating inside stories of Mary Emma Showalter, and more.

Winners (drawn from entries received) will get their choice of these popular cookbooks in paperback, each a $20-$30 value! Simply in SeasonMore with Less, Extending the Table,Mennonite Girls Can Cook Celebrations, OR Saving the Seasons. Our goal is to get you cooking, sharing and talking about Mennonite Community Cookbooks and all the many fine books for sharing food and faith from Herald Press!


While we’ve begun featuring great food photography in our cookbooks, these photos could have definitely used some stylin’ as in the lovely food photography over at Mennonite Girls Can Cook blog. But trust us. Mouth-watering good was the word here, in spite of any deficit in the photos (hastily grabbed by yours truly).

Managing editor, Melodie DavisMelodieDavisBlogPhoto

Honoring the Amish & Mennonite Pie Tradition

“Apple pie without some cheese is like a kiss without a squeeze.” The words of my grandmother, Fanny, come back to me as I sit down to a thick slice of homemade pie. Her theory never appealed to my taste buds, but I remember the adage every time I eat my favorite dessert.

Growing up in a Mennonite home with two grandparents of Amish background, pie-baking was quite a serious affair. Pre-made pie crust was an affront to the dessert; totally homemade was the only respectable option. Raspberry cream, mincemeat, fresh peach, and, of course, apple, were just a few of the pies that would adorn holiday tables or create stunning wedding desserts.

I’ve written here about the influence my grandparents’ cooking has had on my life. But I’m in a new capacity here. Instead of occupying my usual role as grandson, the consumer of all the goodies my grandparents provide (including pie!), this time I am also the producer: the flour-covered counter and delicious apple-cinnamon aroma perfuming my kitchen are the testaments to my work.IMG_6431

I jotted down the recipe from a heavily-used copy of the infamous Mennonite Community Cookbook. The ingredients, like so many tremendous recipes in the book, were simple and easy to find.

The recipe I used was simple and easy to MennoniteCommunityCookbook_2015coverfollow, a pattern readers of Mary Emma Showalter’s book would surely expect. The Mennonite Community Cookbook blog and Facebook page has already received many stories from past readers who recall the book as a treasured shower gift,a constant cooking companion, or an heirloom passed down from a relative.

I didn’t have a “normal” pie dish on hand, so I used a cast iron skillet. The original recipe also leaves the top crust as an optional addition – since I had plenty of dough available, I opted to include more of the flaky pastry. The more the merrier in this dessert!


Here’s the recipe for the dough and filling, as found in Mennonite Community Cookbook:

Apple Pie (contributed by Mrs. Edison Gerber, Walnut Creek, Ohio)

3 cups diced apples

2/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon flourIMG_6429

½ teaspoon cinnamon or nutmeg

2 tablespoons rich milk

2 tablespoons butter (optional)

Pastry for two 9 inch crusts

Mix apples, sugar, flour and spice together until well blended.

Place mixture in unbaked crust.

Add rich milk and dots of butter over the top.

Place strips or top crust on pie as desired.

Fasten securely at edges.

Bake in hot oven, 400 degrees for 50 minutes.

Makes 1 (9 inch) pie.


IMG_6425Pastry (for a 9-inch double-crust pie)

2 1/4 cups flour

2/3 cup shortening

½ teaspoon salt

1/3 cup cold water

Combine flour and salt in a mixing bowl.

Cut shortening into flour with a pastry blender or two knives.

Do not overmix; these are sufficiently blended when particles are the size of peas.

Add water gradually, sprinkling 1 tablespoon at a time over mixture.

Toss lightly with a fork until all particles of flour have been dampened.

Use only enough water to hold the pastry together when it is pressed between the fingers. It should not feel wet.

Roll dough into a round ball, handling as little as possible.

Roll out on a lightly floured board into a circle 1/8 inch thick and 1 inch larger than the diameter of the top of the pan.


Benblog image Mast is a writing intern for MennoMedia and Herald Press. He studies English and Writing Studies at Eastern Mennonite University. A version of this post originally appeared on Amish Wisdom.