The Mother of All Mennonite Cookbooks

You can’t judge a book by its cover. Except when you can.

At Herald Press we have a 64-year-old gem of a cookbook, called Mennonite Community Cookbook.

Mennonite Community Cookbook (color)

Compiled by Mary Emma Showalter, the book features 1,100 fascinating and delicious recipes submitted by Mennonite cooks from across the U.S. and Canada during that era. With nearly 500,000 copies in print and more printings than I can count, it’s safe to say that people can easily pick out the book by its unique cover.

Mennonite Community Cookbook rolls up Swiss-German Mennonite nostalgia, simple cooking, and hearty dishes into one package that’s sure to produce blue ribbons at the county fair. Old fashioned cooking and traditional Mennonite values thread through this book of food history, frequent Pennsylvania Dutch favorites, and stories of beloved relationships.

The book was the brainchild of Dr. Mary Emma Showalter, and is sometimes called the “mother of all Mennonite cookbooks.”

“The best investment I ever made was when I bought [my wife] the Mennonite Community Cookbook,” says my own 90-year-old uncle, Mose Gingerich, in a Gingerich family cookbook.

So what’s a publisher to do when a classic book like this has been reproduced so many times that the cover needs to be redrawn because the quality of the cover drawing has been deteriorating? Or when the six interior photo pages need to be replaced because they too have been reproduced so many times that they are looking awfully dark?

These are exactly the questions that we at Herald Press now weigh in our minds. Up until now we’ve taken a hands-off approach to this classic book–not wanting to turn readers away from something that many perceive as almost sacred.

We plan to release a new edition in January 2015. Except for updating the photo pages, the interior will remain exactly the same.

And as we think about the cover for the new edition, we know we want it to look similar. But should it look exactly the same? Or just similar? Should it be hand drawn, as the original, or should it be drawn digitally? And what about the fonts? Do they too need to be drawn or should we switch to computer-generated fonts?

MCC-fonts

Sure, we as the publisher could make these decisions without the input of users like you. But if we did that we would be working on our own assumptions. And in this ever-changing world of publishing, that’s not a risk we want to take.

If you know this book, please weigh in by filling out our survey. Give your input and ideas so that the new edition of Mennonite Community Cookbook continues to be seen as “the best investment ever made.”

And just for fun I leave you with this recipe (from page 455), which is mostly not practical but interesting nonetheless. What other cookbook gives you such a recipe?

Food for a Barn Raising

This bit of information was found in a quaint, old handwritten recipe book from Great-grandmother’s day. It is included here mainly for the purpose of giving us a peep into the past. As many of us know, a “barn raising” was quite an event during those early years. When a new barn was built, all the friends and neighbors came on the specified day to help put up the framework of the barn. This policy is still carried out in some communities where neighbors are neighborly. Homemakers of our day will no doubt be astounded at all the food consumed in one day. What is more difficult to believe is that it was all made in Great-grandmother’s kitchen. Here’s the list as I found it:

  • 115 lemon pies
  • 500 fat cakes (doughnuts)
  • 15 large cakes
  • 3 gallons applesauce
  • 3 gallons rice pudding
  • 3 gallons cornstarch pudding
  • 16 chickens
  • 3 hams
  • 50 pounds roast beef
  • 300 light rolls
  • 16 loaves bread
  • Red beet pickle and pickled eggs
  • Cucumber pickle
  • 6 pounds dried prunes, stewed
  • 1 large crock stewed raisins
  • 5 gallon stone jar white potatoes and the same amount of sweet potatoes

Amy Gingerich, editorial director

Amy Gingerich

 

 

12 thoughts on “The Mother of All Mennonite Cookbooks

  1. I have owned and used this cookbook (almost daily) 1977 (wedding gift). Love it, don’t change it.

    The cover is unique and beautiful. When we received the book , we thought the interior photos were old & never realistic to “our lifestyle” since we lived in a huge metropolitan area. Yet we did have large family gatherings, although not barn raisings… Thirty seven years later, our dining room table looks like the one photo at Christmas, Easter, and other family celebrations.

    Being of German origin, I was familiar with pickling and many of the desserts found in this book. Yet I also found new cooking ideas from the photos – some reminded me of my time at Bluffton College in Ohio, especially visiting my Swiss & Russian friends families.

    Photos & book cover – please do not change.

    I also own a very dog-eared copy of “More with Less”, that I received in 1978 as a gift. It was a lifesaver when we were very poor and I was home all day with our children. Good, inexpensive, and healthy food.

    Both of these books are, for me, essential cookbooks.

  2. Rebecca, Thanks for the feedback. I’m glad to know the book is of such value to you after so many years. It’s a treasure of a book, for sure!

  3. I’m glad to see this book being renewed. In our home, which blends Swiss and Russian Mennonite family stories, we treasure this alongside our worn and spattered copies of More with Less, and the Mennonite Treasury of Recipes, the latter reflecting food traditions mostly from the Russian Mennonite tradition.

    • Thanks, Dave, for the affirmation. And you are right that this one is more reflective of Swiss-German Mennonite heritage. A helpful note that I’ll add to the post.

  4. Hi Amy -I’ve always enjoyed this cookbook which I got as a shower gift 43 years ago. I love the stories at the beginning of each chapter and there are so many great recipes I like the historical aspect of the book and I’m all for keeping it as as close to the original as possible. I must say that the photos could be updated to make them visually more appealing, but I’d suggest using the vintage dishes and linens to keep the pictures in context. I’m so glad you are republishing this.

  5. When my mother passed away in 2011 I was prepared to ‘fight’ for her well worn copy of Mennonite Community Cookbook. Thankfully my sister and sister-in-law weren’t interested in it. Mom and I spent many hours reading the stories and recipes. The pages are stained, dog-eared, some of the them are loose, many recipes have comments written in her hand beside them. I learned about my heritage and my family with that cookbook. I will always keep her copy (it was a wedding gift to her from her mother) but I am looking forward to purchasing the renewed one for me . . . some of my favorite recipes are getting hard to read!

    • What a touching comment, Cathy. I was having a very similar conversation at church yesterday with a friend about her copy. Truly this book has been a treasure for many!

  6. I was privileged to receive a well-loved copy of this cookbook from a sweet friend and neighbor who knew I was looking for my own copy. She gave me her mother’s copy after she passed away. What a treasure! It still has the newspaper clippings and handwritten recipes and helpful notes that she had compiled through the years. I’m glad to know that it will be available for future generations. 🙂

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