Mennonite Mirth: Food That Makes
by Jep Hostetler
From the mailbag:
Jep Hostetler, Ph.D., Columbus,
Ohio, is a humor consultant and author. He is an associate professor
emeritus at the Ohio State University College of Medicine. He
and his wife Joyce serve as staff persons for the Mennonite Medical
This writer's most recent offering presented in the Mennonite
Historical Bulletin included a list of "you know you are
an aging Mennonite when . . ." On the list was a comment
about remembering the holy kiss (which of course, is no longer
practiced by mainstream Mennonites). An interesting reply came
from a writer in Michigan who states:
"I read with interest your article in the Mennonite Historical
Bulletin. I remember when my parents were entertaining and housing
some Mennonite leaders in our home when I was quite young. I
would love to listen in on their conversations. One time they
were discussing the holy kiss. Evidently C. F. Derstine, a popular
Ontario evangelist, did not like to be kissed on the mouth with
the holy kiss. It seemed to be common knowledge among the ministers
that at the last second C.F. would lift his head and the kissing
brother would hit his chin. According to my recollection, this
became a game for the other ministers who would try and beat
him to the draw and kiss him on the lips. I remember that at
the time I wondered
Fun food. Food that makes one smile!
One of the questions I ask people when we look at their humor
background is this: "Were mealtimes fun times at your house?"
It is interesting to see the variety of answers to these questions,
particularly among Mennonite families. Some families used "suppertime"
as a time to review the day and discipline the children. Others
found the supper hour to be a time of celebration, light-heartedness
and fun. However, beyond meals, it occurred to me that various
households had a short or long list of fun foods.
Here are some of the fun foods from my childhood and how I viewed
1. Ice cream, but not just any old ice cream, but two special
kinds of ice cream.
· Homemade. The first kind of ice cream was homemade,
type of ice cream, with about thirty percent cream. This was
fun food because it always signified a get-together with friends
or relatives and lots of food. Later, when we boys learned more
about mechanics, we figured out a way to hook up the ice cream
churn to a tractor power take-off. So much for the everybody-help
idea. The point is, it was fun food! Just thinking about it makes
· Boxed ice cream. Smith Dairy in Orrville, Ohio sold
the second kind of ice cream. On the way to my grandmother Lehman's
house from Burton City, North Lawrence or Dalton, (depending
upon where we were living at the time), we would stop at the
Smith Dairy outlet on Market Street and pick up several pints
of ice cream. This ice cream came in wax-covered cardboard containers.
Then, when we arrived at Grandmother Christina's house, Dad would
carefully perform the ritual of taking out his pocketknife, opening
the blade, and cutting each pint of ice cream in half. The open
face of ice cream became the top. Each of us children would get
a half-pint of ice cream, a flat, small wooden spoon with which
to eat it and a place to sit. The celebration would begin. Good
memories, good ice cream.
· Freshly popped. We lived on the farm and rarely came
in contact with the processed junk food such as potato chips,
snacking crackers, or pretzels. That came much later. However,
almost like clockwork on Sunday evenings, Mother would get out
the big skillet and would pop corn on top of the stove. With
seven children, a few foster children and often a guest or two,
it seemed as though mother could barely keep ahead of the foraging
youngsters. Oh, yes, it was popped in butter and heavily salted.
It was truly fun food, even if it was not health food. The memories
of the smells and salty, buttery taste make me smile.
· Popcorn balls. These were the pull-your-loose-tooth-right-out-of-your-head
type popcorn balls. They were reserved for Christmastime and
were made by a single lady who lived down the road. Popcorn balls
were her specialty. You could always count on getting a navel
orange and one of Lydia's popcorn balls at church some Sunday
evening during December. We loved it. Each of us had his or her
own softball-sized popcorn ball and we did not have to share
it with anyone, not even Shep or Fezer, the hungry dogs that
scampered to get a bite. Fun food. I remember.
· Perhaps it was the social setting that made this "food"
a fun food. It was always related to a gathering of young people
and buttery hands. The way it worked was quite simple. Someone
knew the recipe for taffy and would cook the batch in a large
pan. At just the right time the taffy batch was poured out onto
waxed paper. As the hot, syrupy, sticky goo began to cool, each
person would get a big handful. Sometimes it was almost too hot
and there were some minor burns. But usually it was a matter
of stretching the taffy back and forth, allowing air to get into
the mix and turning the clear batch into frosty taffy. Some young
people would stretch the taffy back and forth between their hands,
in pairs, making long, sagging strips and then reuniting the
gooey mass to stretch it again. Ouch, too hot! Ah, just right.
As the taffy ropes were rolled out onto waxed paper, they were
cut into bite-sized pieces, allowed to cool, and distributed
among all who helped in the festivities. Fun food, er, candy.
4. Lima beans.
· All right, so I may be alone on this one. Baby lima
beans are delicious - at least the way Mother made them. She
always made a white sauce, or at least a butter-type sauce, and
the little lima beans were cooked just right. Ymmmm! It meant
that the summer harvest was going on in full swing, with peaches
soon, and sweet corn, and the bustle of canning. Maybe it was
the fact that I was the only one in my family that really liked
lima beans. Maybe it was just that Mother always asked me if
I wanted her to cook up some lima beans. Maybe it is all a myth
and none of this ever happened. Wherever the truth lies, I liked
lima beans the first time I tasted them and they make me smile.
5. Oyster soup.
· My father was a barber all his life. He would often
barber on Friday evenings and then again all day Saturday, late
into the evening. It was a way to keep the family budget from
sagging too far. On rare occasions - I guess it would be about
once a year - Dad would bring home a can of oysters and announce
that tomorrow, Sunday, we were going to have oyster soup. (Actually,
Dad was a friend of our local grocer, Mr. Berg, who would tell
Dad when a fresh shipment of oysters had arrived.) It is no longer
clear to me whether my father actually made the soup or mother
produced the savory slurry, but we looked forward to the taste
of this special treat. Not only was the soup special, but also
it was the only time Mom would buy oyster crackers. I never was
certain why one could not use saltine-type crackers for this
occasion, but oyster crackers were the order of the day. Oyster
soup, special soup, hot soup, and memories. It makes me smile.