Life-Changing Cookbooks: More-with-Less

Paste's column on the cookbooks that shape who we are

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Robert Judge CC BY

I call my mom. She has not worn a conservative Mennonite covering and cape dress since heading to college. She and my dad raised us in a blue-jeans-wearing, world-traveling Mennonite church, which we have all since outgrown in our own ways, but still carry with us. Her copy of More-with-Less disintegrates from use, with “very good” scripted above her successes.

“It kind of replaced the Mennonite Community Cookbook,” she explains, “where everything was cooked in lard.” I nod into the phone, knowing that Mom and I both still use the Mennonite Community for our best desserts.

Mary Emma Showalter Eby, author of the 1950 Mennonite Community Cookbook, gave Longacre her blessing, passing the apron. In the foreword for More-with-Less, Eby astutely predicts, “This cookbook will appeal most to young homemakers whose lifestyles are open to change, and whose desire for variety and creativity will lend enchantment for trying new recipes.

“That was the hand-off,” Mom says.

“Perhaps this is as it should be,” Eby continues, “since they are most responsible for the food habits for the next generation.”

My copy of More-with-Less, handed down from my mother-in-law when she updated to a pristine revision, shed the back half of its index, requiring me to flip through the vegetable section looking for Skillet Italian Zucchini, although I could zip directly to Crunchy Granola.

Mom reminds me of the More with Less 1970’s life hacks, like Refrigerator Bran Muffins, which make a vat of batter that you can scoop from the fridge to bake a hot dozen in no time. Most recipes make quantities large enough to eat half for supper tonight and leftovers the next day. Longacre marked the handier recipes with TS, Time Saver, for the busy household. The cookbook also includes instructions for homemade laundry detergent, which I’ve never made, but feel I probably should, since the Mennonite obligation to live well also feeds my overactive conscience.

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At Doris Janzen Longacre’s alma mater, Goshen College, thirty-five years after she graduated, I perused the cafeteria salad bar. Probably wearing baggy overalls and a bandana do-rag-style over my short hair, I plucked a whole zucchini from the salad bar décor and thunked it onto my lunch tray, claiming it for later. A shaggy guy—under-bathed and well-built—appeared at my shoulder.

“Are you gonna make zucchini bread with that?” he asked quietly.

I could perform organic chemistry experiments and bake shoo-fly pie, but I shrugged and said, “I’ve never made zucchini bread,” which was true.

He followed my zucchini and me home to the More-with-Less. We baked.

“Some couples would not call it a romantic encounter,” Longacre writes about late summer evenings canning cucumbers with her husband, “but we liked it.”

The shaggy guy, my eventual husband, and I had both grown up eating More-with-Less. Our frugal personalities flourished on recipes that made one pound of ground beef feed a family for several meals. He impressed me early in our relationship by producing Whole Wheat Buttermilk Pancakes from memory. On a budget, I cooked Sweet and Sour Lentils, Baked Lentils with Cheese, Curried Lentils, and Basic Lentil Stew, congratulating myself on my diverse menus. We were beginning our nascent adulthoods, learning how we might cook and eat in the world.

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