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Senior experiences Mennonite culture, cuisine

Gathering together as one on Fresno Pacific University’s quad, the Mennonite community in Fresno hosted the West Coast Mennonite Relief Sales and Auction in support of those that need assistance around the world, April 5-6. Traveling to Fresno for the largest Mennonite event in the West Coast, volunteers from various ethnic backgrounds participated in making traditional mennonite food, hand-sewn quilts, automobiles and other products to raise money of behalf of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).

Heavily packed, it took me a while to find a parking space; I parked about a quarter of a mile away. Stepping out of my vehicle, I could smell the the food in the air, causing my mouth to water before I entered the premisses. Immediately I rushed to the ticket booth, I was hungry and couldn’t wait to buy from the vendors throughout the event.

Of all the food I have eaten, never have I tasted mennonite-prepared cuisine; with rich background history of the various edible items sold, I learned why this food is so important to the community. I never thought something so bizarre, like pluma moos (plum soup), could taste so invigorating yet look disgusting. Brown, thick, murky, cold, fermented and chunky are all the words that came to mind when I first saw pluma moos.

After long discussion with my journalism adviser Greg Stobbe, he convinced me to eat at least a spoon full of the cold murky soup. In the soup were diced prunes, grapes, raisins, whipped cream, water, cornstarch, cinnamon sticks and other various ingredients that were compiled together to create a traditional mennonite cold fruit soup.

Zwiebach, a word that is so foreign to my ears is actually something I eat every day. Zwiebach is bread in the simplest form of understanding. Normally, I think of bread as flat, sometimes tasteless, but filling. That is not the case with Zwiebach; in German it means “two breads;” “zwie” is two and “bach” is bread. Fluffy and round like a dinner roll but with a smaller piece of bread baked on top is how one could describe the bread.

When I tried the Zwiebach for the first time, the bread was hot and buttery to satisfied every taste bud in my mouth. For those who are non-Mennonite, Zwiebach is something that might seem easy to make, like bread. The ingredients are simple: flour, water, margarine, sugar, salt, yeast, egg and milk. However, it takes years to perfect not only their shape but consistency.

Originating from the Ukraine, borscht is a popular soup in the Middle and Central Europe, the recipe can vary depending on where the family lives. I love soup, especially hot soup but not with sour cream. Normally, a dollop of the white stuff churns my stomach, this time it toned the soup down and gave it a creamier texture.

Vegetarian borscht is composed of chicken broth, lettuce, potato, carrots; each borscht soup is made differently, but most consist of red beats and some type of meat. I have never eaten any type of soup with sour cream before, so when I saw the lady scoop a blob of jiggly cream in my soup I was immediately turned off. After five minutes of contemplation, I came to my sense and ate a spoonful. I was amazed; the soup was thick, creamy and delicious.

Of all the different ethnic Mennonite foods served, the Russian-German Verenika lunch was by far the most popular and mouth savoring. Served with old fashion verenika, salad, pluma moos and sausage, the plate was worth the $12 dollars that I paid. Instantly I knew I would be easily addicted; verenika is close to ravioli but requires more time to cook thoroughly.

Verenika is in the form of a much larger ravioli filled with either dry or wet cottage cheese, and in some cases, filled with German or Russian cheese. Boiled, for about three minutes, and then fried on a pan till golden brown, verenika is tasty and filling. A side to the German ravioli was the thickly sliced sausage; I am not a fan of the meat because when I bit into it it was dry and over spiced. Since I am a carnivorous eater, I hate when I eat meat that is not tender and soft. Accompanying the plate was more Zwiebach and salad that I did not care for.

After eating passed my limit, I enjoyed walking around the beautiful campus filled with tall green trees and lush green grass. Designated in the main gym, quilts, automobiles and other homemade trinkets were sold. I had the privilege to experience a mennonite auction that people bid on a late 1920s model Ford which ultimately sold for $13,000.

In the same gym, quilts in the previous years have sold for more than $5,000, but this year the most expensive one sold was for $1,600. In the past years, hand-stitched quilts have been made, which are the most popular but very expensive to come by. All the proceeds from that auction are given to various projects that are supported by MCC around the world. Knowing that all these people were coming together for the greater cause of humanity in the name of Christ touched me, I would definitely buy a quilt if I had the money.

Walking out of the gym, I decided to head home; I knew if I stayed at the event I would continue to eat the delicious food. I had a great time. Having never been exposed to Mennonite cooking, I really enjoyed the different entrees that were offered. Honestly, at first I did not want to attend the event because I had a pre-conceptional thought that Mennonites were like Amish people, very reserved and distant from the world around them. It amazed me to watch everyone travel from different parts of the state and West Coast to participate in this relief benefit.

I encourage anyone and everyone from all backgrounds to go to this event, the West Coact Mennonite Relief sale and Auction is a once-a-year event that is great for the whole family to attend.

For more opinions, read the April 5 article, Diary of a choir boy.

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