As the son of Russian Mennonites who arrived in Canada in 1924 and 1926, I have a positive bias towards this book which takes the 26 letters of the alphabet and picks one event, recipe or idea from the Russian/Prussian/Dutch experience and relates part of the story. It is packed with historical information, and very well-presented with many fine photographs and different print styles that catch your attention as you leaf through the pages.
If you are a cook, you will enjoy the borscht, the rollkucken and zweibach recipes. If you are interested in history you will enjoy the letters on Menno Simons, nonviolence and emigration.
The book has been marketed by CMU Press as a children’s book, but it would be difficult to read for younger children. I believe it is a book to be read to children, as a way of telling this part of the Mennonite story. Children or grandchildren of Russian immigrants should read the different letters to their children, so that the stories do not get lost.
For me, it reads like a devotional book of “my” story. Each letter is self-contained, so you can jump all over the book depending what aspect you are looking for at the moment. Next time you are making verenike, you can take out the book, and turn to V, and find the story of this tasteful food of the Russian experience.
Finally, the book has a very personal aspect to it. On page for Z is the recipe for the dinner roll, known as Zweibach. The handwritten recipe for zweibach on the left-hand side of the page is the recipe of my grandmother, Lena Woelke Rempel. As I open that page, I can almost smell the memories of my grandmother, my mom, and my sister as I remember the making of zweibach. Thank you to the authors, Lisa Weaver, Julie Kauffman and Judith Rempel Smucker, for opening a new generation of people to this important story.
Fred Redekop is pastor of Floradale Mennonite Church.