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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!