Last night I read the latest issue of Roots and Branches, the periodical of the Mennonite Historical Society of BC. The theme of the issue was Mennonites and food. www.mhsbc.com This morning I picked peas and green beans, dug up some carrots and potatoes, and cut off some herbs from our backyard garden in preparation for making some fresh “garden soup” like I remember my mom making when I was a child. I grew up on a small mixed farm on the prairies, with a large garden that provided all of our fruits and vegetables for a year as well as providing some produce for market. I definitely took it for granted back then, but no longer! Now, as an urbanite, the few skills I picked up are a treasured possession—although prairie methods have not always been beneficial on the wet coast.
When I invite my Anabaptist History class over every year they marvel at my garden as novel and “cool,” but it is really my meagre attempt to practice my faith on a domestic level. My invitation is very much a part of the course as I believe that how and what we eat is very much a part of Anabaptist/Mennonite faith. Harvesting a few vegetables reminds me of where food comes from and my constant battle with raccoons, neighborhood pets, slugs, and other pests reminds me how volatile and precarious food production is. I’m learning to trust God. What if my life depended on my garden? We get enough raspberries to freeze for the winter but every other crop is consumed fresh and only compliments what we buy from the local market. I’m very grateful. Perhaps faith and food begins with gratitude.
Traditionally, Mennonite food has included heavy meals such as sausage and vereneki with a sauce made from cream and meat fat. Doris Janzen Longacre’s, More With Less heralded a new era of Mennonite food that was more about things like beans, lentils, and rice. Her cookbook and accompanying book has been followed up by international and seasonal cookbooks. I embrace this new era of Mennonite foodways that continues to focus on simplicity, both economically and aesthetically, but is also committed to nutrition and sustainability. I enjoy telling my students that I cooked a good meal for them for less than a dollar per person, using my garden produce and dried beans and lentils. Mennonite boys can cook too!
I’m looking forward to the lecture by historian Marlene Epp on Mennonites and food, hosted by MHSBC in September. See www.mhsbc.com for more details. On these warm summer nights I look forward to sipping some iced tea made from peppermint, spearmint, chamomile, and lemon balm, sweetened with stevia plant, all from my garden.