Growing up in a Mennonite home, I cherished baking and cooking as integral parts of my life. As a young girl, I was often surrounded by the smells of delicious homemade baked goods—bread and zwieback, perishky and platz (rolls, fruit pockets and fruit squares, respectively).
My mother expressed her loving service through baking and cooking, and that had a real impact on me. I dearly treasure the constant undertone of love and humble service to others shown by my mother and aunts. I imagine that many other Mennonite daughters can attest to this as well.
I watched the matriarchs in my family give to those in need and raise funds for missions. During our church’s missions Dankfest (Thanksgiving) weekend, I saw how much my mother wanted to help support our missionaries through the time and effort she and other ladies from Scott Street Mennonite Brethren Church put into making their donated baked goods. These goods would be sold for a donation, with all proceeds going to support our missionaries. Our youth group in St. Catharines, Ont., also held pie auctions at which our mothers’ pies would be auctioned off to support local youth work.
Our home always had an open door. Visitors from different cultures and heritages were happily welcomed. I still remember being entranced by the graceful saris in vibrant colours worn by the ladies in a group that was visiting from India. Our family table was a place where I could hear their stories of a faraway land.
My parents were both heavily involved in supporting and giving practical help to refugees from Laos and Cambodia. Although I was only a young child, I remember my parents’ excitement at finding a house for a multi-generational family to live in and how they helped to get it ready for moving in.
Supporting the refugee families in their new life here in Canada meant hours spent together, and I can still sing the Laotian song taught to me by one of the families. My mother spent time with the ladies who taught her some of their recipes. Often when we visited we brought items to share from my mother’s kitchen.
My mother listened to every guest, often praying for people quietly or sharing her faith as she knew how. From my perspective as a child, serving food was often the means by which Mennonite women demonstrated their compassion and faith. I’m sure that this is the testimony of many Mennonites who served, and continue to do so, faithfully, humbly and lovingly, thus impacting their communities behind the scenes.
Diana Shaw recently wrote a children’s picture book, When I Was Young: The Baking Secret, as a tribute to her mother’s service. For more information, visit dianashawfeatheredquill.com.
The sugar roll recipe is available at canadianmennonite.org/sugar-rolls.