THOSE MOUTH-WATERING MENNONITE MEALS
Come into Bevvy Martin’s farmhouse, sit down at the groaning table and dig into the drepsley soup, summer sausage, coffeecake, dandelion salad, Dutch apples and tempting shoofly pie. Man, it really schmecks!
ONE OF THE joys of my life is to visit my Mennonite friends the Martins in their sprawling old fieldstone farmhouse near the Conestoga River in Waterloo County, Ontario. Their large old-fashioned kitchen, warmed by a big black cookstove, always has a homely fragrance of wonderful things to eat. Sometimes there is an apple smell, sometimes an aroma of rivel soup, roasting meat, baking cinnamon buns or spicy botzelbawm pie.
Bevvy, the plump little lady of the house, is always busy schnitzing (chopping), canning or cooking. With the wings of her soft brown hair smoothly parted under her organdie prayer cap she wears a plain navy-blue dress with a skirt almost down to her ankles. She greets me with a smile and a handshake: “Of course you’ll stay for supper,” she says as she hangs up my coat on a nail. “You know we feel real bad if you come for a wisit and don’t make out a meal.”
I readily accept , always and often resigning my figure to limbo.
The food Bevvy cooks has such mouth-watering savor that no one can resist it. Like all Mennonite cooking it is plain but divinely flavored and different from any other. You don’t have to belong to the Mennonite faith to enjoy it : everyone who has grown up in Waterloo County where Pennsylvania Dutch Mennonites settled in 1797 is devoted to sour-cream salads and the richness of Dutch apple pie. Visitors and newcomers beg for recipes that have passed from generation to generation of Mennonite housewives without being printed in a cookbook. Everyone who tastes schnitz un knepp, crusty golden ponhaus and luscious shoofly pie wants to know how to prepare them.
KEY TO A FEAST
1 Schwaudamawge sausage. 2 A bowl of black walnuts. 3 Shoofly pie. 4 Butter. 5 Bread and butter pickles. 6 Coffeecake. 7 Home-baked bread. 8 Crisp waffles or rosettes. 9 Schmier kase (white creamy cheese). 10 Schnitz un knepp with boiled ham (apples and buttons really dumplings). 11 Cherry jam. 12 Dutch apple pie (or schnitz pie). 13 Pork sausage. 14 Leh kuchen (fruit and nut cookies). 15 Cucumber relish. 16 Bean salad with sour-cream sauce and bacon bits. 17 Sour-cream loaf cake. 18 Bolle kase (ball cheese). 19 Latwaerrick (apple butter). 20 Summer sausage. 21 Canned peaches. 22 Baby pickled corn. 23 Fetschpatze (sort of a doughnut, served piping hot). 24 Head cheese. 25 Boiled potatoes. 26 Spice cookies. 27 Pickled beets. 28 Haffe kase with kummel (crock cheese with caraway seeds). 29 Maple syrup.
Economy and experience are the keynotes of Mennonite cooking. Recipes are invented to make use of everything that is grown on Waterloo County farms. Fruits are canned and pickled and made into juicy pies. Beef and ham are cured with maple smoke, pork scraps become well-seasoned sausages. Sour milk is made into cheeses, sour cream is used in fat cakes and salads. Stale bread is crumbled and browned with butter to give zest to vegetables, noodles and dumplings. Nothing is ever wasted and every meal is a feast.
“Today if gives drepsley soup, dandelion salad and fetschpatze (fat sparrows),” Bevvy tells me as she puts on a clean print apron, tying it first in front to be sure the bow is even, then pulling it round and patting it over her stomach. I sit in the rocker by the kitchen window while she bustles between the sink, the stove and the big square table covered with brightfigured oilcloth. “You don’t mind if I keep on working while we wisit,” she says. “The curds are getting that smell I don’t like round the house and I have to quick make my haafe kase (crock cheese).”
She melts butter in a graniteware kettle and into it pours sour-milk curds which have been scalded, crumbled and ripened for three or four days. She stirs the mass till it melts to the color of honey, adds cream and keeps stirring tin it comes to a boil that goes poof! then pours it into a crock and sets it away in the pantry. “Do you want to lick the dish?” She gives me a spoon and the kettle to scrape. “Some like it better with caraway seed in but we rather have it chust plain.” Sampling its mild mellow goodness, I agree that it couldn’t be better.
As she works at the kitchen sink Bevvy glances through the window above it. “I look up the lane every once in a while to see if there’s a horse and rig coming for supper,” she says. “We love to have company drop in.”
“Does it happen often?”
“Not so much during the week but every Sunday when we have service in the church nearest us people come here for dinner. Sometimes there’s not so many, maybe chust a family or two but sometimes we might have thirtyfive. We never know, they chust come.”
“Without being specially invited?”
“Ach, our people are always welcome. They know we have plenty to eat and it don’t take long to get ready when everyone helps. Come once and I’ll show you.”
In a dark pantry off the kitchen she shows me crocks of cheese, elderberries, latwaerrick (apple butter), bags full of schnitz, dried corn and beans, pails of maple syrup and sacks of sugar and flour.
A Gourmet’s Paradise
The cellar looks like a store. A room twelve feet square has shelves all round it from the floor to the ceiling filled with quart and half-gallon jars of fruit, vegetables, jam and pickled things. On a larder that hangs from the ceiling in the centre of the room are pies and buns and cake. On the floor there are crocks of head cheese, jars of canned beef and chicken, and pork sausage sealed in with lard.
In another room smoked meats and sausages hang from the beams above us. There are great bins of potatoes and turnips. Other vegetables are stored in boxes of leaves and there are barrels full of apples.
“This is our work for the summer and fall,” Bevvy says. “We like work and it makes us feel good when we have it away in the cellar.”
When Bevvy’s sons come from school and their chores in the barn are all done, Ephraim, aged seven, the very shy youngest in black stovepipe pants and a collarless jacket, shines up a basket of apples. Rosy-cheeked, twelveyear-old Amzie happily makes a bowlful of popcorn because there is company to treat.
Bevvy’s merry pretty daughter Melinda, who is fourteen and dressed like her mother except that she has pigtails and doesn’t wear a cap, sets the kitchen table with ironstone china and the staples that are on it for breakfast, dinner and supper. There is bread and butter and jam: “We were taught
we’d be sick if we didn’t eat jam-bread at the front part of every meal,” Bevvy says. There are pickles and dishes of sours: “We may never leave anything on our plate and sometimes a little relish on a piece of schpeck (fat meat) helps to make it swallow,” Melinda says. For every meal there are potatoes and coffee.
At least twice a day there’s a plateful of summer sausage. For breakfast there is in addition coffeecake, porridge or eornmeal mush and a bowlful of schnitz and gwetche (dried apples and prunes cooked together). For dinner and supper there is always a bowl of fruit, a plateful of cookies or cake, pudding and
pie—besides soup and the main course. When I tease Bevvy about having three desserts she says, “Canned peaches are not dessert, they are chust fruit. Pudding is not dessert neither, it is only for filling the corners, and cookies and pie are chust natural for anybody to have.”
On the stove there’s a kettle of simmering beef broth, a pot of potatoes is boiling, ham is frying in a pan, a sauce for the salad is thickening, and in a pan of hot lard the fetschpatze are becoming a tender golden brown.
Bevvy’s great handsome husband, Sam, wearing a plaid shirt and overalls, and her sixteen-year-old Katie, dressed like Melinda, come in from milking the cows. They greet me with hearty handshakes, then wash and comb themselves at the sink.
At the stove there’s a clatter of action. Bevvy puts the baked fetschpatze into the warming closet with the meat and potatoes. Into the beef broth she lets drip through a colander a batter of egg, milk and flour. Melinda mixes the salad. Bevvy adds parsley to the soup and pours it into a bowl.
We sit around the bountiful table and bow our heads in a long silent prayer.
Everyone reaches for a piece of bread. The steaming soup bowl is passed among us and we ladle onto our dinner plates its clear fragrant broth thickened by tiny dumplings. Bevvy says, “Grossmommy Brubacher always told us drepsley (dripped batter) soup is especially nourishing for the sick.”
“But I ain’t sick,” Sam’s bright black eyes are teasing. “I guess that’s why I rather would have bean soup.”
“Ach, you like any thick soup where I sprinkle buttered browned bread crumbs on,” Bevvy says with a smug little smile.
“Except rivel soup,” Amzie reminds her. It is made from milk thickened with egg and flour rubbed into rivels (crumbs).
“He eats that too if he has a slice of raw onion and summer sausage with.”
“Ach, I eat anything if I like it real good or not, that’s how we are taught not to waste,” Sam says. “What soup do you like?” he asks me.
“Any kind Bevvy makes is so thick and wonderful I can almost eat it with, a fork.”
“More filling than the kind you buy in the cans, hah?” Sam holds his spoon like a sceptre.
“Have you never tried canned soup?” I ask him.
“We never bought a can of anything yet,” Bevvy answers. “We always chust make our own.”
“We got more different kinds yet than they got in the stores,” Katie says, sopping up the remains of her drepsley soup with bread to clean her plate for the salad.
Sour cream and vinegar is the dressing for most Pennsylvania Dutch Mennonite salads. With finely grated onion it is poured over lettuce or spinach leaves, cucumbers, boiled schnippled string beans and hot or cold chopped cabbage.
Dandelion salad can be made only in springtime when the greens are pale and tender. In autumn Bevvy mixes curly yellow-leaved endive with the same piquant sauce—which can also be used to make hot-potato salad. She fries bits of bacon in a pan till they’re crisp then takes them out and stirs a little flour into the fat. She beats an egg or two in a bowl, adds sour cream, salt and pepper and vinegar, then carefully pours the mixture into the pan and stirs till it’s fairly thick. When it is slightly cooled she mixes it with the dandelion and garnishes it with hard-boiled eggs and the bacon bits.
As we eat it with smoked ham and mashed potatoes Bevvy says, “The salad we like the best and easy to make for whatever crisp greens you have, is a real old-time recipe 1 got from Sam’s mother. For each person to be served, you fry a slice of bacon till it crackles, take it out and to the fat in the pan put one tablespoon of sugar, one tablespoon of vinegar and some salt and pepper; it will sizzle and spit so have care for yourself, the sugar might get kind of lumby; let it melt again, then cool it all a little before you mix in two tablespoonfuls of sour cream. Now pour it over the greens and the bacon broken in with it and on top slice tomato or radish rings or anything nice looking you got that goes good.”
“Then put it quick on the table and it will soon be all gone,” Katie adds.
“I never seen you measure it that way yet,” Melinda says to her mother.
“Ach, made it so often already 1 chust put in what I think. Like for most things, I tell by the feel or the taste. The way we cook got handed down from cheneration to cheneration. Since I was a little girl 1 helped my mam and I learned from her chust like my girls learn from me. That’s why it’s hard to give exact amounts of a recipe to a stranger.”
Melinda says, “She tells us ‘put in a little handful of this, or a big handful of that, a pinch of one thing or halfan-egg-shell of something else, or a lump the size of a butternut.’ It’s always ‘flour to stiffen or enough to make a thin batter.’ And for soup and the like of that it’s ‘put in milk or water up to the second scratch in the kettle!’ ”
Bevvy laughs, “Ach, well, so it must be. How much you make depends on how many people you cook for. We don’t like to run short on anything but we don’t like to waste nothing neither.”
“She usually guesses chust right,” Amzie says, “except when it’s brown sugar sauce for the apple dumplings and I could eat extra.”
Bevvy cooks all her meats and vegetables without consulting a guide and their flavor is magnificent. She makes potpie of pigeons and rabbits and veal. She roasts beef, pork and lamb. Her gravies are brown and shiny. She fries chickens in butter and, dipped in egg and bread crumbs, the little fresh fish that Ephraim and Amzie catch in the river. She cooks sauerkraut with succulent spareribs. In an iron pot she makes stew and pot roasts browned with onions and bay leaves. Sometimes sbe has duck or roast goose bursting with savory dressing.
“But we don’t always have fresh meat in the coundry,” Bevvy says. “Only right after we butcher. We have to cure it to keep it. Some we make into sausage, some we pack solid in jars and steam it, we smoke beef and ham. What we like best is the summer sausage: it is beef and pork ground
real fine with seasoning and saltpeter, then stuffed tight in cotton bags the size of a lady’s stocking and smoked for a week with maple smoke.”
“We can eat that every day, we never get sick of it,” Sam says.
“We couldn’t live without summer sausage,” little Ephraim says as he slaps a slice on a piece of bread and butter.
“Ach, we could live without only we rather wouldn’t,” Bevvy says. “We got all other kinds yet, like schwuudamawgc sausage and liverwurst and head cheese: they’re mostly made from the pork scraps but they go good with fried potatoes and pickled small cornon-the-cob or beet and red-cabbage salad.”
Katie says, “I rather have schnitz un knepp (dried apples boiled with a ham bone and dumplings).”
“Me too,” says Melinda.
“You should see these women,” Sam says, “how they sit sometimes all day schnitzing apples apd drying them for the winter. Or making latwcierrick from cider and apples and cinnamon boiled and stirred half a day till it is rich red-brown and thick enough to spread with schmier kose on bread.” He licks his lips and shakes his head, “Oh my, but that is good.”
“She’ll think we’re a pig the way we make so much of our food,” Katie says.
Bevvy smiles at me calmly, “She knows we work hard and we need it and never throw nothing away.”
Not even a piece of bread. Before it’s too stale Bevvy uses it for pudding or stuffing in tenderloin, spareribs or fowl. She breaks pieces of bread into milk soups. When it is hard as a cracker she grinds it and keeps it in jars to mix with cheese on a casserole dish or to brown with butter and sprinkle over cooked vegetables, brown buttered dumplings with onions and anything made with a cream sauce.
“One of our strictest rules is never to waste a thing,” Bevvy says. “When the Mennonites were over in Switzerland yet they got chased around by
They will have, I suppose, Some new ones quite soon to Replace some of those I have grown quite immune to.
IVAN J. COLLINS
those that didn’t like their peace-loving religion and I guess they had to eat whatever they could get. Then in 1683 they started coming to Pennsylvania and gradually had things a little easier. But those that came up here to Ontario after the American Revolution were pretty poor again. Even if they had money they couldn’t buy anything yet because there was nothing here but busb till they cleared the land and started to grow things.
“It’s only lately since I grew up that we bought food in the stores except sugar and spices and salt. We only used what we grew in our own fields and garden and made recipes up to suit.”
From a drawer in the cupboard Bevvy brings me* her most treasured possession: a little handwritten black
notebook in which she has copied recipes of special things to bake or pickle or can. It is well-worn and some of its pages are spattered with butter or batter. At the top of each page is written the name of the recipe’s donor. There is Aunt Magdaline’s Hurry Cake;, (irossmommy Martin’s Kuddlefleck and Cantaloupe Pickle, Salome Gingerich’sGround Cherry Preserve. “When I see those names,” Bevvy says, “1 know chust how it tasted because most of the recipes I got when I ate at their places.”
This is Cousin Lydia’s recipe for fetschpatze (fat sparrows, because of the odd shapes they take when spoonfuls of batter are dropped in hot lard):
1 beaten egg a little salt
1 cup sour cream or sour milk 1 round teaspoon of soda flour to stiffen.
“Wo eat them hot and dunked in maple syrup,” Bevvy says as the fetschpatze are passed around the table. And we all eat so many that Sam says, “It wonders me that we’ll have room after this for the pie.”
Pie appears on Bevvy’s table three times a day. Every Friday she and Katie bake twenty pies and store them away in the cellar. If company comes on Sunday after church the pies may all be used at once, if not there’ll be enough pies to last the week. Their variety is infinite: besides all the fruit, milk find mince pies there are sour cream raisin, tomato, cottage cheese, buttermilk, botztlbawm (somersault), and some invented on the spur of the moment to keep things from being wasted.
Dutch apple or schnitz has various versiors. Sometimes Bevvy makes hers extra rich: she places the schnitz (segments of apple) close together in a pie shell ihen dabs over every piece a mixture of melted butter, brown sugar and cornstarch. With crumbs of flour, brown sugar and butter she fills up the spaces and covers the apples, then dribbles a few spoonfuls of sour cream on top and sprinkles the pie with cinnamon. After it’s baked and cooled you wish you could smell it and eat it forever.
Shoofly pie no doubt got its name because it tempts more than just people. Bevvy says it’s a Mennonite favorite because it keeps well in a cellar. Her recipe calls for equal parts of baking molasses and water and a pinch of soda poured into an unbaked shell and covered with crumbs made of flour, brown sugar and butter. Some: i mes she makes it with maple syrup and calls it candy pie. Then it’s so gooey and luscious that it is ravished before it can reach the cellar.
When 1 ask Amzie which is his favorite, he says, “Peach pie made with ihe peelings.” Bevvy smiles apologetically, “We make it sometimes with the feelings after we did the canning. You know how sometimes the peaches don’t peel too good and a little bit of flesh sticks yet? Well we chust boil it with sugar and a little water till it’s almost like jam then we put it in a baked pie shell and cover it with whipped cream or boiled custard.”
Amzie rolls his big brown eyes, “And that really schmecks (tastes)!” he says.
Every plate on the Martin’s table is as clean as if it had not been used when we finish eat ing our supper. Sam sits back in his chair with a grunt of great satisfaction and dexterously uses a toothpick. Katie glances at me and laughs, “You look like you have afraid you’ll bust your buttons.”
“1 am. 1 think I’ve gained five pounds since I sat down here.”
“Ach, not chust from one meal,” Bevvy says.
Sam’s eyes have a teasing twinkle, “If she eats with us for a week she’d be wonderful fat.”
“Like Aunt Hannah,” says Amzie.
“Shame on youse,” Bevvy chides, “she ain’t got the frame to sit that broad.”
“I’d certainly lose my figure if I ate much of your wonderful cooking.”
Sam grins and pats his well-rounded belly, “I’m glad our people ain’t so stylish that they care about getting fat. We chust eat ourselves till we’re