Cooking Up History


The very first picture in The Canadian Mennonite Cookbook showcases a basket of apples, one of them wedged in a vintage apple peeler, and another sliced into wedges on a wooden table on the right. Above the sliced apple is a mortar and pestle.

Another image illustrates a baby blue hand mixer standing over a bowl of burnt orange-coloured cake mix. The attached image shows a table setting, drawing importance to the placement of each utensil. Furthermore, around the center of the table are four plates for bread, signified by the butter knife on each plate. The napkins are delicately rolled, wrapped, and topped with a beautiful flower.

Such images depicted in The Canadian Mennonite Cookbook showcase various kitchen appliances that would have been used in the 1960s in smaller communites like Altona. It is clear from these images that at the time, proper setting of the table and presentation of the food was an integral part of the dining process. 

The cookbook's primary objectives appear to be to pass on traditional recipes that were popular in Mennonite communities, and highlight their evolution over time. While undoubtedly the book would have been a staple in most Mennonite kitchens, other readers, predominantly women, would have enjoyed the variety of recipes and the heartiness of Mennonite home cooking. 

Mennonite_table setting.jpg

This cookbook is organized into the following sections: Bread & Rolls, Cakes, Dainties, Frosting & Filling, Cookies, Soups, Salads, Meats, Casseroles, Pies, Puddings, Pancakes & Waffles, Jams, Pickles, Canning, Candies & Drinks, Gravy, and Miscellaneous. To assist with the fundamentals of cooking, the compilers included the following subsections in the Miscellaneous section: Time and Temperature Chart, Baking Temperatures, Weight of Common Articles of Food, Measures, and Estimated Quantities Serving Fifty People. Lastly, at the end of each section there are several blank pages for note-taking. 

In The Canadian Mennonite Cookbook, cakes are by far the most common recipe. Typically, butter, milk, eggs, sugar, and flour were the key ingredients used. Fruits and nuts are also included frequently, as well as vanilla and baking powder. Interestingly, some recipes call for hot water, which appears to be a technique common in Mennonite dessert making. This cookbook contains a large variety of desserts, which rely on inexpensive ingredients that would have been easy to find. Overall, the desserts appear to be quite filling but were certainly not nutritious due to the vast amounts of butter and sugar used. 

Regarding the methods of preparation required for recipes within The Canadian Mennonite Cookbook, several different kitchen appliances and types of cookware were used, including an oven and stove top, a whisk or electric beater, a casserole dish, a meat grinder, a frying pan, a large pot, and a kettle. There are no methods of preparation that are completely out of the ordinary when compared to modern day techniques. 

This cookbook represents the important role that food played in Mennonite culture. The dishes, ingredients, methods of preparation, and techniques would not have been unique to Altona and, instead, were gathered from Mennonite cooks from across the country. The book not only provides a glimpse of life in a 1960s Mennonite household, but also demonstrates what ingredients were readily available and affordable at the time.

In Mennonite communities across Canada, important values included spending time with family, giving back to the community, and the communal preparation and sharing of food. As many of the recipes in The Canadian Mennonite Cookbook show, mealtime could be a large and drawn-out affair. Instructions for serving meals for several people appear throughout the book, including upwards of twenty-five people at a time. 

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