Menno lit for the Menno lush

bookcaseThis post was originally published in January 2015.

What better time than the dead of winter to break open one of our great works of Mennonite literature and thank God that you never had to spend any time in the community being portrayed there? As a tribute to our august Mennonite authors, I am beginning here a series of posts with custom cocktails honouring a few of our more influential writers and their works of literature.

But first, a short introduction to the Mennonite literary world. There’s a sort of controversy around the literary arts in Mennonite circles, depending upon which Mennonite circles you move in.  Some Mennonites and former Mennonites will tell you that Mennonites are not in favour of the arts at all because they are prideful and inherently celebrate the individual in a culture that denigrates it. I didn’t grow up in those Mennonite circles. In my experience, the Mennonite attitude towards the arts was much like a small town attitude towards aspiration in general — a raised eyebrow that is meant to convey “just who do you think you are?” It’s more of a crab-bucket sort of thing than a theological position.  And it’s not directed towards anyone who aspired; just anyone who might portray an unflattering image of the Mennonite world to those outside of it. Publishing inspirational works or Sunday School materials are perfectly respectable literary aspirations.

In the most progressive Mennonite circles,  there are no qualms whatsoever about celebrating our Mennonite literati. Quite the opposite. Jewish friends of mine have talked about “Jewbilation” — a term used to describe an ethnic pride when they learn that a favorite celebrity is Jewish. Mennonites have something similar (I expect most ethnic groups do). I call this “Mennonationalism” because if we had a flag, we would certainly be waving it with pride and vigour every time we read a positive review of a book by a Mennonite author, no matter how excoriating the treatment of the Mennonites within. Mind you, within our own little book groups and kaffeeklatsches we’ll tear the works apart for their inaccuracies or inadequacies and we’re always quick to answer to anyone who asks — “Yes I read the book and, no, I’m not that kind of Mennonite.” Because it appears to be an unwritten rule in Mennonite literature that one is never permitted to mention the distinctions between the different types of Mennonites. I don’t know – maybe they teach that in Mennonite MFA Creative Writing programs.

I’ve read my share of Mennonite literature and have to say that there is a shocking lack of cocktails. Outside of the world of Mennonite literature, literary cocktails abound. We know Faulkner’s favorite drink, can mix up some Dickensian punch, and one mixologist has even suggested the Margarita Atwood, but apart from Miriam Toews asking the Globe and Mail’s readership to buy her a double martini, our Mennonite authors have neither declared nor been assigned personal cocktails. Alcohol appears in a number of works — red wine plays a role in Toews, All my Puny Sorrows, David Bergen’s A Year of Lesser is soaked in whiskey, and pretty much all of the action in Jan Guenther Braun’s Somewhere Else occurs during one or another of the main character’s drunkun stupors. But no personalized cocktails. Until now.

And by “now”, I mean next week. Since community trumps the individual in all things Mennonite, I am starting this series with a drink to honour all of us – the readers, the writers, those who want to read and/or write Mennonite literature but never get around to publishing it — the Mennonite literary world in general. Mix one of these babies up and enjoy it as you curl up on a cold night with a book about a cold community. Community dysfunction never tasted so good.

The Menno-lit-tini  Mennolitini

2 oz gin
1/2 oz of your great-uncle or aunt’s homemade wine
ice
berries to garnishThe classic martini is a couple of ounces of gin, a bit of vermouth and an olive, served in a pretty conical glass. Vermouth is nothing but a fortified wine infused with botanicals of some kind. For the Mennolittini, we leave out the vermouth. Instead, you need a few splashes of that wine your great aunt or uncle made from the fruit s/he foraged last summer (interestingly, wine making is one of the few non-gendered Mennonite activities).  The wine can be made from just about any foraged fruit. My own father made wine from wild concord grapes that he picked while the rest of the family spent the afternoon hiking. Concord grapes don’t make particularly good wine.  Other favorite foraging fruit options include chokecherries, saskatoons and mulberries. Take your pick. The wine probably already has a slightly “green” flavour to it. That’s good; it’ll give you that hint of the botanical that you want in the Menno-ified vermouth. (If you don’t have an elderly relative who makes their own wine, you can just soak some saskatoons in vermouth for a couple of hours).You can just make this in the glass. Start with the gin, add your great-uncle’s wine. Then add your ice and garnish. Note that Mennolitini is stirred, not shaken. Who do you think you are? Ian Fleming?

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