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Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen

Recipe Swap: Author Mary-Ann Kirkby takes us with her into the kitchens and dining rooms of colonies across Western Canada

Intercom systems may have replaced the large cast-iron bells that once sat atop the community kitchens on Hutterite colonies, but the tradition of “first call” remains.

Fifteen minutes before everyone else is summoned to the dining room, elderly colony members, new mothers and caregivers of the sick are invited to eat.

First call is one of the food-related traditions of Hutterites revealed in Mary-Ann Kirkby’s new book Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen published in April. You may remember her as author of the bestselling I Am Hutterite, released in 2007, which took readers on a fascinating journey inside a Manitoba Hutterite colony. Mary-Ann was raised at Fairholme in the 1960s until, at age 10, her parents left the colony. She lives with her husband and family in Prince Albert, Sask. today.

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a bowl of hearty chicken soup

Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen is her second foray into Hutterite life, this time to rediscover the food and food culture of her childhood. The Schmiedeleut sect was the backdrop for her first book. For this one, she explores the Lehrerleut and Dariusleut sects, spending over two years visiting Hutterite colonies’ kitchens and dining rooms across Alberta, Saskatchewan and Montana meeting and talking with their head cooks and gardeners, and the teams of women who work alongside them.

This is a book of stories, diary excerpts, and menus that reveal Hutterite food traditions and rituals and all the ways food is incorporated into milestone celebrations.

We hear about Maultosche, also known as “big cheek soup” as she describes the steaming bowls of it dished out to “first callers.” She writes of work in the slaughterhouse, where she joins in the feather plucking and singing, and of preparations for a wedding feast (where the sight of a couple seated together in the dining room is unusual because men and women sit separately). We catch up with young Frieda on her first “bake week” when the 17-year-old’s 52-dozen buns turn out “just perfect.”

She devotes an entire chapter to the role of the colony’s head cook. It’s the most prestigious of the five managerial roles women assume in colonies. The job, Mary-Ann writes, is “backed by an entrenched and sophisticated system of support much like the head chef, line cooks and sous chefs of a hotel kitchen” with all colony women between ages 17 to 45 assigned and rotated through their duties in the kitchen.

There are all sorts of fascinating anecdotes through Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen, such as how women after age 45 begin to gradually retire from their duties in the kitchen and garden and slaughterhouse.

Book cover: Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen by Mary-Ann KirkbySecrets of a Hutterite Kitchen is an intimate and respectful portrait of the lives of these women.

Cleaning, says Kirkby, is “the quiet obsession of Hutterite women,” as she describes their methodical, continuous scrubbing, sweeping, and washing that keeps everything just so in the kitchen and everywhere else on colonies. Hutterites, she notes, routinely survived the epidemics that razed European populations in the 1600s due to their observance of sanitation and hygiene.

Mary-Ann was in Manitoba last week to promote her new book. I asked her to describe colony food.

“Hutterite food is rich, fresh, delicious and really quite simple to make,” she said. But don’t try eating this way yourself unless you’re busy and active.

“These meals were made for people who did a lot of manual labour,” she said, adding that Hutterites, just like the rest of us, find themselves gaining weight when their output of energy gradually decreases.

I loved this book as it made me appreciate the extraordinary food and organizational skills of Hutterite women all that much more. We could all learn a thing or two from the way Hutterites respect their cooks and kitchens, and teach foods skills to the next generation.

Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen includes recipes too, for hearty soups and breads and buns, and Hutterite specialties such as Schuten Pie (cottage cheese pie) and Feigen Kraplen (fig pockets). Mary-Ann includes the original recipes from colonies with large-volume ingredients, but she’s also included the same recipes scaled down — “my Mom’s recipes” — so you can make smaller versions.

Zucker Pie

This is a traditional Hutterite recipe, one Mary-Ann calls her childhood favourite.

  • 1 c. thick cream
  • 1 c. sugar1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon

Beat all the ingredients together and pour into an unbaked pie crust. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Bake at 350 F for 35 to 40 minutes.

Recipe source: Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen by Mary-Ann Kirkby. Copyright Mary-Ann Kirkby, 2014. Reprinted by permission of Penquin Canada Books Inc.

Frucht Mues (Fruit Pudding)

Another much-loved colony dessert.

  • 1/3 c. chopped dried apricots
  • 1/3 c. chopped dried peaches
  • 1/3 c. seedless raisins
  • 1 c. prunes
  • 1-1/2 c. hot water
  • 2/3 c. sugar
  • 1/3 c. flour
  • 1/2 c. cold water
  • 3 c. scalded milk
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon or nutmeg
  • Dash of heavy cream

Wash fruit, then combine with hot water. Bring to a boil. Cook over low heat until tender. Combine sugar, flour and cold water. Add to simmering mixture, stirring steadily, followed by scalded milk. Cook until lightly thickened. Add cinnamon or nutmeg if desired. When serving top each serving with a dash of heavy cream. Serve cold. Excellent served over meat or deep-fried cottage cheese pockets.

Recipe source: Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen by Mary-Ann Kirkby. Copyright Mary-Ann Kirkby, 2014. Reprinted by permission of Penquin Canada Books Inc.

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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