This post was first published in August of 2015 on my original blog site.
If you only got your news and insights on all things Mennonite from all those unfailingly cheerful food blogs that plague the internet, you would have no idea of the internal strife that characterizes the Mennonite culinary universe.
I am here to save you from that fate.
The biggest controversy in the Menno food world, of course, is whether your kitchen bible is the Mennonite Community Cookbook or The Mennonite Treasury of Recipes. Oh, Menno Media and all those bloggers out there will try to tell you that it doesn’t matter which cookbook you use because they all reflect our values of hospitality.
There are people – like my mother – who have both volumes in their kitchens. These double agents will apparently cook indiscriminately from both cookbooks, claiming value in both the Pennsylvania Dutch culinary traditions and the Russian Mennonite ones. These people reflect either a laudatory open-mindedness or a certain culinary promiscuity that may well be one of the signs of the apocalypse.
I excuse my mother on the grounds that she is an eternal optimist, believing beyond all reason that we can put aside our differences and come together as a people. Back in the 1980s, she worked on the committee that brought the old General Conference, the Amish Mennonites (not Old Order Amish — the other kind) and the Ontario “Old” Mennonites (also not the Old Order Mennonites) together into the Mennonite Conference of Eastern Canada. So that already tells you something of her character.
In recent years, the Menno foodscape on the internet has been dominated by ten middle-aged and senior women from western Canada who put out a group blog and a series of cookbooks called Mennonite Girls Can Cook.
This, too, is not without controversy in the Church basements and small group meetings around the country. I know one Mennonite foodie who can frequently be found banging her head against her copy of the hard cover volume and screaming “This isn’t a Mennonite recipe. How is this Mennonite?!?”
I am also not the only Mennonite feminist to bristle at the gendering of a cookbook, and at the choice of mature, adult women to willingly call themselves “Girls.” The cookbook opens with a story of a someone eating some of their food and then declaring that “You Mennonite girls sure can cook!”
Which would have been enough to make me hand over the frying pan, untie my apron and head off for a drink. I am not one to be manipulated into domestic servitude with empty words of gendered praise. But I guess that’s just me.
The question really shouldn’t be who can cook. In my world, Mennonite women can cook and Mennonite men can cook. Mennonite girls and Mennonite boys can also cook (though only under adult supervision until they are old enough to handle knives carefully on their own). I’ll even go out on a limb and bet that Mennonites with gender ambiguity can cook. Honestly, I have it on good authority that lots of non-Mennonites can cook too.
What they cook is a different matter. Despite the various cookbooks in my mother’s larder, my loyalties lie with the MTR folks. In the Russian Mennonite tradition, late summer calls for roll kuchen and erbus. Erbus, pronounced Ar-uh-boos, or Air-booze as I heard it, is a bowlderization of the Russian word for watermelon, which apparently grew abundantly on the Ukranian steppes. For Russian Mennonites, roll kuchen and watermelon go together like adulthood and baptism. Or something.
We put jam on the fritters and while away the summer afternoon with the pastry in one hand and watermelon in the other. Or a drink. How’s that for an idea? It’s not traditional but it turns out we can up the game a bit by turning the watermelon into a tasty cocktail. Just remember to get the watermelon into the freezer at least 10 hrs before the festivities are to begin.
Oh, and despite the cheeky title of this blog post, I do think that gender is completely irrelevant for the enjoyment of today’s cocktail.
1 cup seeded frozen watermelon cubes
1.5 oz Tequila
the juice of 1 lime
1 wedge of fresh watermelon for garnish
- Toss all ingredients into a blender
- Whir until slushy consistency
- Transfer to a cocktail glass
- Garnish with watermelon slice
- Sip in between bites of roll kuchen