Friday, 24 May 2013

Of Mennonite Quilts & Shoo-fly Pie: Thrift and Collective Industry,Part 1

For many residents and visitors to the Region of Waterloo, the Old Order Mennonites are a familiar presence--especially in and around Kitchener-Waterloo and many of the northern tip (of the Waterloo Region) towns and rural area communities (e.g. Elmira, St. Jacobs, Floradale, Wallenstein, etc.). To be clear, there are many different practicing divisions of Mennonites to be found locally such as modern Mennonites, Markham, Russian and Mexican Mennonites and among the Old Orders there are also the David Martin Mennonites. To add to the confusion, we also can count a small but significant proportion of Amish, as well. Suffice it to say, the Mennonites have endowed this region with a rich and lasting cultural heritage, leaving a mark on many of us who are the descendants of the early settlers (my own family settled here in 1802 and were from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania). Throughout this blog, I have focused particularly on the 19th century Mennonite migration to this area and their subsequent and continuing contribution to this community. Many of these contributions are to the economy and built heritage of the region. Other contributions include cultural heritage. Today's blogpost will examine two of their most powerful and enduring traits that prevail to this day: thrift and collective industry.

The Pennsylvania Germans were known for their thrifty ways. In no way is this more exemplified than in their re-purposing of old clothing. Nothing, I mean nothing, that could be reused was ever thrown away (we could do well today to learn from their example...). All sorts of cloth-ends that were no longer useable for clothing could be cut, matched and sewn together (re-purposed!) to form some of the loveliest (and warm) quilts imaginable.
Joseph Schneider Haus Museum: the Parents' Bedroom or "the Kammer"

In the cradle, a lovely quilt is ready to warm a tired baby. The cradle is a Schneider artifact and is from Joseph's brother's (Jacob or 'Yoch") side of the family.
In the sitting room ("Sitzstub") of the Joseph Schneider Haus, a petticoat is on the old quilt frame and awaits a deft hand (and a young student). Quilted petticoats were worn underneath a woman's dress as underwear to keep the woman warm in inclement weather (and unheated houses). When it was really cold outside, a woman would wear multiple petticoats at a time.

Working alone is not as much fun as sharing the workload with friends and family.
At the Joseph Schneider Haus, Mennonite ladies still gather each year to quilt. The quilt is finished in a day and then raffled off the next year, following a display of the fine work involved. When they meet, the ladies enjoy a lively conversation (often in Plattdeutsch, their dialect) and are also known to sing while they work to pass the time.

Many skilled hands make light and beautiful work

Take a moment and look at some of the quilts on display behind the ladies. May 25, 2013 is the annual Mennonite Relief Charity Quilt Auction. These quilts will make the journey from their display at Joseph Schneider Haus to the Auction in New Hamburg, Ontario. All have been donated by skilled and passionate quilters. Some quilts have even fetched upwards of thousands of dollars each--with all the proceeds going to charity!

Mmmmmmm Pie!
After the work is done, it is time for a shared snack.The Pennsylvania Germans, especially the Mennonites and the Amish are known for their distinct adaptation of traditional German foods. Although pie is more of a British food invention, the Pennsylvania Germans were quick to adapt what they saw their British neighbours doing and soon pies were included along with the German coffee cakes. Shoo-fly Pie is an excellent example of such adaptations.

Pennsylvania German food is hearty and delicious but did you know that for the most part it is also thrifty? The Pa. German housewife used every part of the animal and scrap of food she could and was known for her ability to feed large numbers of people with home made bread, buns, cakes, soups, sausages and hams. Eventually, the food repertoire expanded to include the Pennsylvania German adaptation of other cultures such as pie.

 Shoo-fly Pie
This recipe calls for butter or margarine but the original versions would have included butter or "lard" as lard was a treasured by-product of the pork-rich diet of the Pennsylvania Germans (much like their German forebears)

Apparently, Shoo-fly Pie is a mystery pie and of this, its origin is a hotly debated topic.According to whom you speak, many theories of its humble beginning abound. Shoo-fly Pie is a sort of coffee cake, gooey at the bottom and situated inside of pastry. Its advantage is that it is a thrifty pie to make and it can be eaten with one hand holding it (in this way, as a portable snack, as it were, it could theoretically be carried out to a farmer who was working his fields to enjoy without the need for a plate or cutlery). Traditionally, the Pennsylvania Germans loved their pies and often ate them at every meal (yes, you read that right!). Shoo-fly Pie was often enjoyed as a breakfast dish, served with coffee. William Woys Weaver, noted food historian and ethnographer of Pennsylvania German foodways, tells us in "Pennsylvania Dutch Country Cooking" that the Shoo-fly Pie is a relatively recent creation, dating only as far back as the Philadelphia centennial celebration of 1876 where its first incarnation was as a cake. Weaver claims the name of this cake, the "Centennial Cake," gave way to "Granger Pie" and later, "Shoo-fly Pie" after the recipe reached the "Pennsylvania Dutch" region. (Along this line, it has been said that the pie got its name from one of its key ingredients, namely, the brand of molasses used at the time of its creation: Shoo-fly Molasses). Others, still, have speculated that the pie (like the molasses) got their names from the flies that frequented the sticky sweet goodness of the molasses who were shooed away.

Of the things upon which its adherents agree, the pie must contain molasses to be an authentic Shoo-fly regardless of which version you choose to make: Wet-Bottom or Dry-Bottom. The pie is a sturdy one and another of its advantages is that it stays moist and lasts (potentially if it isn't immediately eaten) longer than some other traditional berry or fruit pies. There is even a cake version that eschews the crust (see below):

A Shoo-fly Cake Recipe, from Phyllis Pellman Good

Preparation time: 25 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Yield: 9 servings
"This close kin to Shoo-fly Pie has no crust," Good writes in "The Best of Amish Cooking." "Consequently, it can be put together more quickly. The crumb topping and gooey bottom made an icing unnecessary."

4 cups flour (2 cups whole-wheat flour and 2 cups white flour, if desired)
2 cups packed brown sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
2 cups boiling water
1 cup molasses
2 teaspoons baking soda
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour and sugar in large bowl. Cut in butter using pastry blender. Set aside 1 1/2 cups crumbs for topping.
2. Mix water, molasses and baking soda in medium bowl; add to crumb mixture. Mix until batter is evenly mixed but lumpy.
3. Pour into greased and floured 13- by 9-inch baking pan. Sprinkle with reserved crumbs. Bake until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool.

My Recipe for Shoofly Pie (This would be known as a "Wet-Bottom" Shoofly Pie)

Bottom Part:
1 cup of molasses (I use 1/2 cup molasses and 1/2 cup of maple syrup because my family likes the taste of it AND because it adds a Canadian twist to this classic)
1/2 tsp. baking soda dissolved in
3/4 cup of boiling water
pinch of salt

Dissolve the baking soda in the boiling water, stirring well as it foams. Add the remaining molasses mixture and salt. Stir and pour into a prepared and unbaked pie crust (9 inch pie pan).

Top Part, Crumb Mixture:
1  1/2 cups of flour
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup of softened butter or lard

Mix ingredients and crumb together. Moving in a clock-wise fashion and starting from the center of the pie plate, distribute/sprinkle the crumbs in a spiral fashion over the liquid. When you are finished, the entire liquid should be covered and the crumbs should be evenly distributed over the top of the pie. Bake at 375 degrees F. for about 30 to 40 minutes. Let it cool completely and serve with a generous(!) dollop of whipped cream.

For a further look at this classic, see:

(Coming up next, Part Two--- because you asked me to....Butter Tarts and Sugar Pie---oh, and more about thrift and collective industry)!

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