When Road Scholars make homemade noodles: Mennonite cookbook heritage

Shirley Hershey Showalter wrote in her recently published memoir, Blush, “Almost every culture and religion uses food to support its most cherished values.” MennoMedia believes that strongly.

Do you think about how your values are conveyed in what you grow, cook, buy, eat and share?

For 1 1/2 days in September, I was invited to speak at Amigo Centre near Sturgis, Michigan on Mennonite cooking. It was the second part of a week-long “Study in Shared Heritage: The Amish and Mennonites,” with 24 participants in the international Road Scholar program (formerly ElderHostel), which combines learning and tourism. They had lectures, looked at videos, visited an Amish home and woodworking shop, and other Amish businesses, and were treated to an Amish “thresher’s” dinner.

None of the participants were Mennonite, but all were interested enough in everything Mennonite that they spent a week learning and absorbing Mennonite and Amish faith and culture. Some of them already owned More with Less Cookbook. Along the way, they were learning what it means to be Anabaptist.

The highlight of my time with these Road Scholars was a session arranged by Mandy Yoder, adult program director at Amigo Centre. She invited a local Amish mother, Maggie, to help the participants learn how to make homemade noodles. So we all got to make our own batch, cut, and dry them—using a beautiful mini-drying rack made for us by an Amish woodworking shop.

AprilMay2013FemoniteBlogEtc 022Maggie is a petite young woman with two toddlers at home—who I think was happy to send them off with her husband for the morning. She seemed to enjoy interacting with us and gave permission for us to photograph the process including herself, as long as she did not pose. She and Mandy (who herself was born into an Amish home) made up a huge batch of homemade noodles for us to enjoy at lunch that day, and then helped us make smaller batches to roll out and take home. There was even one batch of gluten-free noodles for a participant with that allergy.

AugSeptOct2013 081Maggie, center, helping Road Scholar participants manage their dough.

It was a little like 7th or 8th grade home economics all over again (I know, few schools still offer these basic classes), with overgrown “kids” wandering around with their batch of dough asking if they’d added enough flour:

AugSeptOct2013 067Did it need more water?

AugSeptOct2013 070 How long should the noodles dry?

AugSeptOct2013 079Were they dry enough to run through Maggie’s handy dandy noodle cutters? And so on.

AugSeptOct2013 064Will any of us ever make homemade noodles again?

AugSeptOct2013 069I enjoyed learning from better cooks.

Without the roller and cutters, it is daunting. In preparation for this session I made two batches and I’ll have to say Maggie’s recipe was even better than the one I tried. But if economic conditions get really tough, it is nice to know that you can still make food-that-will-stick-to-your-ribs using just flour, water, eggs and a dash of salt! Now, at Amigo Centre, their cooks (mostly Mennonite, some Amish) also whipped up a light gravy laden with roast turkey bits and pieces to put on top of the thinly sliced noodles. It was a dish deserving of Thanksgiving, not the day after. I’m writing for the recipe!  maryEmmaShowalterMennonite Community Cookbook, by Mary Emma Showalter Eby has a recipe for homemade noodles along with various tips and techniques. That cookbook was the very first Mennonite cookbook and appeared in 1950. It has been called by a former editor, “The mother of all Mennonite cookbooks.” Mary Emma Showalter’s classic collection of more than 1100 recipes (now a collector’s item in older versions) is nostalgia, history and great simple fare (in that they don’t use a lot of processed foods available today) all rolled into one. Mary Emma didn’t live out her life in a rural Mennonite community and I think that is important to know. That’s true of the Mennonite ethos associated with most of Herald Press’ cookbooks. Earlier Mary Emma worked as a nutritionist in refugee camps and as a hostess and cook at MCC European headquarters in London. These experiences undoubtedly influenced her world view. The cookbook was part of her master’s thesis and eventually earned a doctorate from Penn State, something not a lot of Mennonite women did in the late 40s. The book continues to sell about 3,500 copies a year.

Mary Emma died in 2003 at the age of 90, and is buried about 4.5 miles from where I live. And speaking of Shirley Showalter, yes, her husband, Stuart Showalter, is a nephew of Mary Emma. ShowalterGravestoneI now have one of Mom’s copies of Mennonite Community Cookbook, which she mended with duct tape before giving it to me. I’m guessing that pretty much ruins the antique value.

FavMennoCookbooks (2) But the sentimental value for these books is what ranks high, signed by my mother with the notation that her husband gave it to her for her 27th birthday in 1951. I was born six months later.

FavMennoCookbooks (4)How do some of our other cookbooks relate to faith?

  • More With Less Cookbook takes seriously Mennonite commitment to applying scriptural principles to eating, advocating the consumption of more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, the moderation of meat and dairy products, and the avoidance of processed and convenience foods. The recipes are intended to be affordable, nutritious, and socially and ecologically responsible.
  • Simply in Season emphasizes eating God’s good foods grown locally and in season whenever possible—either by growing foods yourself, or taking advantage of local farmers’ markets, food cooperatives or subscriptions for buying local produce.
  • Extending the Table adds even more perspective with recipes and hints from all over the world (new edition due out next May).
  • Mennonite Girls Can Cook and Mennonite Girls Can Cook Celebrations revel in community and hospitality—two touchstones of Mennonite/Anabaptist faith.

Shirley Showalter is right that in our households and families, food helps to convey “our most cherished values.”


If you or any group you’re involved with would be interested in one to five sessions on Food and Faith – particularly from a Mennonite heritage perspective, (going much deeper than I have above) please contact me and I’ll see what we can arrange!

Camp Amigo/Amigo Centre is (almost) world-known for its Baked Oatmeal (if the World Wide Web counts.) Seriously, I was surprised to find their famous baked oatmeal at the awesome “Calories Count” website giving a complete nutritional breakdown. 

A New Season: After Maternity Leave

It’s a fascinating thing to step away from a job for 10½ weeks. Those projects you never thought would be complete? Someone finished them. That final endorsement? It arrived. Deadlines were met. Periodicals and books and curriculum were mailed.

Publishing is cyclical, and I was delighted to watch those cycles progress while I was on maternity leave. (I mostly watched all this from afar via Facebook and occasional emails.)

What I was doing and reading

All this happened while I was getting down to the “Tooty Ta” with my two-year-old (over and over and over again)

and feeding a baby or shushing said baby into dreamland (repeat countless times).

AmeliaAndGraceIn these weeks, I enjoyed reading books on “theology for new parents and other tired, anxious people,” parenting, children and sleep, newborns, and a fascinating book with many points of resonance called Mothering Mennonite.

Points of connection

All these books fit my own life as a parent of a newborn, and now that I’m back to work I want to know about the seasons of your life right now.

What kinds of books and resources interest you right now? What concerns or life events are you facing? Is there a topic that you’d like your congregation to engage?

As we at MennoMedia and Herald Press work on titles for 2014 and make plans for 2015 and beyond, please send me your ideas.

A glimpse ahead

Here is some of what we at MennoMedia and Herald Press are working on for 2014:

  • Shine, our new Sunday school curriculum for children and junior youth. (Take a sneak peek at the story Bible here.)
  • Vacation Bible School, with “Welcome! Give and Receive God’s Great Love” as our theme.
  • A book called Faithful Living, Thoughtful Dying: Preparing for a Good Death.
  • Historical fiction called Jacob’s Choice, the first in our Northkill Creek trilogy.
  • A memoir called Bonnet Strings: Loving and Leaving the Amish.

Hopefully some of these forthcoming titles spark your interest or connect with your own seasons of life.

Amy Gingerich
Amy Gingerich, Editorial Director

Books are Beast!

“A book is a garden, an orchard, a storehouse, a party, a company by the way, a counselor, a multitude of counselors.”

Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit

How is that I am getting paid to read?  That’s the question that has sung itself through my thoughts in these last few weeks as I’ve begun my job as managing editor for trade books for MennoMedia/Herald Press.  After a few short weeks of training with Byron Rempel-Burkholder, my predecessor in this role who offered patient and helpful guidance as I learned the job, I am on my own.

My new job involves a lot more than reading, of course. It involves helping authors communicate their thoughts in the most clear and accessible ways. It involves weighing in on whether a book proposal has enough merit to warrant its author being issued a contract, and managing publication schedules, and writing back cover copy, and hiring copyeditors. It involves staying abreast of conditions in book publishing and market trends, and listening in on conversations that Anabaptists and others are having, and dreaming up book ideas that will challenge and nurture the faith of Mennonites and others. Oh, and it involves sending—and receiving—a lot of emails!

But through it all, my days at work mean reading, reading, and more reading: which, apart from spending time with my family and friends and perhaps birdwatching, is pretty much my favorite thing to do. I feel incredibly privileged to have a job in which I get to do my favorite thing all day long.

Because not only do I get to read and edit books that entertain or inform readers. I get to work with books that matter—books that we at MennoMedia believe take part in the expansion of God’s reign in the world. I get to work with books like our brand-new title, For God and Country (In That Order) by Logan Mehl-Laituri, which helps Christians sort out this complicated and ever-timely question about loyalty to God and nation.

I get to work on projects like revising and updating Extending the Table by Joetta Handrich Schlabach, the second cookbook in the World Community Cookbook series that was first published in 1991 and that will be released in June 2014 (see this post and this one for more news about the re-release).

I have the opportunity to work with Jacob’s Choice, the forthcoming adventure- and romance-filled historical novel by Ervin R. Stutzman, based on the story of Amishman Jacob Hostetler, which includes the harrowing account of one man’s choice to respond peacefully to violence (February 2014).

And I get to shepherd toward publication Ordinary Miracles: Awakening to the Holy Work of Parenting, by Rachel S. Gerber, an honest and humorous memoir of parenting that will help readers find God in the sometimes whirling chaos of life with young children.

I studied theories of reading in graduate school, and I have written a book about readers and reading. Despite the dire news about the death of the book and the admittedly unstable state of the publishing industry, everything I’ve learned suggests that the act of reading is far from the morgue. Books are indeed changing, how we read them is changing, and the ways we acquire them and market them as publishers are changing, too.

But whenever I see my twelve-year-old lying in bed with a new novel, or glimpse my ten-year-old sprawled on the couch with a book about sports heroes, or have my eight-year-old carry a new library book over for me to read to him, I remember that books are still beast. Not beastly, but beast: that’s “cool,” or “neat,” or “awesome,” for those of you without middle-schoolers in the house.

So no matter what you hear about the state of reading these days, know that we at MennoMedia remain committed to providing you with books and curriculum and content that matter in our warring and desperate world. We pray that the books that we publish will bring honor to God and challenge all of us toward more faithful discipleship to Christ. Let us know what you are reading, and what kinds of books you want to read more of. What books do Anabaptist Christians and others inside and outside of churches today need? What kind of reading material will nurture you as you live out your faith? I’m still learning to know my colleagues, but one thing I know for certain: we all love to talk about books. So let us know. You can email me at ValerieWZ@MennoMedia.org or leave any of us a comment on this blog.

A book is “a garden, an orchard, a storehouse,” wrote Henry Ward Beecher. In a younger generation’s lingo, books are beast. No matter how you put it, what lovelier place is there to spend one’s time?

ValerieWeaverZercher Valerie Weaver-Zercher began as managing editor of trade books for Herald Press in September. She and her family live in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and she is a member of Slate Hill Mennonite Church.