Guest blog post by Cherise Harper
Hello, friends. My name is Cherise. I’m a food stylist and I’m honored to be writing this guest post today. In fact, the whole experience of working with the wonderful people at MennoMedia and Herald Press has been humbling and just a little surreal for me.
You see, I grew up with the Mennonite Community Cookbook. For my family, it was a staple reference, from which we pulled chicken pot pie, ham loaf and chocolate chip cookie recipes. Even with my parents’ vast array of cookbooks, and I mean well over 100, the Mennonite Community Cookbook was one of the most loved–and still is.
(The notebook with the black spine is my mother’s copy of
Mennonite Community Cookbook.)
My grandmother, 89 years old, tells me that she got hers from a dear friend at church when she was a young married mother. My mother received hers as a wedding gift in 1963, and I was given mine as a bride in 1990. My mother’s book has since fallen into individual pages, the cover is gone, and now the pages are hole-punched to fit into a three-ring binder.
She has over fifty years of notes on those pages–dates of the time she first made the recipe and often a note on how much we liked it. It’s very personal for her and for me.
So when this project was proposed to me earlier this year, it was very personal. I’ll be honest and tell you that I really couldn’t believe it. I probably didn’t use my inside voice and I may have jumped up and down a few time. Or a dozen. I realized that this was a very important undertaking. My father calculated that the photographs must have been taken in the late 1950s when color photography was becoming more common. And, while I wanted to honor the integrity of the recipes and the historical aspect of the photos, with that date in mind I agreed it really was time for an update. After all, how do you appeal to a new generation of cooks and invite them to make such wonderful recipes without having bright, beautiful photos?
Melissa Engle, the photographer, and I had worked together before so I was looking forward to what we could create as a team again.
Top: This is me, working with food for an earlier photo shoot for Herald Press.
Bottom: Photographer Melissa Hess gets just the right angle and lighting.
The photoshoot for Mennonite Community Cookbook took three days and culminated in the “Grandma’s Table” shot, which involved much of what I had prepared over the three days.
This meant that we couldn’t eat all the goodies as we were working.
I was familiar with about half of the recipes so much of the preparation was familiar. There were some recipes that were new to me – like the Pansy Cake, which involved four 8” cake layers with four different colors of batter!
I decided to do a test run of that cake at home because sometimes when I make a recipe that’s unfamiliar it takes a little more time to navigate through the directions. It turned out so well that we decided to use the “test” cake for the real photos.
Butter Horns, Eggs in Ham Nests, and Shoofly Pie all made it to the table to be photographed. The Shoofly Pie had an added aspect of difficulty: Photographer Melissa Hess had to keep shooing a fly off of it! Not kidding. That one fly that’s always at a food photoshoot made an appearance.
As a food stylist I prepare a fair amount of recipes on the fly. I regularly test recipes and give feedback to help make sure they work for the average home cook. As I’ve found over a lifetime of cooking from this book, they are tried and true, basic recipes that can be made with local ingredients and pantry staples. They appeal to my hunger for historical significance in our foods and I really hope that Melissa and I have honored the importance that this cookbook plays in so many homes across the world. And, I hope we have done Mary Emma Showalter and her family proud.
Cherise Harper, also blogging at Chickens and Chai.
From the Herald Press editors: Do you own a copy of Mennonite Community Cookbook? When did you get it, and for what occasion? We invite you to tell your story, and send photographs of your much loved copy for a follow-up blog post or in our comment section.
Please note: We cherish the legacy of Mennonite Community Cookbook as much as its many fans. This new volume will only update the food photos to appeal to new generations of cooks; no recipes will be changed or left out! We do plan a special section highlighting the history of the cookbook for this new “50th printing” edition, planned for early in 2015!
To purchase the existing cookbook as it is published now, visit our store.