Harking back to my Mennonite cuisine

I know I need another hobby like I need a hole in the head, but I?m really thinking about taking up woodworking. With all the floods going on lately, you can never tell when a mini-Ark might come in handy. I wonder if there?s a market for pontoon barns?

Well, probably not. I should stick with what I?m good at, like knitting and cooking.

For those of you used to seeing me knitting in public, I?m taking it private until it cools off. As much as I like creating new things?and goodness knows I have plenty of projects to finish?a lapful of wool just doesn?t make a person feel cool when it?s 99 degrees with humidity to match. Sure, I could do lace, but sweat stains just don?t want to come out of merino or silk very easily.

In the meantime, be sure to check out the exhibits at the county fair next week. My shawl is one of them, and I?m sure they all are a real testament to skill and patience. The 4-Hers really put a lot of work into their projects too, so be sure to support your local 4-H club and encourage the kids.

My adventure this week was cooking. I?m Mennonite Brethren born and raised, and I adore the cuisine. You could have knocked my mom over with a feather when I first told her I knew how to make verenika. (Yes, I know, the spellings can vary. I?m using the ones my Grandma Schmidt and Great-Aunt Giesbrecht used.)

Where and when did I learn to make that, she had to know. Thankfully, Buhler had put out a centennial cookbook years ago, which I was privileged to not only receive as a gift, but hang onto through numerous moves. I followed the directions in it the first time, then added my own tweaks. Not difficult, just time consuming. She was amazed. I was tickled.

Nie Joash Kooka (aka Portzilke) were the same way. Not really difficult, easily tweakable, and very time consuming. I learned the hard way that chocolate chips do not make an acceptable substitute for raisins. I also learned that a little coffee in the glaze not only tastes good, but helps keep them fresh.

And, like verenika, I can make them anytime I want to. I never have a problem finding people to give them away to, and usually end up making two batches so we have some for ourselves.

Our church had a potluck coming up. Everyone knows you have to take really good stuff to a potluck, so I looked for a recipe that would be quick, easy, and hopefully delicious. Watermelon Dream Pie seemed to fit the bill. But, being the independent thing that it is, my mind wandered down its own track.

Of course, when I was a kid, we always had watermelon with crullers. I seem to remember being slightly disappointed to learn that watermelon could also be served alone.

As time went on, lonely watermelon became more and more common, and crullers became a fond memory. I found that I couldn?t even remember the exact last time I?d had crullers with my watermelon. And if I couldn?t remember, how long had others been deprived?

So here I stood with this watermelon. It should have crullers. This watermelon MUST be accompanied by its friends, the crullers. Opening my trusty cookbook, Aunt Tena?s recipe for crullers was right there waiting for me. It somehow didn?t matter anymore that this was supposed to be a quick, easy, dessert.

Slightly giddy, I set about heating the oil and mixing the ingredients. I might have been humming ?Grosser Gott Wir Loben Dich? under my breath. Of course, there is no proof.

As always, I was doing this after everyone else had gone to bed. It was the nearest compromise I could figure to make them and distribute the little golden bits of heaven before they got more than a few hours old.

At least everything went off without a hitch. The oil was properly heated, the dough was doughy, and my trusty rolling pin did its thing. Of course, I had to let them cool before stacking them (wouldn?t want soggy spots!), so it took a while longer than I?d planned. Small price to pay to revive tradition. I soldiered on. I made the watermelon pie too, because you can never have too much dessert at a potluck.

Morning came, I sugared them, and we shared them. As it turns out, the Jell-O, Cool Whip and watermelon pie filling tastes pretty amazing on crullers. From now on, I?m going to serve it as a dip, with the crullers in place of chips. Voila, new menu idea.

Seems to me like the best new things have a firm footing in old traditions. Some?body fiddled with the ratios of flour to milk to cream (and solved the mysteries of baking soda and powder) to get the recipe to turn out right in the first place.

I can add all kinds of foofiness to it, but unless I follow the original recipe, I?m not going to get what I intended. Appreciate the newness of things, but don?t discount the worth of the old ways.

And feel free to call me if you?re interested in a pontoon barn!

Shana Thornhill and her family live on a farm near Marion. She can be reached at shotah76@yahoo.com.

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