Cooking Up History


A modern transcription of the Waterloo township map from 1818. Many of the names on the map are mentioned in the cookbook.

Wonderful Goot! Favourite Mennonite Recipes was published in 1965, shortly after a wave of Dutch-Russian Mennonites immigrated to the Waterloo Region. Although Swiss Mennonites from Pennsylvania were the first to arrive in the region in the 1800s, disagreements between this religio-ethnic minority group and the Canadian government after the First World War prompted many Mennonites to move to the United States and Mexico. For those who left Canada, it remained important to uphold their faith and beliefs. However, the prospect of purchasing agricultural land in Ontario lured many Mennonites back to Canada in the mid-1950s. This new generation of Mennonites, some of whom settled in the Elmira area, were forced to decide whether they wanted to hold on to their heritage or assimilate into mainstream Canadian culture. It had already been a difficult decision for some to move back, resulting in the cutting of family ties in some cases as members disagreed with their decision to return. Eventually, many Mennonites around Elmira chose to embrace certain aspects of modern-day living which resulted in the creation of a new kind of Mennonite culture. Foodways, which are the combination of food and culture, were one of the ways that Mennonites held on to their heritage. This is where the idea of a charity cookbook, such as Wonderful Goot! Favourite Mennonite Recipes, originated.

Charity cookbooks, also known as community cookbooks, were a popular way for women to exert influence in their communities in the later 19th and early 20th centuries. These cookbooks usually claimed to contain "traditional" recipes and were sold to raise money for a variety of causes. A charity cookbook served as a perfect way to share one’s heritage in an appropriate manner, while still following the modern ways of the area. Not only would a charity cookbook share culinary aspects of a particular culture, it could also provide historical facts and trivia for its readers. The Wonderful Goot! Favourite Mennonite Recipes book is a perfect example of a charity cookbook as it contains both traditional recipes and historical facts. Moreover, it was sold with the intention of raising money for the Elmira Ladies Auxiliary group and what is now called the Elmira Association for Community Living. In the 1960s, tourists in the Elmira area began to show significant interest in the local Mennonites' lifestyle, so an Elmira tourism program was established. In the hopes of bringing more tourists to the area and boosting local businesses, a maple syrup festival was held in 1965. It was at this event that Wonderful Goot! Favourite Mennonite Recipes was first sold and shared with the public. Although they were only expecting a crowd of around 2,500 that first year, a whopping 10,000 people showed up to partake in the festivities.


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A recipe for laundry soap found in the cookbook. This was the most time-consuming and delicate recipe in the whole cookbook.

Along with providing important details about Mennonite culture and history, this cookbook also offers some insights into women's roles in the home in the 1960s. The fact that all of the recipes were ones that had been shared with women and carried down through the generations shows that women have, traditionally, always been tasked with planning, preparing, cooking, and serving their family's meals. While men were expected to financially provide for the family, women contributed to the household by taking care of children, shopping, preparing and preserving food and, in Mennonite communities,  making most of the household's cleaning products from scratch. For example, the multipurpose cleaner and laundry soap recipes included in this cookbook show one way that Mennonite women in the 1960s attempted to be self-sufficient and frugal. The numerous pickling recipes would also have proven useful for food preservation in order to stretch all of the homegrown or locally-grown produce. In rural areas where it could be difficult to travel and find resources, being able to preserve produce ensured that nothing went to waste and families could continue to enjoy the fruits of their labour well into the winter months. 


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