One of the things I've told people about being raised in a Mennonite home is that I learned how to cook for thirty at a moment's notice. While this may be a slight exaggeration, in reality it's not far from the truth. The Amish and Mennonite culture is one built around hospitality and frequent (often unannounced) visits to each other's homes. Uncle John and his family coming to dinner? No problem, there's canned beef in the cellar to be fried and turned into a browned butter gravy. There's potatoes in the pantry to be peeled, cooked and mashed. There's a garden where the fixings for a salad are within easy reach. And for dessert, there was usually an extra pastry crust in the freezer which could be made into a fresh pie.
Making things ahead of time and in large quantities was essential, whether canning and preserving garden produce for winter months, making extra loaves of bread on baking day or preparing ready-to-bake pie crusts and storing them in the freezer for last minute dinner parties. The women in my family took pride in their hospitality and in the flavorful meals they served at the table. The food was simple and well-seasoned, the servings generous.
I remember the anticipation I felt as a child when I rode along with my parents to Sunday dinner at Harry Ella's house. (Mennonite women are identified by the name of their husband preceding theirs.) On the way I would try to imagine what she might be cooking. Would it be her meatloaf with the ketchup and brown sugar glaze? Or would it be Yumesetti, the cheesy noodle casserole every Mennonite kid craved? For sure, there would be several varieties of pie. And then the variety of small plates my mother anticipated such as pickled red beets, bread and butter pickles, and deviled eggs. And always canned or frozen applesauce, either pink or golden, depending on which varietal of apples you used to make sauce in the fall. Even now, my taste buds come alive at the thought of these foods so essential to every Sunday dinner for as long as I can remember.
Here is a recipe for one of my mother's pies, though in the top right corner she has written, "Mose Betty", a reminder of the friend who shared it with her.
Rhubarb Crumb Pie
1 9-inch unbaked pie crust
2 cups Rhubarb, chunked
1 cup Strawberries, chunked
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup flour
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup brown sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place a cookie sheet on rack in lower third of oven to preheat.
Place fruit into an unbaked pie crust. Place ingredients for sauce in a small bowl and stir to combine. This will form a pourable paste. Pour this over the fruit in the pie crust. In another small bowl, combine ingredients for crumbs and mix with a fork. Pour crumbs over pie.
Bake for 50 minutes. Cool completely and serve with ice cream.
Note: This can be baked in a pan as a Rhubarb Crumble instead of pie. Just omit the bottom pie crust, brush the pan lightly with butter and follow directions as otherwise specified.