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Thursday, March 7, 2013 01:20 pm

How the Mennonites make More with Less

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Baked oatmeal

It’s ironic. The best-known, even iconic American Anabaptist sect is “Old-Order Amish,” despite – and because – their insular communities shun contact with the outside world and modern conveniences.

But another Anabaptist sect, Mennonites, evolved without strictures against all modernization. They established themselves in central Illinois and throughout North America and continued adhering to Anabaptist precepts of pacifism, simple living, community-centered lives and consenting adult (as opposed to infant, hence the name) baptism. Mennonite culinary traditions, though similar to those of “old-order Amish,” became influential in awakening Americans to the necessity/value of environmentally sustainable, healthy food.

On March 15 and 16, the Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance will host a learning tour about “Pennsylvania Dutch Foods and Foodways in the Midwest.” The tour will offer a fascinating and fun look at Mennonite and other Anabaptist culinary traditions in central Illinois, how they began and how they have continued evolving.  Participants will be able to experience that evolution at the 55th Annual Illinois Mennonite Relief Sale.  The “relief” isn’t just for Mennonites; a core Mennonite belief is to help any needy person regardless of their religion or lack thereof.  In fact, Mennonites eschew active evangelizing, making no effort to convert others except by their example.

In addition to its charitable purpose, the Relief Sale amounts to a “grand celebration” of Pennsylvania Dutch/Mennonite customs, not least culinary ones. Its Dutch Market features booths selling homemade candies, pies and other baked goods. Specialty items include cheeses, dried fruits, preserves and more. The Butcher Shop section has a wide variety of meat products such as freshly made sausages, beef jerky, liverwurst; also smoked items such as turkeys,  pork chops, and sausages. Non-food booths include Arts and Handicrafts, The Flower Box, Kids Activities, and Ten Thousand Villages, with items from developing-world artisans. Handmade quilts and more are sold by auction.

The learning tour begins Friday at noon at the Illinois Mennonite Heritage Center in Metamora. After checking out the museum, including its foodways exhibit, and enjoying a selection of Mennonite sweets such as Pfeffernusse, Shoe-fly Pie and sweet rolls, Robert Dirks, anthropology professor emeritus of Illinois State University, will talk about “Early Anabaptists in Illinois and the Evolution of Pennsylvania Dutch” and “Our Daily Bread: Traditional Mennonite Foods and Customs.” He will be followed by Maurice Yordy, president of the Illinois Mennonite Historical and Genealogical Society, who will discuss: “Extending the Table: a History of the Mennonite Central Committee and the Illinois Mennonite Relief Sale.” The tour will regroup in the late afternoon for dinner at the 55th Annual Mennonite Relief Sale in Bloomington.

On Saturday, the GMFA tour returns to the Relief Sale at 8 a.m. for a pancake-and-sausage breakfast before taking a special exploration of the Relief Sale guided by Hendricks.  The tour concludes with a talk by Hendricks: “Eat My Words: Uncovering Mennonite Women’s History Through Their Cookbooks.”

The Mennonite influence on Americans’ food perspectives – not just what and how they should eat, but also why they should alter their eating habits – is largely due to Doris Janzen Longacre’s cookbook, More-with-Less. Commissioned in 1976 by the Mennonite Central Committee with the goal of “helping Christians respond in a caring-sharing way in a world with limited resources,” it challenged “North Americans to consume less so others eat enough.” Far ahead of its time, More-with-Less advocated cooking more with grains and fresh produce, moderating meat and dairy consumption and avoiding processed foodstuffs. And it is still doing so. More than 850,000 copies have been sold worldwide, and the original is still in print, albeit with updated nutritional and pricing information.

Cost for GMFA’s  learning tour, “Pennsylvania Dutch Foods and Anabaptist Culinary Traditions in Central Illinois, including the 55th Annual Mennonite Relief Sale” is $40 for Friday and Saturday or Friday only, $20 for Saturday only. Transportation, accommodation and meals are not included. GMFA will assist in pairing people for rides and has links to Bloomington/Normal hotels.

For further information, please contact Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance: 312-380-1665 and/or its website: www.GreaterMidwestFoodways.com. Admission can be paid by check, made out to Greater Midwest Foodways Alliance and mailed to 280 Laurel Avenue, Highland Park, Ill., 60035 or by credit card online at http://midwestfoodwaysmarch2013.eventbrite.com/. Phone or email registration constitutes paid registration, confirmed by payment.

NOTE: Meals, goods, and auction items at the Relief Sale are typically cash or check only; credit cards are not accepted. Meals are well under $10, pie is about $1.25/slice.

If you can’t go on the learning tour, but would like to experience the Relief Sale, here’s its schedule of events:

Friday, March 15
4:30-7:30 pm Fish / Chicken Barbecue dinners
5 Dutch Market / Butcher Shoppe Open
5:30 Booths open
6:30 Auction begins
7:30 Auction of quilts and comforters
9 Auction is concluded for evening

Saturday, March 16
6-11 a.m. Pancakes / sausage breakfast
7 Dutch Market / Butcher Shoppe open
7 Booths open
8:30 Grand Auction begins
10 Auction of quilts
10:15 Children’s auction
11 Rib-eye steaks, butterfly pork chops, barbecues, and pork burgers
12 Noon Prayer

Pies aside, there’s perhaps no better exemplar of Mennonite culinary tradition than baked oatmeal. It can be made in minutes, is as wholesome as it is delicious and has endless variations. Baked oatmeal reheats beautifully in the microwave; a single or double recipe can provide an entire week’s breakfasts.

MENNONITE BAKED OATMEAL
•    1/2 to 1/4 cup melted butter (preferred), vegetable oil, or other melted shortening, such as unhydrogenated lard
•    1 cup milk, anywhere from skim and whole, to half and half or even heavy cream, or a combination
•    2 large eggs
•    1 to 1/2 cup brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, cane syrup, or molasses
•    3 cups old-fashioned rolled or quick-cooking oatmeal, either singly or in combination. Do NOT use instant oatmeal
•    2 teaspoons baking powder, preferably Rumsford, or other brand that does not contain aluminum salts
•    1 to 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Optional additions:
•    1 teaspoon cinnamon
•    1 teaspoon vanilla
•    1/4 teaspoon almond extract
•    1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
•    1 tablespoon finely grated lemon peel
•    1 cup finely chopped apple
•    1/2 cup of the following, either singly or in combination: raisins or other dried fruit (cut into bite-sized pieces where appropriate), lightly toasted nuts, coconut, flax seeds, millet seeds, sunflower seeds, bran, chocolate chips, blueberries or other berries. Do not use more than 1 cup (1 ½ cups if using the apple) total of these additions.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter an 8-9-inch square baking pan or container (9x13-inch for a double recipe).

Microwave-melt the butter or other shortening in a large bowl. If using vegetable oil, just put in a mixing bowl. Add the milk, eggs and brown sugar, honey or other sweetener, and liquid flavoring (vanilla or almond extract). Whisk to combine thoroughly.

Combine the oats, baking powder, salt and any dry spices (such as cinnamon) then add to the bowl, mixing thoroughly. Stir in additional ingredients and pour the mixture into the prepared pan.

Bake 30 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the middle of the pan comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature. Leftover baked oatmeal reheats well in the microwave. Some serving options follow:

With milk or yoghurt:
•    Sprinkled with brown sugar
•    Drizzled with honey, maple syrup, or molasses
•    Topped with fresh fruit

As a snack or in lunchboxes:
•    Cut into squares to eat like a cookie or cupcake

For dessert:
•    With a small scoop of ice cream
•    With lightly sweetened whipped cream or yoghurt
•    Sprinkle/drizzle with sweetener as for breakfast or fresh fruit

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.

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