A shout-out to the Mennonites

Several years ago, my mother-in-law gave me her well-worn copy of the original More With Less cookbook. If you’ve never seen a copy, it’s a collection of “recipes and suggestions by Mennonites on how to eat better and consume less of the world’s limited food resources.” My mother-in-law is not Mennonite, but lives in an area of rural Pennsylvania where the denomination is quite common. I had never heard of the cookbook when she gave it to me, but was impressed with its concern for world food shortages and its call-to-action to act responsibly with the resources we’re given. Not the typical vibe you get from Christian people, where I come from (and I can say that because I am one).

I tend to go through phases with all my cookbooks (excepting JoC and the Kimball books, which I use very regularly). This cookbook tended to fall in with Laurel’s Kitchen and the Moosewood publications; all of them are great resources for understanding food, how to use up all you buy, and how to eat a variety of foods across the spectrum that give you complete proteins and balanced diets. But they aren’t always good recipes, per se. My husband gives all three books a 50% success rate for attempted recipes. Sometimes you’re just left thinking, what was Laurel smoking that day? Or, ok Doris — it’s fine if you want to dump everything in your fridge into a pot, no matter what it is, but I just don’t see myself eating pizza soup.

So I hadn’t cracked open the falling-apart copy of MWL in quite some time, when my Mom gave me a brand-new copy for Christmas. This was quite the perceptive gift, I thought; she had no idea I had even heard of it, and picked it out of all the cookbooks in the bookstore. And what a timely gift it is; I have been trying to reduce our grocery budget for months now, while still eating as many local foods as we can, and while continuing to shell out extra bucks to cater to my son’s allergies. I was due for a refresher course in eating on limited resources.

But the cookbook has its quirks. I’m not a fan of using the word bake as a noun (for example, “Mandarin Rice Bake” on p. 132) or of using the word skillet in any way other than describing the vessel in which your dinner is cooked (“Spanish Noodle Skillet” on p. 121). There’s also many a recipe calling for “leftover meat scraps,” which I think is best followed by the phrase, “for your dog.” These frugal women use canned goods a bit more than I like (other than tomatoes and the occasional emergency-can-o-beans), and while they use fat sparingly, rely on animal varieties a great deal. But reading the cookbook can get a person into a mindset of being aware of what you have, and trying hard to use it. For example, it was after being inspired by my new cookbook copy that I saw that container of mushrooms, going bad, and decided to find a way to use them instead of letting them get worse and having to be thrown out. I need these types of reminders, since it’s so easy for me to slip into doing what’s convenient. Which is probably why my grocery bill is what it is.

I think I’ve mentioned before (to you, blog-readers? Who knows. To someone, probably yet another cornered listener) that the old term “home economics” gets a bad rap. It doesn’t signify cookie-making and hem-sewing; it signifies the fact that, if you have some part of the responsibility of feeding your family, it is an economic work (as I remember from that one required class in college). It is supply and demand, cost-benefit analysis, and return-on-investment. It’s not easy work, and I think we grew up in a society that told us it should be.

At the end of the day, it also means that sometimes you eat something for dinner that just doesn’t sound that great (though I refuse to name said dinner a fill-in-the-blank loaf). But in my limited experience, sometimes that is exactly what it takes to discover something new, something really tasty. I have a husband who, thankfully, is willing to go with the punches on this. My kids are a different story, but I’m still sticking with my “you-must-try-one-bite” and “if-I-know-you-like-it-you-don’t-get-anything-else” policies. Tough love, right? Just more fodder for their therapists when they grow up.

I’ll leave you with a new recipe that has nothing to do with using up leftovers — I just like it. It’s adapted from the same-titled recipe in MWL. I’m watching two loaves rise in their pans right now*; it’s been a good distraction from our regular, wheat sandwich bread. I’ve added more whole wheat flour — primarily because it’s cheaper for me, since I’ve been milling my own wheat berries into flour, and since a bag of unbleached, all-purpose King Arthur is over FOUR DOLLARS right now. I’ve also reduced the sugar a good bit, since the original recipe seems like it would be quite sweet. The original also calls for quick oats, but I typically buy regular rolled oats, and they work fine (although it might make the bread more hearty).

*which, subsequently and frustratingly burned, when I turned off the oven timer without taking the bread out of the oven. In the words of Alexander’s mom, “Some days are like that. Even in Australia.”

Oatmeal Bread (adapted from More With Less, p. 60)

  • 1 cup quick or rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3 Tbsp brown sugar, turbinado, or honey
  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil

Combine above in a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer. Pour over the mixture:

  • 2 cups boiling water

Stir to combine, and let cool to lukewarm. Combine in a small measuring cup:

  • 1 pkg (about 2 1/4 tsp) active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water

Add to the oatmeal batter once it has cooled. Then stir in (or add, then mix using the dough hook on your mixer):

  • 5 cups flour (any combination of whole wheat and unbleached all-purpose, though I wouldn’t go more than 3 cups of whole wheat)

Knead by hand, or in your mixer for about 8 minutes (longer if you’re kneading by hand). If kneading by mixer, stop it 2-3 times, remove the dough, and rearrange it in the bowl for more even kneading. The dough should be somewhat stiff, but also still cling to your fingers a bit. Place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel, and let rise until doubled (45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, depending on the temperature of your kitchen).

Remove risen dough, and divide into equal halves. Knead each half into a ball, and let rest, covered, for 10 minutes. In the meantime, grease two loaf pans with shortening. Shape the loaves and place into pans. Cover, and let rise about an hour (preheat your oven to 350º about 45 minutes into this rising). Place pans on lower-middle rack, and bake 40 minutes. Remove baked loaves from pans, and cool completely on a rack before slicing.


2 thoughts on “A shout-out to the Mennonites

  1. Welcome Katy to the wonderful city of Indianapolis – it’s a fabulous place to raise a family (we should know, we live here! ;-D). I stumbled onto your site from the link off Kimi’s site and am so glad I did! My parents live in Athens, Ga (how funny is that?!) so I hear ya on the wonderful food there as well! Anyways, this recipe looks delish and I will give it a go tomorrow during my morning bread-baking session. . . thanks so much for sharing! Blessings to you and your family.

    1. Thanks, Rachel! We really like it here so far — before we moved, we’d heard that a recent study found people in the Midwest to be the happiest in the nation. Everyone has been so nice, it’s easy to see how that notion came to be.

      We do miss Athens though — just tonight, I was wishing I could drive through downtown with all the Christmas lights in the trees — downtown Athens is so magical during the holidays. And, of course, our favorite restaurants — you should hit Five&Ten the next time you visit your folks.

      Thanks for stopping by — I hope you enjoy the bread!

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