Ben Mast is a writing intern for MennoMedia and Herald Press. He studies English and Writing Studies at Eastern Mennonite University.
The release of the Mennonite Community Cookbook Monday got me thinking about my own background in Mennonite cooking. My grandparents’ house, just a mile away from where I grew up in Goshen, Indiana, has been an extension of home for as long as I can remember, and at the center of our home is food. While Dad could whip up a mean stir fry and Mom was famous for her oatmeal dinner rolls and chocolate crinkle cookies, through my childhood it was Grandma and Grandpa Mast who were at the center of my food universe.
They have helped with rehearsal dinner salads and roasts for my brother and cousins’ weddings, baked muffins for open houses, and hosted countless “Tuesday-night dinners” for anyone in town. Their hospitality and cooking abilities are both traditions I hope to maintain.
I have always regarded Grandpa as the king of breakfast. I can’t recall him breaking a yolk on an over-egg, even as he stacked it on a pile of Canadian sausages and pepper-potato hash. Whenever I’m back in town, I find my way over for a breakfast at some point, and I’m never disappointed.
Grandma can often be found in the kitchen as well, up to her elbows in her latest culinary project. She cans and bakes with as much ease as most of us breathe, and her basement pantry and freezer stores are testaments to her prowess: pickle jars, homemade ketchup, and canned peaches line the walls while frozen strawberries, blueberries or some extra gingerbread men saved for a surprise visit from a great-grandchild threaten to overflow the freezer.
My grandparents stick to some of the traditional Amish or Mennonite recipes which they grew up with, both coming from the Amish church. They also try new flavors and recipes from their favorite cooking magazines and shows. They have a shelf full of cookbooks that always seems to grow as more folks continue to experiment with and share their favorite recipes.
As a kid, it was easy to take this kind of culinary mastery for granted, as it was all I knew. And while it’s always a blessing to have great food to share, the best part of cooking is the community it builds, which is what Mennonite Community Cookbook is all about – creating family dinners, church potluck meals, or a gift of Christmas cookies. Food is about the relationships it helps create.
Looking at my brothers and me, it’s easy to see how this tradition of food and community has affected us, both in work and in relation to each other. Our best memories are formed around the table, with fork and spoon in hand.
In the coming weeks, we will share a number of stories, from both our blog writers and guest posts from others that involve Mennonite cooking and community. If you have interest in contributing, tell us your stories in the comments or send us an email about a blog contribution. You can also leave your story via voicemail using the tab on the right side of the page. If you’re interested in purchasing the Mennonite Community Cookbook, check out this link.
~ Ben Mast