________________ CM . . . . Volume XIX Number 5 . . . . October 5, 2012


On the Zwieback Trail: A Russian Mennonite Alphabet of Stories, Recipes and Historic Events.

Lisa Weaver. Illustrated by Julie Kauffman & Judith Rempel Smucker.
Winnipeg, MB: CMU Press, 2011.
72 pp., hardcover, $25.00.
ISBN 978-0-920718-92-6.

Subject Headings:
Mennonites-United States-History.
Alphabet books.

Grades 3 and up / Ages 8 and up.

Review by Betty Klassen.

**** /4



It was the year 1946 in war-damaged Germany. More than 1,200 Russian Mennonites were packed into a refugee camp in Berlin, having fled their homes and villages in Ukraine. Mennonite Central Committee [MCC] workers Elfrieda and Peter Dyck were in charge of organizing food for everyone. Peter made an arrangement with a German baker, who agreed to use MCC flour to bake bread for the refugees in exchange for extra flour that he could use in his shop.

Then Elfrieda had another idea. Months before Christmas, she began saving a little extra flour, sugar, powdered milk and lard from each of the MCC food shipments. In mid-December, Elfrieda surprised the women of the camp with a question: Would they like to bake peppernuts?

The kind baker had agreed to let the women use his bakery each night – ovens, tables, utensils and all – during the hours that he himself was not baking. For two weeks in a row, from 12:00 midnight to 4:00 am (the only time the bakery was idle) the women of the camp worked in shifts baking peppernuts for everyone at the camp.

The above excerpt relates a positive event in the life of Mennonite refugees at the end of World War II, but it also provides an example of their work ethic and commitment to finding ways to celebrate and be thankful for what they have. It is taken from the “P” page and accompanied by the recipe for peppernuts (Pfeffernüsse) as well as two more recipes for Pluma mos (Plümemooss) and pancakes (Pflinzen). While there are some additional recipes, this book encompasses a much broader look at Mennonite heritage than common foods.

      Author Lisa Weaver collaborated with artists and designers Julie Kauffman and Judith Rempel Smucker to create a unique alphabet picture book that invites you to explore the history and culture of Russian Mennonites. Pages are rich with layers of information supplied by Lisa’s text, archival and current photographs, maps, and illustrations. Each page is an artistic showpiece that invites the reader to linger and ponder all the information provided. Many pages balance historical facts with present day information.

      Topics range from defining Anabaptism to a “Question for the Czar;” from combined house/barn floor plans to growing wheat in Russia and the United States; from Catherine the Great to repeated waves of emigration; from a Borscht recipe to Alternative Service Work in Russia, the United States and Canada; from key tenets of their faith to sending tractors to the Ukraine; and from being known as expert farmers to baking Zwieback.

      A direct translation of the word Zwieback would be “two-bakes” which is an apt description for making a bun where you take one ball of yeast dough and place a slightly smaller one on top. The trick of an adept Zwieback baker is to press the small ball into the larger bottom one just enough so that it pulls apart easily (to coat in butter and jam), and yet stands up as it bakes. Novice Zwieback bakers often have theirs fall over as they bake. (The taste is still just as good.) Day old Zwieback are often roasted in the oven, ending up resembling large croutons and were traditionally taken along when travelling, hence the title On the Zwieback Trail for a book that chronicles the origin and the travels of a people in search of a homeland where they could live in peace and religious freedom.

      On the Zwieback Trail is not a child’s alphabet book, but it’s rather an illustrated history book that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. The alphabet pages are followed by an illustrated timeline, detailed notes and credits, further publications and websites. This book is a great place to start to explore your own heritage or to research the Russian Mennonite culture for a school inquiry project. It is highly recommended for placement in school and public libraries and as a personal gift if this is your heritage.

Highly Recommended.

Betty Klassen teaches in the Faculty of Education in the Middle Years Program at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.