REVIEW – Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen, Unveiling the Rituals, Traditions and Food of the Hutterite Culture, Mary-Ann Kirkby

16 Apr
Penguin Canada (April 2014)

Penguin Canada (April 2014)

Our book review this month takes us away from pristinely decorated kitchens, rustically styled food, and perfectly coiffed home chefs. Mary-Ann Kirkby has followed up her 2007 bestselling I Am a Hutterite with an exploration of Hutterite traditions and communities through their food with Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen (2014, Penguin Canada) I know, not exactly an obvious choice for a food blog about the hip, happenin’ food scene in Toronto BUT I promise you it will all make sense in the end.

Our interest in this book stemmed from all the cooking we’ve been doing at home. We’ve come across cookbooks that are complicated, comprehensive, simple and quick, as well as labour intensive. Some recipes are written for a home cook and some just lend you insight into how a genius works (*ahem* Thomas Keller). We were eager to read about the enduring traditions of food preparation in an ordinarily closed community.

Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen reveals that while traditions persist, the community has adapted and incorporated modern/ mainstream tastes. The Davenport community uses an industrial sized oven (a $55,000 Rational also used in the White House) and commercial deep fryers. There is not, however, a dishwasher because it’s an opportunity for the women in the kitchen to chat. They often serve popcorn salad and Chinese stir fry for the crowds. The kitchen is the domain of women and they take pride in feeding the entire colony well.

The Davenport Hutterite community bakes fresh bread every week, they make preserves, and hand-make fresh noodles. On a visit to the Misty Acres Hutterite Colony (Saskatchewan), the head gardener playfully remarks to Kirkby, ” Who knows what kinds of tronk (slop) you eat in your English life… You’re probably full of fillers from all da store-bought food…” Does any of this sound familiar? It’s ultra fashionable at the moment to offer artisan baked goods, to grow your own organic vegetables, feature snout-to-tail menus. This traditional approach to food, however, is how Hutterite communities eat every day! Hipsters the world over are now writhing in jealousy.

Kirkby has also collected a bunch of Hutterite recipes in her book, which is special because these are normally passed down through the oral tradition. While we normally test recipes in cookbook reviews, these were written for VERY large crowds. The Katufel Totschelen (Potato Pancakes with Cream Sauce, p.193), for example, called for 18-cups of ground potatoes and 16 eggs. We’d be eating potato pancakes for a month! These recipes do, however, lend insight into the flavours of Hutterite cooking and we’d love to experiment for smaller portions. As well, good food (that feeds hundreds and generations) doesn’t have to be overly complicated or require back-breaking work.

A fascinating read. We think it’d make a great gift for those who have read and loved Miriam Toews’ Complicated Kindness (note: the characters in Toews’ book are Mennonite) or anyone who loves learning about food culture and traditions.

Thank you to Penguin Canada for making this review possible!

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