Mennonite Food


Being a Mennonite in Manitoba is living in a microcosm of Mennonites worldwide.

Around the world there are Mennonites in almost every country, Their numbers are vast. There are more Mennonites in India than in Canada.

There are also many Mennonite branches.

Being a Mennonite means being baptized into a Mennonite church membership and adhering to Mennonite beliefs.

The primary belief is not serving in a country’s military forces. Mennonites are conscientious objectors.

They take their name from Menno Simons.

Because of their refusal to serve in the military, Mennonites have had to migrate to places where they were accepted.

Consequently their way of life absorbed characteristics of the cultures around them, most notably food.

In Manitoba, Mennonite food has a hefty Russian Ukrainian influence because Mennonite colonies existed for a long time in the Ukraine north of Odessa, a port city on the Black Sea.

But they are not Ukrainian dishes. They are Mennonite dishes, distinct from Ukranian dishes with flavours developed by Mennonite women who had to adapt during pioneer days with meagre staples. As time went on their larders got filled, and their ingenuity grew with the growing array of ingredients and spices. Farming was the traditional livelihood of Mennonites, lending a strong arm to Manitoba’s economy. Rich soil brought the Mennonite farmers here.

I grew up in a Mennonite family in a Mennnonite town. My mother cooked a lot of Mennonite dishes which remain my favourites.

Most notable – Verenike met Schmaundfat.

“You mean like perogies?” my Ukrainian partner teases.

“No!” I say.

“Verenike are filled with cottage cheese, not potatoes, and they’re better.”

Then follows our repeated, sometimes heated debate, best left alone here.

Other dishes are also my favourites: Portzelke on New Year’s Eve, and Paska at Easter.

Zwieback were made Saturday afternoons in preparation for that Sunday visiting hour called Faspah. Zwieback are two buns, one bigger at the bottom, the smaller one on top, delicious with butter and homemade jam. The word Faspah comes from Vespers (end of day).

Common ingredients in Russian Mennonite dishes are cabbage, potatoes, sausage and dairy prodects. Hence you get Kommstborscht (cabbage borscht), fried potatoes, Formaworscht (farmer sausage) and Schmaundfat (cream gravy).

My mother was famous for her chicken soup made from a hen just off the chopping block. The ingredient that made it so good was star aniseed.

In summer on Sunday afternoons my Dad would get a few watermelons from the garden and Mom would deep-fry Rollkuchen, a tasty combination loved by our visitors from town, eaten in the park my Dad proudly showed off every chance he got.

At Christmas we ate Plumamoos, a thick, rich fruit soup.

At breakfast we often got Greewe (crackling), rendered by melting pork fat. To this day I like to find a store that sells Mennonite food. I purchase a tub of crackling. It lasts quite a while, and it’s not very healthy.

A simple but delicious dish is kielke, homemade egg noodles served with cream gravy. My Mom used to make a huge batch of these noodles by rolling out the dough and hanging the sheets on the washline to dry. At just the right moment she would bring them into the kitchen, cut them into 1 ½-inch strips the long way, then into ¼-inch noodles across. I still make them, except I make only a small batch. You have to use a lot of flour to keep them from sticking to each other.

Technically I am not a Mennonite because I have not been baptized into a church membership.

But I am a Borscht Mennonite. I love the peace-keeping aspect of Menno Simons’ teachings, and I love the Mennonite food I grew up with.

My daughters turn up their noses at some of the dishes, others they love as much as me.


“No thanks,” my oldest daughter says. “You shouldn’t eat that unhealthy stuff!”

Verenike are at the top of the list for everyone.

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