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.

CheriseMomNotes3 CheriseMomNotes2 CheriseMomNotes1

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.


A few juicy morsels on what’s cooking these days at MennoMedia/Herald Press

I’m getting hungry. That’s the problem working around Herald Press. So many great cookbooks abound.

FavMennoCookbooks (2)My home copy (note nifty duct tape binding) of Mennonite Community Cookbook

I spent the morning browsing through my office copy of Mennonite Community Cookbook looking for recipes. No, I wasn’t procrastinating or cheating on office time. I was researching what recipes we want to photograph for a new edition of Mennonite Community Cookbook, to come out early next year.

We thought it may be time to get rid of the photographs of pig stomach and pickled pigs’ feet for modern readers. (Don’t worry, the recipes themselves will still be there, just not the photos.) Instead, you might see pictured a fresh strawberry tart or dandelion salad.

Speaking of pigs, we may be messing with a sacred cow, so we’ll tread carefully. Stay tuned.


A new edition of another great and popular cookbook, Extending the Table is almost, almost off the press. The paperback version is already here in Harrisonburg, but the hardback enclosed spiral edition is still on its way. You can get it on sale for $18.75 hardback, or $14.99 paper, at our store until May 8.

24_StuffedPeppers_ExtendTable-2623Stuff green peppers from revised edition of Extending the Table

I’m happy to announce that next week a NEW blog series will begin by bloggers Heather and Ben Kulp. They’ll be cooking from the pages of the new Extending the Table for the next 6 weeks. Earlier, for Lent, they cooked almost exclusively from More-with-Less Cookbook in their effort to not eat out during that special season. With this new series, we hope to entice you with which recipes to try, what the dishes might look like, and generally get you excited about this second volume in the World Community Cookbook series.

The book is packed with stories, proverbs and quotable quotes from all over the world, as shared by so many contributors.146815858

One story in the salad chapter, told by Mary Lou Cummings of Quakertown, Pa. is an exquisite little gem about limes.

“Limes still make me smile. On my first visit to a rural Kenyan market I was overwhelmed by the sound of unknown languages and myriad bright colors. In a back corner I saw an ancient woman sitting with back erect and legs outstretched beside a pyramid of some 30 withered, scrawny limes.


At first I avoided her hopeful eyes, but then I approached her, thinking of what it must be like to spend a long day in the hot sun with so little to sell.


“’Bei gani, Mama?’ I asked, picking up four of the limes. We haggled over the price for a while, neither understanding the other well, but I was surprised when she adamantly held out for 25 cents. Finally I conceded and, bargain concluded, she chuckled out loud as she began loading the limes into my purse, pockets and skirt. She had sold me not four, but the whole lot!


“I had reaped a bonanza, and as I jubilantly walked away, limes bounced behind me like green Ping-Pong balls. The old woman and her friends watched me disappear from sight. We all got more than we bargained for that day.” (From Extending the Table, Herald Press, 2014, p. 134.)


But I’m not only hungry for good food made simply and cheaply that offers greater global awareness through stories such as these.

I’m hungry for meat. As in additional substance.

A while back we learned that Bill and Lynne Hybels were using John Paul Lederach’s book, Journey Toward Reconciliation, in their ministry at Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, Ill. We began to imagine that the time was right for a much larger audience to buy in to the compelling stories and lessons of conflict transformation that Lederach has been privileged to work with over 30 years. I’m happy that Herald Press is planning a new edition, now called Reconcile: Conflict Transformation for Ordinary Christians. Lederach has worked as a mediator of conflicts in war-torn settings on five continents and is currently professor of international peacebuilding at the Kroc Institute, Notre Dame. We hope for the updated volume to be out this August.

That’s a little of what’s ahead in the coming months.

I could mention the Shine children’s curriculum launch with its gorgeous and substantial children’s Shine On Story Bible; a new book on spirituality call The Spacious Heart by brother/sister authors Donald Clymer and Sharon Clymer Landis, (if you’re on our MennoMedia or Third Way Cafe Facebook pages, hint hint, you may have seen a cover for The Spacious Heart go floating by recently); a relaunch of the bestselling teen Amish romance series Ellie’s People by Mary Christner Bontrager. And much more. But I won’t spill all our beans today.

LimeOr limes.

For that you need to sign up to get each and every Mennobytes blog directly to your email. Just scroll down the right side of this page until you find the right button. Then you’ll always know what’s going on. Or at least, what we’re ready to share.


Which of these projects excites you most?

What would you like to see more of? Comment and let us know!

 P1050565Melodie Davis is one of three managing editors for MennoMedia/Herald Press, an author of nine books, editor of a magazine, Living, and blogger at www.findingharmonyblog.com

Limes – Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net