Book feature: Mennonite Girls Can Cook

Zoomer | May 31st, 2012

Recipes aren’t just instructions: they’re records of the favourite foods that get passed down through the generations and swapped among friends. They’re part of the culture and traditions that bring everyone together, whether it’s a family meal or celebration.

Likewise, a good cookbook doesn’t just contain recipes — it speaks to the heritage and personality of its authors. The story of this unique cook book started with a single recipe — Paska, a Russian Mennonite sweet bread traditionally enjoyed at Easter. When Lovella Schellenberg shared her family recipe on her blog, she had no idea how far it would reach. Soon she was connecting with relatives and making new friends who shared her faith and love of homemade food. Before long, nine more women from British Columbia, Manitoba and Washington State came on board for a new blog project: Mennonite Girls Can Cook.

Why the quirky name? The authors got the idea from an innocent comment: “You Mennonite girls sure can cook…” The “girls” — Anneliese, Betty, Bev, Charlotte, Ellen, Judy, Julie, Kathy Lovella and Marg — range in age from 49 to 63. The recipes come from family recipe boxes — thoroughly tested and improved with detailed instructions and photos. The blog features not just recipes, but stories of faith and inspiration in their “Bread for the Journey” posts each Sunday. Any money earned from their endeavours extends their goals of sharing through donations to charities that feed children.

In the three years since the blog’s debut, nearly three million people have stopped by — but the story doesn’t end there. It wasn’t long before recipe blog became recipe book when a publisher came knocking. While the blog is still going strong, the Mennonite Girls Can Cook cookbook collects a balance of comfort foods and traditional Mennonite fare, from Zwieback (double-decker rolls) and Fleisch Perishky (meat buns) to pot roast and summer fruit pies. Many of the recipes have Russian roots as some German Mennonites settled in the Ukraine during the 1700s to escape persecution. (Today, Mennonites hail from around the world — and their sense of community and heritage remains strong.)

Of course, the famous recipe for Paska is included too. Naturally, you’ll find some tweaks on tradition as well: some of the recipes are adapted to be gluten-free — like Kieke (home made noodles) and Potato Seed Bread. Some recipes are new favourites, like Barbequed Salmon with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, a nod the authors’ west coast roots and love of local fare. You’ll even find some Mexican and Mediterranean choices too — all of which have a story.

Like the blog, the book features the “Bread for the Journey” devotionals and shares each contributor’s story, allowing readers to get to know “the girls”.

If you’re diet conscious, you may want to save some recipes for special occasions. You won’t find nutritional information or buzzwords like “super food” or “anti-oxidants” among its pages, nor will you find convenience foods like pre-made sauces or store-bought dough. The recipes embrace cooking  “from scratch” and mainly use whole, natural ingredients — often things you have right in your pantry. There are many healthy, simple choices you can use every day, but some recipes will require some work.

Hungry for more? We’ve got some sample recipes to try:

Roasted Chicken with Anise Seeds and Bubbat (Bread)

Serves 6

1 large fryer or roasting chicken, cut up into pieces with the bone and skin
2 tablespoons / 30 ml anise seed
1 tablespoon / 15 ml flour
1 cup / 250 ml milk
Salt

1. Arrange the chicken pieces in a single layer in a dark enameled roasting pan
with a lid.

2. Sprinkle with salt and anise seed.

3. Cover and bake at 325° F / 160° C for 2 1/2 hours.

4. Remove from the oven. Take out 1/2 cup of the drippings if making Bubbat.

5. Increase oven heat to 350° F / 175° C. Add 1/2 cup water to the roasting pan
and return to the oven, uncovered.

6. Prepare the Bubbat and bake alongside the chicken for another 30 minutes.

7. Remove the chicken to a serving plate and cover with foil to stay warm.

8. Sprinkle flour into the pan with the drippings. Cook and stir over medium
heat until bubbly.

9. Add milk, stirring until bubbly. Add more milk, according to desired gravy
consistency.

10. Serve with new boiled or mashed potatoes.

TIP: While this chicken can be roasted in any roasting pan, I find it develops the
nicest color in the speckled dark blue roasting pan that is inexpensive and
widely available.

Bubbat

2 cups / 500 ml flour
1 tablespoon / 15 ml baking powder
1 teaspoon / 5 ml salt
1/4 cup / 60 ml sugar
1 cup / 250 ml milk
2 eggs
1/2 cup / 125 ml chicken drippings
1 1/2 cup / 350 ml raisins

1. Combine the dry ingredients in a medium sized mixing bowl.

2. Combine the milk, eggs, and chicken drippings. Add to the dry ingredients.

3. Add the raisins and stir until combined.

4. Pour the batter into an 8 x 8-inch / 20 x 20-cm pan greased with no-stick cooking spray.

5. Bake alongside the chicken for 30 minutes.

TIP: Omit the raisins or add other dried fruits to the Bubbat. Another option is to use Bubbat to stuff a roasting chicken. If you bake the Bubbat in the chicken, omit the chicken drippings, using butter instead. The Bubbat is naturally moist with the chicken drippings baked right into the Bubbat.

Next: see what’s for dessert.

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Bienenstich (Bee Sting Cake)

Yields 24 good-sized servings or 48 small servings

1 cup / 250 ml milk
2 tablespoons / 30 ml butter
5 eggs
1 1/2 cup / 375 ml sugar
1 teaspoons / 5 ml vanilla
2 1/4 cups / 560 ml flour
1 tablespoon / 15 ml baking powder
1/4 teaspoon / 1 ml salt

1. Grease 2 9-inch / 22-cm spring-form pans or 2 9-inch / 22-cm square pans or 1 large 11 x 17-inch / 28 x 43-cm cookie sheet. Line with wax paper and grease again.

2. Scald milk, stir in the butter and set aside.

3. In a large mixing bowl beat eggs, gradually adding the sugar. Continue beating until mixture is thick and light in color. Add vanilla.

4. Stir in combined dry ingredients.

5. Slowly add hot liquids, folding in until just mixed; batter should be light.

6. Pour into prepared pan(s).

7. Bake at 350° F / 175° C for 20 minutes, until golden. Spread immediately with topping (recipe follows).

Topping

4 tablespoons / 60 ml butter
5/8 cup / 155 ml brown sugar
6 tablespoons / 90 ml whipping cream
1 1/2 cup / 375 ml long shred coconut
1 1/2 cup / 375 ml almonds, sliced

1. Melt butter; add remaining ingredients.

2. Spread topping evenly over the cake(s), using a fork and going right to the edges.
3. Return cake(s) to oven. Broil the topping for about 2 minutes, or until golden. Watch the process to make sure the topping bubbles and broils evenly, turning the pans if necessary.

4. Cool completely to let topping harden. For easier slicing, freeze slightly before filling.

Filling

2 cups / 500 ml whipping cream
1 tablespoon / 15 ml sugar
2 tablespoons / 30 ml instant vanilla pudding powder

Beat all ingredients together until stiff.

To Assemble

If the cake is baked in spring form pans, simply remove rims or lift cakes out onto a flat surface.

1. With a serrated knife, slice horizontally through each cake.

2. Lift top and spread bottom layer with filling.

3. Return cakes to pans or serving plate and add top layer. It will slice into serving pieces easier once it is slightly frozen.

If the cake is baked on one large sheet, it can be more tricky, but the same procedure can be followed or use this method:

1. Spread a clean tea towel over the top. Holding the towel in place, flip the pan upside down onto a flat surface.

2. Remove wax paper and slice horizontally through the upside-down cake. Cover cake with pan and flip back, holding towel in place. Slide hands under top layer, lift carefully, and place on flat surface.

3. Cover with filling and carefully replace the top.

TIP: This cake freezes very well and slices easily once partially thawed.

From Mennonite Girls Can Cook by Lovella Schellenberg, Judy Wiebe, et al. Copyright © 2011 Herald Press, Harrisonburg, VA 22802. Reprinted by permission.

ON THE WEB

The cook book is available through most bookstores. For more information, visit Herald Press.

For more recipes and inspiration, visit the Mennonite Girls Can Cook blog.

To learn more about the Mennonite faith, visit Third Way Café.

Photos courtesy of Herald Press.

Have you tried this recipe or have a cooking tip for other readers? Share it in the comments below.

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