There was always something about them, the way they’d come into town, aproned and polka dotted, that made me want to put on a kerchief and slip into the middle of their other-worldly little flock.
Maybe it had something to do with the way they looked so unselfconsciously well fed.
Still, all I knew about the Hutterites who collectively farmed much of the land outside of town was this: They had the best sewing machines money could by (this according to my mother), and they raised the best chickens. If you were in the market for a hen to roast, soup or stew, then you’d better hope to have, or know someone who had, a tie to one of their communities.
I also knew that they were related to my people, the Mennonites, which, as every good Anabaptist knows, are just loosey goosey Amish.
I’m trying to remember whether I always knew that my great-great-grandmother, my grandmother’s grandmother, grew up Hutterite – a fact that, when my mother told it to me recently, came as a familiar surprise.
But when my book/cookbook fairy sent me a copy of Mary-Ann Kirkby’s memoir, I Am Hutterite, I fell straight into it like butter into flour.
I’m not sure I can adequately explain the pull towards being knit into an extended family that means never being far from a sister. I know, however, that you will understand when I say I feel a food lover’s affinity, a profound nostalgia, perhaps even a genetic yearning for their food, which is so similar, though different, from what I remember.
Admittedly, though, I’m not well typed to enjoy group living. Partly because I wasn’t raised that way. And, too, I’m reserved, preferring long swaths of solitude and the kind of work that requires it. My elementary school report cards may have said, “Darcie plays well with others,” but it didn’t always come easily.
Reading about the the community kitchen of Mary-Ann Kirkby’s childhood, however, where the women gathered to cook daily feasts, was food for re-imagination.
Kindergarten, or Klieneschul, didn’t begin until the children filled up on “Bowls filled with cream so thick it couldn’t be poured, baskets of golden buns, and jars of strawberry jam.”
And the language, hearty with words like Essenshul, Essenshul Ankela and Nochesser (Eating School, Eating School Grandmother and After Eaters), is almost enough by itself to fill up on.
Needless to say, after reading I Am Hutterite, I did three things.
First, I baked buns and bought a jar of clotted cream to go with the last of the strawberry freezer jam from last summer.
Second, I ordered two more copies of the book for my mother and sister. Daphne swallowed hers whole. Mom wasn’t able to crack the spine before it was borrowed by aunts and cousins. She’s not sure, now, where it is, but suspects it might have crossed two borders and ended up in Mexico.
Next, I contacted the author and asked for a Hutterite recipe to share with you. A few days later, she replied with this:
“All my readers tell me I’ve made them hungry, so my next book is a Hutterite cook book. As a young girl growing up at Fairholme Colony in southern Manitoba, [Hutterite Sucre Pie] was my very favorite dessert and remains at the top of my list today. This pie is as simple as it is sensational. It will make you happy and possibly fat because you will not be able to stop eating it until it is gone. This pie is the reason I will never be skinny.”
So, if skinny is not on your agenda, or if any part of you is, was or wants to be Hutterite, even just for eating purposes, you are invited to try Mary-Ann Kirkby’s recipe, then waddle off, fat and fed.
Hutterite Sucre Pie
1 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp. corn starch
Beat together above ingredients and pour into a cooled pie crust that has been baked
for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F.
Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake for another 35-40 min.
– Words and photo by Darcie Hossack
Darcie Freisen Hossack’s first book, Mennonites Don’t Dance, was recently published by Thistledown Press. Click here for more details.