The Mennonite chef’s soup for the soul

Flickr photo by Stacy Spensley.

“So you’re a Mennonite,” say people musingly when I reveal my identity.

This is the common reception I receive when I talk about being a Mennonite. Most people like to think of Mennonites as – farmers who broke off from the main Protestant branch to form their own group as anti-war personalities –  hard-working, bulky people with a strong morality code and tantalizing cuisine.

Scratch that. The word “tantalizing” does not even cover 50 per cent of the scrumptiousness that Mennonite cuisine entails. I should know, having attended family gatherings that resemble the UN, where we miraculously rise from the dinner table and make it all the way, groaning, to the living room in one piece. Bread buns, pecan pies, beef stews, zucchini salads, chocolate cake, apple pie, roast pork, banana bread, grapefruit lemonade, pork pies… the list goes on and on.

Photo by Michael Eby.

Confession number one: I admire my grandmother. She managed to raise seven hulking children and bake at least two fresh pies every morning, milk the cows, bake some bread, and send the kids off to school on a horse-drawn carriage (it actually happened). My grandmother’s days were full to the brim. Yes, Mennonites can cook. Believe me.

So, in the honour of Mennonite cuisine, I hereby raise my hat to my favourite kind of cuisine. Confession number two: Mennonite food has nourished me through break-ups, unsuccessful interviews and the general angst that comes with life. My life would not be what it has been without Edna Louise Staebler’s Food That Really Schmecks.

One of my fondest memories growing up as a kid was living for a while in downtown Montreal, baking bran muffins with my father on crisp autumn mornings. He would show me his dog-eared recipe books with a couple of personal instructions or added ingredients written in clear, neat handwriting. I would be too small to reach the counter, so there are a number of pictures of me, a brown-haired little girl with pigtails, standing on a kitchen chair, folding dough with the seriousness of a police officer.

This autumn, when the weather begins to cool, hunker yourself down with this cabbage borscht Mennonite soup before you tackle some study notes. It will not disappoint, I guarantee you.

Flickr photo by Stacy Spensley.

You will need:

– 2 lbs of beef bones                                                                                    – 1/2 cup of cream

– 2 quarts of water                                                                                 – salt and pepper

– 12 carrots                                                                                                   – parsley

– 6 potatoes

– 1 head of cabbage

– 1 ½ chopped tomato

– 3 onions

– 1/2 star anise

– 1 bay leaf


In a pot, heat up the bones and water over medium heat. Reduce the heat and let the liquid simmer for two hours. Once the broth is at the two quart level, drain the bones and put the broth in a new, clean pot.

Add the onions and let them simmer for half an hour. Add the potatoes, carrots, bay leaf, star anise and cabbage. Wait for 30 minutes, then add tomatoes and let them cook in for 15 minutes.

Ladle the soup in cups, add the cream and enjoy!


Related Posts