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This article was published 8/8/2015 (2302 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
STEINBACH — Did Mennonites have any original food, or was all their food simply assimilated from host countries?
A new exhibit at the Mennonite Heritage Village has some answers.
The Mennonite diet is like a buffet of helpings piled on their plate from various migrations, starting in Switzerland, where Mennonites originated five centuries ago, then relocating to the Netherlands, Prussia (Poland) and Russian-controlled Ukraine, before arriving in Canada, senior curator Andrea Dyck said.
"Mennonites, as a culture, have moved around, and they always moved for a better life and religious freedom," she said. "Along the line, they picked up food traditions."
It's common knowledge Mennonite food such as perogies, borscht and Easter bread were adopted from Ukrainian people. But surely farmer's sausage is something people can point to as wholly Mennonite. Actually, it's believed farmer's sausage may have come from the Netherlands where sausages are very popular, assistant curator Jessica McKague said.
Then zweibach, the staple of any Mennonite diet, literally meaning two buns stuck together like Siamese twins, and a word people love to repeat, has to be 100 per cent Mennonite. Actually, zweibach are believed to have come from either Poland or the Netherlands, McKague said.
Yes, Mennonites adopted food from host countries but they usually gave it their own twist, Dyck said. Therefore, perogies became vereniki with the dough pockets filled with cottage cheese instead of potatoes and smothered in schmauntfatt, a creamy gravy made from butter, milk, cream and flour.
Mennonite borscht is cabbage borscht, not beet borscht as Ukrainians are known for, but some argue Ukrainians invented cabbage borscht, too.
As for Easter bread, or paska as it's called, Mennonites tend to make it a little sweeter and with icing on top and bake it into loaves instead of braided as in the Ukrainian custom.
Tastes in Transition, in the Gerhard Enns Gallery until early 2016, is a modest exhibit, more like a side dish to the permanent exhibits and the heritage village. Antiques such as a tablecloth, apron, cauldron, embroidered dish-towel rack, grinding stone and information boards, are interesting but remind visitors what's lacking: tasting traditional foods themselves.
Fortunately, the Livery Barn Restaurant, one of the few Mennonite restaurants in Manitoba, is next door in the heritage village. The food exhibit is like an appetizer to the Livery Barn.
The restaurant is popular and frequently fills its 140 seats. Its profits of more than a $100,000 per year help fund the Mennonite museum. That's for a restaurant that's only open from May 1 to Oct. 1, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Saturday, and 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays.
On this day, it was an all-you-can-eat soup and bread day. Komst borscht (cabbage, in traditional Low German), bean soup and a chicken noodle with a Mennonite spin, served with stone-ground brot (bread). Flour for the breads is stone-ground on the village property.
"Mennonites were very much into comfort foods," Livery Barn manager Dora Penner said. Their food was "very basic."
Some of the Livery Barn's servings include vereniki (Mennonite perogies), kielkje (egg noodles served with cream gravy), and desserts such as plueme moos, a concoction of stewed fruit, served cold, and plautz, a cake-like dessert with a dough base, fruit filling and crumb or streusel topping.
Mennonites had to alter their recipes upon arriving in Canada, switching out the pears, Morello cherries and Damson plums they used in the Ukraine, to rhubarb, chokecherries, gooseberries and Saskatoons berries.
"Rhubarb is a big thing for Mennonites. It grew in everyone's garden," Penner said. That turned into rhubarb plautz, rhubarb pie, rhubarb jam and other pastry fillings.
There is a fee to view museum exhibits and the heritage village but not if you only want to eat in the restaurant, except during special events such as Pioneer Days. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and ages 13 to 22, and $4 for ages six to 12.