Mennonite Foods and Folkways from South Russia, Volume 1

Mennonite Foods and Folkways from South Russia, Volume 1

by Norma Jost Voth

An abundant food tradition developed when Mennonites from eastern Europe settled in the Ukraine.

These people, who had migrated extensively because of religious persecution and economic pressures, blended their flavorful cooking with their new neighbor's food. The result? Delectable Zwieback and Rollkuchen, Borschts of infinite variety, Peppernuts, and…  See more details below


An abundant food tradition developed when Mennonites from eastern Europe settled in the Ukraine.

These people, who had migrated extensively because of religious persecution and economic pressures, blended their flavorful cooking with their new neighbor's food. The result? Delectable Zwieback and Rollkuchen, Borschts of infinite variety, Peppernuts, and porzelkje.

Here are 400 recipes with easy-to-follow instructions and stories that surround these foods' making and eating.

"A wealth of information (not only recipes) in these almost 500 pages that are sheer pleasure to read." -- Provident Book Finder

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
There are more folkways than food in this meticulously researched chronicle of the Russian Mennonites. The Protestant sect, known for austerity of vision and practice, got started in the Netherlands, then spread to Russia in the 19th century and later to Canada, Paraguay and the U.S. A descendant of Ukrainian Mennonites, Voth chooses to include only 100 recipes here, but they give the reader a good sampling of the sturdy stuff that seemed to travel so well across continents: zwieback, stewed chicken with anise, pfefferminzsic cookies. She also provides details about Mennonite homes, music, education and even stove design, while surveying contemporary members of the clan about their lives, meals and customs--``If there was good weather before Easter, it was customary to do a spring cleaning before the holiday''; ``Raising flowers and vegetables has always been important in the lives of Mennonite women.'' The recipes, none of which are especially complicated, are grouped with descriptions of typical celebrations. (July)

Product Details

Good Books
Publication date:
Mennonite Foods and Folkways from South RU Series
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7.20(w) x 8.96(h) x 1.33(d)

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TIn 1786 the Empress Catherine II of Russia invited Dutch Mennonites living in West Prussia (now Poland) to settle in the Ukraine. Russia had defeated the Turks three years earlier and gained a permanent foothold on the Black Sea. Catherine, interested in settling the vast virgin steppes of the sparsely occupied agricultural lands, appealed to dissatisfied farmers in central Europe by enticing them with land and religious freedom. She knew the Mennonites as restorers and stewards of the earth. She knew, too, that they would want to live according to their religious convictions.

To the Mennonites she offered exemption from military service forever, absolute religious freedom, control of their own schools, and use of their own language. Two restrictions were imposed -- religious proselytizing of others was forbidden; and, in the case of intermarriage, the Mennonite partner would automatically belong to the church from which her or his non-Mennonite spouse came.

Mennonites responded. The first settlers left Danzig in West Prussia by wagon train March 22, 1788. They formed a settlement of 400 families on a tributary of the Dnieper River. It became known as the Chortitza Colony, or Old Colony. By the turn of the century, 15 villages had been established. Between the years of 1803 and 1806, 365 families left the West Prussian Elbing-Marienburg districts and settled along the Molochnaya River. By 1835 some 1200 families made their home in the Molotschna Colony. In 1870 there were 45,000 Mennonites in Russia, most of them of Dutch extraction who had come to the Ukraine by way of West Prussia.

For the first weary arrivals there was enormous hardship and grinding poverty. A little Low German rhyme describes their despair.

Jeprachat, jejaft, jeborjcht.
Jenome on dan wada fekofft.
Se senn Fodakje on Muttakje entlijch
Fonn Dietschlaunt nom wille Russland jeflocht./

Begged, given, borrowed, and taken.
Destitute, sick, hungry, and forsaken.
Thus Father and Mother fled Prussia
To the wild steppes of southern Russia.

Building homes on the barren, rocky steppes of southern Russia was no easy task, yet the new immigrants were determined to make it work. They planted crops, gardens, and orchards. In fact, by 1855 seven and a half million fruit and shade trees were growing in their villages. Where there had been no water and only tall steppe grass, there were now large pastures with grazing herds of cattle, sheep, and fine horses.

Living in small villages of 20 to 30 families, they built homes along both sides of the village streets and farmed long, narrow strips of farmland extending out from the farmstead. Most houses were built according to a plan which became known as the Mennonite House. The family living quarters, the stable, and the storage barn were all under one roof. A few examples of this unique house-barn combination still stand in some of the places where the Russian Mennonites lived -- Poland, the Soviet Union, and Canada.

However, the Mennonite prosperity in South Russia was not destined to last. Precious exemption from military service threatened to end, causing concern and alarm. The government declared Mennonites would have to serve in the army or perform an acceptable form of alternative service. Private schools also came into jeopardy. They were placed under Russian supervision, making a program of "Russianization" mandatory. A strong minority of the people felt they could make no concessions to these requests and whole villages prepared to emigrate. By the end of 1874 about 5,300 had resettled in North America. By 1884 some 18,000 had emigrated.

Those who remained in Russia after the massive migrations of the 1870s were still basically farmers but also landowners. They were not so apprehensive of the new "Russianization" nor of learning the Russian language in their schools. In the years prior to World War I they established new communities, new daughter colonies, new and improved schools, hospitals, orphanages and nursing homes. Involvement with their Russian environment increased. A few of the young people attended universities. The church and the Russian government reached an agreement for an alternative to military service. Young men fulfilled non-combatant duties in hospitals and forestry units supported by the church. Those uncomfortable with this arrangement considered the possibility of another homeland.

During these intervening "golden years," some hard-working landowners became very prosperous farmers, now with stately homes built on beautiful estates. large-scale farming proved to be more than a single family (even with everyone working) could handle, so the landowner employed Russian help -- servants and farm laborers. It was not difficult to find nearby peasant people eager to work. The Russian government approved of the fact that peasants learned farming skills from the Mennonites. It was not uncommon for families to employ seasonal workers to help with the harvest and to retain one or two people to help in the house and with outdoor work throughout the year.

These large-scale, wheat-growing operations created a demand for better farm machinery. Big flour mills and large factories were built by Mennonite industrialists, many of whom also became quite wealthy. Children of industrialists and the "landed gentry" intermarried. Their wealth was mirrored in their lifestyles. Money afforded the ability to vacation and travel in Europe. These "elite Mennonites" wore fashionable clothing and rode in splendid carriages driven by the finest teams of horses. Though distanced socially, they continued to have contact with their village kin and continued to worship in village churches. However, their wealth, social status, and education brought a certain sense of condescension and an air of superiority. The Mennonite community in Russia developed its own class society.

Neighboring peasants and many Russian officials became envious of the Mennonites and their achievements. In the war against Germany from 1914 to 1917, the Mennonite settlements embodied the elements of Dutch and German cultures. In the internal struggle which erupted, the Bolsheviks or the Red Army, as they were known, turned against the Mennonites with a ferocity born of years of suppression. Homes and farmsteads of both the rich and poor were overrun and destroyed in the turmoil. From 1921 to 1923 famine followed the Revolution, bringing severe starvation. Thousands died. By 1923 another steady flow of Mennonite emigrants departed the steppes seeking new homes in America.


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