What is your connection to Mennonite Community Cookbook?

Guest blog post by Cherise Harper

Hello, friends. My name is Cherise. I’m a food stylist and I’m honored to be writing this guest post today. In fact, the whole experience of working with the wonderful people at MennoMedia and Herald Press has been humbling and just a little surreal for me.

Mennonite Community Cookbook (color)

You see, I grew up with the Mennonite Community Cookbook. For my family, it was a staple reference, from which we pulled chicken pot pie, ham loaf and chocolate chip cookie recipes. Even with my parents’ vast array of cookbooks, and I mean well over 100, the Mennonite Community Cookbook was one of the most loved–and still is.


(The notebook with the black spine is my mother’s copy of
Mennonite Community Cookbook.)

My grandmother, 89 years old, tells me that she got hers from a dear friend at church when she was a young married mother. My mother received hers as a wedding gift in 1963, and I was given mine as a bride in 1990. My mother’s book has since fallen into individual pages, the cover is gone, and now the pages are hole-punched to fit into a three-ring binder.

She has over fifty years of notes on those pages–dates of the time she first made the recipe and often a note on how much we liked it. It’s very personal for her and for me.

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So when this project was proposed to me earlier this year, it was very personal. I’ll be honest and tell you that I really couldn’t believe it. I probably didn’t use my inside voice and I may have jumped up and down a few time. Or a dozen. I realized that this was a very important undertaking. My father calculated that the photographs must have been taken in the late 1950s when color photography was becoming more common. And, while I wanted to honor the integrity of the recipes and the historical aspect of the photos, with that date in mind I agreed it really was time for an update. After all, how do you appeal to a new generation of cooks and invite them to make such wonderful recipes without having bright, beautiful photos?


Apple dumpling

Melissa Engle, the photographer, and I had worked together before so I was looking forward to what we could create as a team again.

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 Top: This is me, working with food for an earlier photo shoot for Herald Press.
Bottom: Photographer Melissa Hess gets just the right angle and lighting. 

The photoshoot for Mennonite Community Cookbook took three days and culminated in the “Grandma’s Table” shot, which involved much of what I had prepared over the three days.


This meant that we couldn’t eat all the goodies as we were working.

I was familiar with about half of the recipes so much of the preparation was familiar. There were some recipes that were new to me – like the Pansy Cake, which involved four 8” cake layers with four different colors of batter!


I decided to do a test run of that cake at home because sometimes when I make a recipe that’s unfamiliar it takes a little more time to navigate through the directions. It turned out so well that we decided to use the “test” cake for the real photos.


Butter Horns, Eggs in Ham Nests, and Shoofly Pie all made it to the table to be photographed. The Shoofly Pie had an added aspect of difficulty: Photographer Melissa Hess had to keep shooing a fly off of it! Not kidding. That one fly that’s always at a food photoshoot made an appearance.


As a food stylist I prepare a fair amount of recipes on the fly. I regularly test recipes and give feedback to help make sure they work for the average home cook. As I’ve found over a lifetime of cooking from this book, they are tried and true, basic recipes that can be made with local ingredients and pantry staples. They appeal to my hunger for historical significance in our foods and I really hope that Melissa and I have honored the importance that this cookbook plays in so many homes across the world. And, I hope we have done Mary Emma Showalter and her family proud.


Cherise Harper, also blogging at Chickens and Chai.


From the Herald Press editors: Do you own a copy of Mennonite Community Cookbook? When did you get it, and for what occasion? We invite you to tell your story, and send photographs of your much loved copy for a follow-up blog post or in our comment section.

Please note: We cherish the legacy of Mennonite Community Cookbook as much as its many fans. This new volume will only update the food photos to appeal to new generations of cooks; no recipes will be changed or left out! We do plan a special section highlighting the history of the cookbook for this new “50th printing” edition, planned for early in 2015! 

To purchase the existing cookbook as it is published now, visit our store.


Precious Commodities: Where to Find Ingredients for Extending the Table Cookbook

Ben and Heather Kulp’s 6-week challenge to cook from
Extending the Table Cookbook. See bottom for quick links to each post in this series, with titles.

When living abroad, what foods “from home” do you crave?

Our friends who travel abroad frequently (or those who choose to live abroad for periods of time) likely have a lot of things they miss about home. Yet, whenever we ask what well-wishes or little reminders of home we can send them, they inevitably request peanut butter. It’s strange that a childhood staple we take for granted transforms into a precious commodity when it is not readily available.

This phenomenon became even more evident to Heather this past week as she joined the teaching team for Harvard’s Negotiation Institute. People from 37 countries gathered to learn more about how to “change the game” of negotiation from win-lose to win-win. One of the examples used during plenary involves two people deciding how to allocate between them three indivisible candy bars. A participant from India argued that she deserved the candy bars more because in her country, good chocolate was rare—a precious commodity.

We are admittedly spoiled in the United States and Canada that we can access foods from a variety of cultures and countries. Yet, this week, as we tried recipes that involved ingredients we hadn’t noticed in our “regular” grocery stores, we realized how challenging it must be for people from other countries to find inexpensive, familiar ingredients for their own comfort food.

12_GreekGreenBeans_ExtendTable-535Greek Green Beans

Our household loves green beans, so we decided to focus a few of our meal choices around them. The Greek Green Beans (p. 130) seemed the easiest, as the only “rare” ingredient was mint, and we’d often seen mint at our local chain grocery store. We were shocked, though, when we looked at the price! How could one family buy fresh mint for meals on a regular basis, when it is over $5 for sprigs sufficient only for one or two dishes? It made us thankful that we had planted mint in our new garden, and made us realize a bit more why so many of our global neighbors raise their own food instead of relying solely on grocery stores.

17_WhitePizza_ExtendTable-4022White Pizza

We found a similarly shocking price attached to the feta cheese we purchased for the White Pizza (p. 179). Fresh feta—the kind you think would be cheaper than the stuff packaged and marketed for mass consumption—was still more per ounce than we could imagine most families affording. We certainly savored every slice!

After making these expensive purchases, we stumbled upon an Eastern European grocery store hidden between a paper company and a Dominos Pizza—just down the block from where we’ve lived for two years. Sure enough, the feta cheese and mint were half the price. A good lesson to venture into “ethnic” food stores more often, and take a friend who speaks the language (or be open to making purchases based on visuals alone!).

16_BreadBowlCurry_ExtendTable-1920Bread Bowl Curry

This prompted us to explore other ethnic grocery stores in our area. We were intrigued by the array of spices in the Bread Bowl Curry (p. 174). We cook frequently with turmeric and cumin, but haven’t made anything with anise seed or cardamom pods. After striking out at our grocery store, we ventured into the Asian market down the street. Sure enough, the anise seeds (“fennel seeds” there) were plentiful—and cheap. The only challenge was that they came in a huge container. We’ll be seeking recipes that use fennel seeds for the next five years! Cardamom pods were not present at the Asian market, but the Indian market two neighborhoods over had a few varieties. Once again, they were far cheaper and more fragrant than the hip, foodie pods we might have found at a gourmet food store. Best of all, we could buy them one at a time instead of purchasing 200 in one container!

There were some ingredients in our “traditional” grocery store we did not expect to find there—a good lesson to keep your eyes open and your stomach willing to try new things. For instance, we were shopping for eggplant, determined to use the first fresh tomatoes of the season to make Eggplant Sauce for Spaghetti (183). When we finally found the eggplant, we were shocked. We could purchase Japanese, Indian, or Kazakhstani eggplant along with our now-seemingly-boring Florida Market eggplant. The availability of these rare varieties in the produce aisle we visit every week prompted us to plan a menu around the Iraqi Baked Dinner Moussaka (198) for later this week.

This journey has allowed us to try out our global neighbors’ comfort foods, as well as experiment with favorite ingredients in new ways. As with our More with Less challenge, we have become increasingly aware of our own default tendencies around food when we are busy or tired. Yet, with this challenge, we became more aware that many of our global neighbors cannot (or choose not to) default to restaurant food when they are hungry. Rather, they find community and comfort around cooking for themselves and for their guests.

This lesson will continue to inspire us in the weeks and years to come, as we share their stories—featured in the World Community Cookbooks—with our son and our guests. As we cook more than we eat out, we hope to weave our own stories into the global narratives of food and friendship.

Links to each post in this Six Weeks with Extending the Table series.

1. Extending Our Family Food Challenge: Six Weeks with Extending the Table

2. Extending Beyond Our Boundaries

3. Extending the Table: Honoring Dietary Restrictions

4. Jobs, moving, sickness, four-month-old baby: STILL time to cook?

5. Six Weeks with Extending the Table: A Move in the Right Direction

6. Precious Commodities: Where to Find Ingredients for Extending the Table Cookbook


To buy the new edition of Extending the Table with many recipes illustrated with color photos, click here. All of this post’s food photos come directly from the new Extending the Table.

MennoByte_photoBen Kulp is a cellist, Suzuki cello instructor, and entrepreneur. Heather Scheiwe Kulp is the Clinical Fellow at the Harvard Law School Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program. Along with a son born February 2014, they live in Boston, Massachusetts, and attend the Mennonite Congregation of Boston. Together, they enjoy hiking, listening to live music, and enjoying good food with friends.

This is the last in Ben and Heather’s special series, Six Weeks with Extending the Table.

Give them a shout out or quick hi, or any comment on what you enjoyed about this series!

Six Weeks with Extending the Table: A Move in the Right Direction

Ben and Heather Kulp’s 6-week challenge to cook from
Extending the Table Cookbook.

Change has always been a constant for the two of us during our time together. We moved to Chicago seven years ago and immediately immersed ourselves in my orchestra job, and Heather’s trip through law school. Heather was very involved in our church council after work, and I started a not-for-profit chamber orchestra group. Although we were “leaning in,” life, at its core, was not satisfying. There was always something else to stay up and accomplish, and we realized on our honeymoon that it was the first vacation we had ever taken with one another in the three years of our relationship.

This past week we moved from one side of Boston to the other. We lived for the past two years in the Allston neighborhood by Boston University. There is an unlimited amount of youthful energy in the neighborhood, and this would continue late into the night as we, and our young son, were trying to sleep.

Our new place in West Medford is quiet, spacious, and it feels like the first time we are living in an adult apartment. The nights are quiet and dark, and there is a minimal amount of noisy people. Fearing that we were losing part of the coveted energy of our 20’s, the two of us reflected a great deal on the past seven years of our relationship. There were many constant themes through our relationship, and one of them was that the two of us have had some of our best memories around food and meals with one another. So, we decided that we were going to use Extending the Table to help us recreate some of these memories.

For anyone that has spent more than an afternoon with Ben, you will know that good coffee is just an expected part of life. It’s not to the point of measuring the grind, water temperature, and using a pour over like you would see at a hipster coffee shop, but the beans do need to be good and freshly ground. Thankfully, the days of drinking two full pots in the morning are behind him, but the taste of a fresh cup of coffee still inspires many ideas and extended cello practice sessions.

178080216 The Cinnamon Coffee (p. 38) was Ben’s choice of drink for the first morning in the new apartment. Although boxes were sprawled as far as the eye could see, Ben had reserved a special spot for his bags of coffee. Next to the coffee box was the box labeled “spices,” and the cinnamon was easy to find. Sugar was conspicuous as well in the large tin container in which it is kept. We put the cinnamon stick and sugar in the pot before the coffee started brewing. As we sipped our coffee and bounced our baby boy, we both meditated on what this new phase of life means for both of us.

“Did we not have an entirely stocked fridge and pantry at our previous apartment?” This question has been asked many times over the past week as we have unpacked in our new place. The carefully planned meals have gone to the wayside while we figure out our new kitchen; as we try to cook our meals from Extending The Table, we look to the beautiful simplicity of the recipes in the cookbook for our inspiration.

The Creamy Carrot soup (p.79) was a favorite this past week. The carrots, butter, and curry powder (from the same box labeled “Spices” where we found the cinnamon) were items easily dug out of the pile of cardboard U Haul boxes. The soup, again, provided us with a quiet and contemplative meal.

A challenging part of our move, as it relates to cooking, was that between Heather’s extended work hours this week, and cooking for the steady stream of people that have come through our new apartment in the last several days, is that it is easy to default to ordering take out. Admittedly, we did order pizza for everyone at the end of eight hours of moving boxes and furniture. After eating the leftovers from take out, it left us with a slightly stuffed and unpleasant feeling. We craved nothing more than the fresh fruits and vegetables that cleanse your mind and body. To remedy this situation, we made the Tomato and Basil Salad (p. 110). We had been able to go to the local store and pick up fresh vegetables, and it felt wonderful to feast on tomatoes and basil. We began to feel our old selves return with the nourishing and healthy food.

Sept12_2013 006As most of you who have been reading our blog know, hosting friends is something that means a great deal to both of us. We are excited to have our friends and family over to our new apartment and treat them to meals from Extending The Table. More on our meals for friends next week in our blog!

To buy the new edition of Extending the Table with many recipes illustrated with color photos, click here

MennoByte_photoBen Kulp is a cellist, Suzuki cello instructor, and entrepreneur. Heather Scheiwe Kulp is the Clinical Fellow at the Harvard Law School Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program. Along with a son born February 2014, they live in Boston, Massachusetts, and attend the Mennonite Congregation of Boston. Together, they enjoy hiking, listening to live music, and enjoying good food with friends.

Look for their posts each Wednesday thru June 11, under the special series category, Six Weeks with Extending the Table. Or sign up to receive all Mennobytes posts by subscription from the SUBSCRIBE button on the right side of the blog.