Growing up in a Mennonite household, I always had the sense that food was important. Whether it was a social function, a celebration or a fundraiser, certain traditional dishes were always at the centre, and these Mennonite women somehow seemed like they were just born with the ability to make them.
Except for me, that is. One of my earliest baking memories is that of pulling a picture-perfect chocolate cake out of the oven, only to taste it and realize that instead of a half-teaspoon of salt, I’d accidentally put in a…half-cup. Yuck…talk about inedible!
A couple of years ago, I wrote a feature article for the Ottawa Citizen in which I talked about my homemade, apple-pie debut – at the tender age of 36. This was quite humorous to my Mennonite mother (who likely baked her first pie before her tenth birthday). But hey – better late than never, as they say.
While the traditional German-Russian dishes of my heritage may not be innate to me in the kitchen, I have some secret weapons at my disposal now – namely, two cookbooks called Mennonite Girls Can Cook and Mennonite Girls Can Cook Celebrations.
I love that the books offer up recipes for some of the best-loved dishes I remember from my youth – borscht, paska, peppernuts and platz to name a few.
Originally started as a blog to record family memories and heritage recipes, ten friends joined forces in 2011 to create the two cookbooks. They are still blogging and regularly share new recipes on their site, Mennonite Girls Can Cook.
One of the authors, Betty Reimer of Steinbach, Manitoba, will be at the Ottawa Mennonite Church on Saturday, Nov. 9 from noon to 4 p.m. Reimer will share her own stories behind the recipe collections, and will be available to sign the cookbooks.
The book-signing event is being staged in conjunction with the Ten Thousand Villages Ottawa Festival Sale, which offers up a unique opportunity to shop for gifts that have been hand-crafted by artisans from around the world.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a church sale without food. The tea room on Saturdays in November is a long-time customer favourite, allowing people to sample the always-popular borscht and a wide selection of desserts.
Appropriately, Reimer and her co-authors have used proceeds from book sales to feed the hungry. With their first cookbook, they sponsored a greenhouse project at The Good Shepherd Shelter in Ukraine. Royalties from the second book will provide clean water for school children in Kenyan through the WASH Project.
Don’t miss the chance to come by the church this Saturday, where you can literally taste the Mennonite heritage. If it helps, I’ll even promise to stay out of the kitchen – just in case.