Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen has just been named, Canada's 100 Best: The Cooking Issue, Winter 2015/2016 issue. But what people love most about the book is the stories. Here is a little excerpt to go with one of my favorite recipies.
"Every spring and fall, when the harvest is done and the dust has settled in the nearby fields, Little Mountain Colony is awash in buckets of soapy water. Every building gets a thorough cleansing. The walls, ceilings, windows, and fixtures of the kitchen, schools, barns, shops and individual homes are scrubbed top to bottom. In the community kitchen, ceiling fans and vents are washed, and so are walls, shelves, drawers and benches. Once a month, the colony’s entire cache of dinnerware, cutlery, and serving dishes are taken out of the cupboards and washed with bleach to guard against viruses.
Women invite their relatives from other colonies to come and help with spring and fall housecleaning in their homes, and they in turn go to their relatives to return the favor. Floors, walls, ceilings, cupboards, and even furnaces will all be washed down, bedding sanitized, mattresses shampooed, and the curtains laundered. Children under five are given to the care of grandparents or relatives so the work is not interrupted. This is also the time when young daughters are apprenticed.
My mother’s older sisters used to come from Deerboine Colony to clean our house, wash walls, strip beds, and paint closets. I loved being included in small tasks such as washing their coffee cups or sweeping up after them.
These yearly cleaning frenzies provided the women a chance to air out more than their houses; it was an avenue to air their grievances. I would bring them steaming cups of Keiter tea, a herbal blend also referred to as Kreichter(complaining tea) while they talked about difficult husbands, nosy colony neighbours, or the dull fabric choices made that year by the head seamstress. The sisters found solace in each other’s company, and I loved the engaging way they talked and laughed about their dilemmas.
“Rheinlichkeit geht tzu Selichkeit. Cleanliness goes hand in hand with Godliness.”
At the end of each week, the cleaning frenzy at Little Mountain Colony hits the high bar with Freitich, auf die Kneah, On Your Knees Friday. Mops are put away, and all floors in the kitchen, the dining room, the church, the schools, and the homes are hand washed. Chairs and benches are placed upside down on tables, and the women get on their knees and wipe every square inch.
My mother has permanent dents in her knees from the years she spent washing floors in the colony. When my parents left Fairholme, she took her habits with her. Friday at midnight you would find overturned chairs on our dining room table and Mother on her knees washing the kitchen floor by hand. The serenity of the night, the clean smell of the soap, and the sheen of gratitude from her tired linoleum floor was a ritual that gave her a great sense of satisfaction.
Today, the women at the colony are cleaning the slaughterhouse, and Helena and I walk towards the open doors of a building as large as an industrial machine shop. The sun beats down, drawn like a magnet to the dark of my Hutterite clothing, and I suddenly feel like I’m in the oven with the apricot pies.
Cool, damp air greets us as we enter the building and the women are singing, their voices rising and falling in rich harmonies. Singing is an entrenched Hutterite custom -—a way to enjoy each other’s company and make light of work. High up on scaffolding, the young women are washing the walls and ceiling while the older ones sweep great swaths of soap on the stainless steel tubs, tables, and lower walls. Twenty women between the ages of fifteen and fifty-five move like a symphony, each with their own bucket of hot water, rubber apron, gloves, and a stash of homemade rhubarb sterilizer and Spech Saften (lard soap).
Hard work is rewarded with special indulgences, whether it’s the men combining the fields, stock hands branding cattle, or the women cleaning the slaughterhouse. The limbs of a Hutterite kitchen reach to all corners of the community, and I am told that today’s treat is Poppy Seed Krapflen (pockets)—silky pastry stuffed with a dense, black blend of poppy seeds, fresh cream, raisins, bread crumbs, sugar, vanilla, and cinnamon. I haven’t tasted them for so long that my heartbeat quickens. I am dispatched to the bakery so that I can watch these favorites of my childhood being made.
The mother and daughter team on bake week are pulling the plump, poppy-seed pockets out of the oven and, while I yearn for a taste, they admire my new look. “We’re just bringing them over to the women,” they tell me. “You get the ice cream.”
Out in the main kitchen, the head cook fills my arms with variety boxes of Revels, Creamsicles, and Fudgsicle ice cream treats. She is the barometer of the community workforce and knows who is doing what, where, and for how long.
Back at the slaughterhouse, I drop the ice cream on a nearby table and quickly grab a clean rag. A large stainless tub used for cooling butchered chickens is being purged with a cloud of Comet by ‘Hannah-and-a-Half.’ She was given the nickname because she has more personality than is considered necessary for just one person.
Hannah-and-a-Half is constantly being chided by the other women. “She’s always saying things she should only think and asking questions she has no business knowing the answer to,” Helena warns. The women are quick to point out that Hannah and a Half shares everybody else’s business with the rest of them, making her a valued member of the women’s caucus.
Hannah-and-a-Half puts me in a neck hold and rubs some Comet on my nose. “Yo, the only time she comes around is to help us eat ice cream!” she shouts. I return the favor with the cleanser and, by the time we call a truce and heave ourselves out of the drum, I have white streaks all over myself and Helena’s new dress. I look at her apologetically, but she is as amused as the rest of the women.
The Poppy Seed Krapfle arrive with carafes of coffee and a tray of cold drinks, and the women, anxious for a break, descend the scaffolds and empty their pails of water. The thick, moist, poppy-seed Krapfle are marvelous, but we all look like pirates with very bad teeth, besieged with deposits of tiny black seeds."
2 cups bread crumbs (just take a few slices of bread and cut them up, crusts and all)
In a saucepan cook poppy seeds and cream over low heat for 5–10 minutes. Add raisins and allow mixture to cool to lukewarm. Stir eggs, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and bread crumbs together and then add to poppy seed mixture. Put in fridge and allow it to set so it’s nice and firm.
1 package dry yeast
¼ cup lukewarm water
1 cup milk
¼ cup butter
¼ cup sugar
2 eggs, well beaten
½ teaspoon salt
2½–3 cups flour
Dissolve yeast in the lukewarm water. Scald milk, add butter, and cool to lukewarm. Add sugar and salt to well-beaten eggs. Beat thoroughly and add to warm milk mixture. Add enough flour to create smooth dough. Knead well and place in a lightly greased bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm place until double in size. (Approximately 2 hours.) Roll out the dough and cut into large squares. Add a generous dollop of the poppy seed filling and enclose the filling inside the dough pinching the ends shut as you would a large perogy.
Bake at 350 for 20 to 30 minutes. Amazing!
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