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Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

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Rhoda Janzen's Mennonite Primer

Rhoda Janzen author of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

You are probably thinking, Whaaa—? Mennonites?

If you’re like most folks, you may have some pressing questions about the Mennonites. I get these questions all the time. These are reasonable questions, and no Mennonite writer worth her salt would leave them unanswered.

Don’t they drive around in horse-drawn buggies and wear doilies on their heads? 
Sometimes, depending on your congregational filiation.

Or maybe, if you’re a straight guy:
Hey, yeah, don’t Mennonite chicks dress up as semisexy French maids, in black dresses with aprons? 
Keep your pervy pecker in your pants, mister. Mennonite gals do not put out, no matter how alluring we are in our bonnets and aprons.

What are they wearing under all those layers, anyway? 
Granny panties. White as a flag, but with no surrender.

Or, if you’re a subscriber to interior decor magazines:
Aren’t Mennonites the folks who make collectible quilts, many of which are now unaffordable on eBay? 
I know of one that sold for $15,500—quilt, not panty. Though I’m pretty sure that the same guy who’d ask question number two would also be prepared to bid on a pair of Mennonite panties on eBay. Perhaps an enterprising entrepreneur should try selling Mennonite panties on eBay, perhaps even set up an e-store, for instance, MyMennonitePanty.com. I’ll volunteer to get this chap started. I’ll donate a pair of my own panties for free. Provided that I get to choose the panties.

Rhoda Janzen’s Top Shame-Based
Foods For Mennonite Youth Lunches

My sister, Hannah, and I have often thought that it would be pleasurable to revisit the very Mennonite foods that used to shame us as we tried to conceal them in the cafeterias of our youth. After considerable reflection, we came up with a list of Shame-Based Foods, which I urge the reader to imagine tucked into Shame-Based Lunchpails, dooming the transporter whereof to social ostracism at Easterby Elementary School.

4. Warmer Kartoffelsalat
This is a hot tangy potato salad, which, although delicious, had two significant strikes against it. The first strike is that it had cooled and congealed by the time we opened our Shame-Based Margarine Containers to eat it. The second strike, and this is somehow more critical, is that we were unable to consume Warmer Kartoffelsalat without thinking of our mother’s merry little ditty: Auf den Hügel/ da steht ein Soldat./ Er macht in den Hosen/ Kartoffelsalat! (On the hillside/ stood a soldier./ In his pants he made/ potato salad!)

3. Platz
Platz consists of a kneaded egg dough topped with sweetened fruit, in this case the stunted, picked-at-by-birds cherry-plums from the backyard. Platz emitted an embarrassing yeasty odor that made the other kids glance at us headlong and scoot away.

2. Cotletten-and-Ketchup Sandwich 
Cotletten are Mennonite meatballs. What makes them Mennonite is the addition of many, many saltine crackers, bagged in a preowned plastic bread wrapper and decimated with a rolling pin. Cold Cotletten are hard to describe. Each pungent saltball assumes a jellied viscosity, heavy as a puck. The addition of ketchup is an intriguing choice. It gives homemade bread a moist pink pliancy, not unlike damp Kleenex.

1. Borscht
There was really no contest here. Honors for Most Embarrassing Shame-Based Food went hands-down to Borscht, which is the hearty winter soup of the Russian steppes. Our people borrowed it from the Russians during the long Mennonite occupation of Ukraine. Borscht has a distinctive ruby color, a stain to anything it touches. This distinctive color comes from beets. The soup also has a distinctive smell, a noxious blast of savage fart. This fart smell comes from cabbage. As if that isn’t appetizing enough, borscht is served with vinegar and a dollop of sour cream. The vinegar curdles the cream so that the whole thing looks and smells like milk gone bad. Yet there is more. The bottom note, the lingering afterwhiff, presents with an intensity reminiscent of our friend the soldier’s lumpy Hosen.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s good soup. As an adult I have even sometimes served it to guests as a kind of novelty, though I naturally don’t mention the vinegar thing. But Borscht is not what you want to tuck into your child’s lunch. Trust me.

Recipe as told by Rhoda’s Mom

1 small pork roast
1 bay leaf
1 medium chopped onion
salt and pepper
cut-up potatoes
sliced carrots
1 small cabbage or a big one, chopped and cored parsley
1 can tomato soup

Simmer your roast for a long time, but near the beginning add your bay leaf, onion, and salt and pepper. When meat is tender, add some cut-up potatoes and at least four carrots.

Add the parsley with your cabbage. When potatoes are about done, I add a can of tomato soup. I know you girls like the old-fashioned way, with beets, but a tomato taste is just as nice and much easier. You can also use real tomatoes instead.

You are now ready to meet Mennonites in real life. When you do, speak slowly and smile. If you play your cards right, I’m pretty sure they’ll offer you some cabbage. 

Rhoda Janzen author of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress 

Rhoda Janzen author of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

Rhoda Janzen author of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

Rhoda Janzen author of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress