Learn a brief history of the Amish including the origins of their food and try one of these tasty Mennonite recipes.
In Treasured Amish and Mennonite Recipes (Fox Chapel Publishing, 2011), you’ll find 627 delicious, down-to-earth dishes your family will request again and again. You’ll see why these recipes, gathered from Amish and Mennonite cooks from across the United States and Canada, have been bringing families and communities together at the table for generations. Learn about the history of the Amish and how their beliefs, communities and agricultural heritage have shaped their dishes. Then try one of these comforting Mennonite recipes in this excerpt taken from the introduction, “A Brief History of the Amish and Mennonites.”
Amish and Mennonite food is often thought of as good old-fashioned stick-to-your-ribs comfort food. It is associated with a time when families were closely connected to the land, raising, growing, and harvesting everything they consumed. But Amish and Mennonite dishes do not solely consist of well-known classics like chicken pot pie and whoopie pies. The recipes reflect the history and culture of these religious groups. They collectively tell a story of struggle and religious persecution and emphasize the strong bonds of family and community that are such an important part of Amish and Mennonite life. To truly understand the scope and importance of Amish and Mennonite food, you must first understand the history and culture of these groups.
Try these sensible yet satisfying recipes from Treasured Amish and Mennonite Recipes.
The Amish and the Mennonites are part of a religious group whose members are found throughout the United States, Canada, and many other countries.
The Mennonite church began in Switzerland in the early sixteenth century during the time following the Protestant Reformation. The reformation, led by Martin Luther in Germany, was a protest against the perceived corruption and heretical practices of the Roman Catholic Church. The reformation sought a return to the teachings of scripture and a focus on Jesus Christ. Around the same time that Martin Luther was nailing his ninety-five theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, Urlich Zwingli was leading a similar movement in Switzerland.
Several of Zwingli’s followers, however, believed that Zwingli and Luther had not taken a bold enough stand against the church and had fallen short of their goal of making scripture a central focus for believers. This small sect began to hold secret meetings in the homes of fellow members and to solidify their views.
The group members maintained two central beliefs that set them apart from the popular reformers of the time. First, they turned away from infant baptism, declaring that a Christian community could only be made up of adults who could knowingly and voluntarily confess their faith and then choose to be baptized. Second, the group believed that the church should be a separate entity from the state.
These were radical concepts for the sixteenth century, but members of the group felt strongly enough about these beliefs that they decided to act. In January 1525, Conrad Grebel led members of the Swiss group as they confessed their faith and baptized each other. Their actions were not only religiously radical, they were illegal.
As a result of their actions, the group members were titled Anabaptizers, or re-baptizers, by other reformers, as well as the Catholic Church, both of whom refused to listen to the Anabaptists’ arguments that their actions were fully supported by scripture. Instead, the group was heavily persecuted, and many of its leaders were killed.
This persecution led many Anabaptists to flee their homes and seek refuge in other countries, resulting in a spread of the movement. In the Netherlands, a catholic priest named Menno Simons struggled with questions and doubts he had about the mass and infant baptism. His questioning eventually led him to a deep and thorough study of the Bible. He joined the Anabaptist movement in 1536 and became a major force behind it. Simons worked tirelessly to organize at-home church groups and spent a great deal of time preaching and writing about the group’s concepts for reform.
Soon, many began to call Simons’ followers Menists (translated as Mennonite), a term that would eventually replace the name Anabaptist and be applied to all members of the movement. The members themselves, however, preferred the name Taufgesinnt, which translates, “those who baptize on confession of faith.”
A similar instance led to the development of the term Amish. The name comes from Jacob Ammann, a bishop who had a great influence over the movement in the late 1600s and early 1700s.
When persecution in Europe grew to be too great, many Mennonites fled to the New World. In 1683, German-speaking immigrants established a Mennonite community in Pennsylvania, making it the first of such communities on American soil. Over the next several decades, many more Mennonites, including those belonging to the conservative segment known as the Amish, made their way to America. Eventually, members of the Mennonite community moved west, establishing a presence throughout the country.
Many of the Mennonites who remained in Europe moved into Prussia (Poland) and the south of Russia. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, however, many chose to move to the United States, Canada, and even South America.
The Old Order Amish have also spread throughout America, establishing a presence in about twenty states. These Mennonites, following the most conservative teachings of the church, strive to maintain a simple and pure lifestyle. They seek to separate themselves from the rest of the world in order to strengthen their beliefs and values. They therefore live without the creature comforts that many of us are accustomed to, such as electricity, running water, and cars.
The Amish and Mennonites, although part of the same religious group, sometimes differ in their fundamental beliefs about dress, their connection to mainstream society, and other similar religious and cultural matters. The Amish choose to dress simply, in a manner they believe is called for in the scriptures. Women wear head coverings, or bonnets, and do not cut their hair. All Amish clothing, both men’s and women’s, is made of solid colors and lacks any ostentatious adornments, such as buttons. This style of dress is an effort to maintain simplicity and modesty in a world where glamor and immodesty are often the emphasis of the fashion world.
The Amish are also known for their policy of nonviolence and nonresistance. This belief comes directly from the biblical message to turn the other cheek.
Finally, the Amish believe in community and communal support. They see it as their responsibility, and no one else’s, to support and assist members of their faith. As a result, the Amish do not accept any kind of aid or welfare from the government or other organizations, choosing instead to depend on those around them for aid.
While the Amish strictly adhere to and follow these beliefs, their practices are not typical of the larger less-conservative segment of the Mennonite church. Most Mennonites have immersed themselves in modern society, living in houses with electricity and driving cars to get to and from work. What makes modern believers Mennonites is their continued adherence to the values of the Swiss reformers.
Mennonites today still recognize the importance of maintaining a separation between church and state. They emphasize the scriptures and the teachings of Jesus Christ as part of their belief system and values, and still believe that baptism, as well as church membership, needs to be voluntary.
Along with their religious beliefs, the Mennonites have also maintained much of their European cultural heritage. Many Amish communities, for example, continue to speak a form of German most commonly referred to as Pennsylvania Dutch. Perhaps the most well-known aspect of Mennonite heritage, however, is their food. Mennonite dishes typically have a strong connection to the European countries in which group members lived before immigrating to America. The Mennonites were widely scattered, and their food is equally varied, reflecting culinary tastes from countries such as Switzerland, Germany, Russia, Prussia, Hungary, and many more.
Mennonite recipes also demonstrate the agricultural heritage of the group. Most Mennonite families were farmers, and all their food was produced from what they were able to raise and grow on the farm. Ingredients lists for Mennonite dishes often call for garden produce, fresh meats, and dairy products. It is not unexpected to come across an unusual or surprising ingredient, as many recipes were developed with what was readily available. Substitutions and variations are typical; if one ingredient was not on hand, recipes were adapted to work with what was accessible at the time.
For the most part, recipes were not written down, and there was no measuring involved. Cooks in Mennonite kitchens added ingredients as they saw fit until they were satisfied with the result.
Mennonite dishes will often serve large numbers of people, reflecting the need to feed large hard-working families with big appetites, and to provide the occasional meal for the community as a whole at events such as barn raisings or quilting bees.
Mennonites today can be seen following all these traditions of food, family, and religious faith. In an effort to bring the biblical concepts of peace, love, and community to others, many Mennonites have become involved in peace-building efforts, as well as disaster relief and aid. Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is responsible for organizing and promoting many of these efforts, and they often do so by bringing people together in the sharing of food.
Mennonite Central Committee was founded in 1920 in an effort to provide efficient and organized aid to members of the Mennonite community in Russia and the Ukraine. During the 1920s, Russia experienced a massive famine, which was spurred on by the effects of World War I and the disruption of agriculture. In 1920, four members from Mennonite villages in the afflicted area arrived in the United States to request aid for their families and communities. Seven Mennonite conferences and relief organizations combined their efforts to respond by sending food and aid. MCC would eventually send several relief workers to Russia to help with the relief effort.
It was quickly realized that funds would be needed if MCC’s relief efforts were to continue. To raise money, a “relief” sale was held on the John K. Warkentin Farm in Reedley, California. Items were auctioned, raising more than $200 for Russia. With these extra funds, MCC was able to complete its first development project, sending fifty Fordson tractor-plow outfits to Russia so that farming could begin again. Six weeks after the tractors and plows arrived in Russia, more than 4,300 acres of land were plowed.
More than 90 years later, MCC serves in more than fifty countries around the world, reaching out to those who have been struck by war, famine, and natural disaster by providing food and other aid. Their commitment to partnering with organizations in the affected regions, such as local churches and relief groups, has enabled them to ensure they can continue to provide aid for months, or even years, as it is needed.
Just as MCC has grown, the fundraising efforts used to support it have also grown. Today, relief sales are held in forty-five locations throughout the United States and Canada. The sales combine fellowship with charity, often centered around an auction of quilts, crafts, food, and even livestock.
Volunteers work year round to plan the sales, and people often travel from miles away to attend. Auction bidders raise the prices on everything from exquisite handcrafted furniture to loaves of bread. The money paid rarely reflects the true value of the goods, as the bidders are often seeking to do more than purchase an item; they wish to reach out to others as well.
Those who donate items to be sold also do their part for the MCC’s relief efforts. They lovingly stitch quilts, cook and bake food, create crafts, and donate heirlooms.
Those who attend relief sales come to share food, friendship, and the hope that they can do their part to support MCC. Each year, these relief sales raise close to five million dollars for the support of MCC’s relief efforts around the world. Almost all of the recipes in this book were collected from relief sales, and include some of the favorite dishes from those events.
Today, there are about 150,000 Amish living in the United States. There are also more than one million members of the Mennonite church worldwide. The Mennonites, with their strong sense of community, have found fulfillment and joy in a world often struck by tragedy and sadness by reaching out to others around them. It is likely that they will continue to grow, as they have before, passing their rich history of tradition, belief, and community on to the future generation.
This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Treasured Amish and Mennonite Recipes by Mennonite Central Committee, published by Fox Chapel Publishing, 2011.
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