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Book Review: The Beverly Lewis Amish Heritage Cookbook by Beverly Lewis

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Readers with even a passing interest in Christian fiction will automatically connect prolific author Beverly Lewis’ name with book covers featuring modestly clad, bonneted Amish women. While also an accomplished children’s author her series of fictional tales from the Plain community are those that have captivated the hearts of her loyal audience nation-wide.

Filling her pages with the rich, food-centric culture of Amish life — particularly for the womenfolk — Lewis would seem the perfect “Englisher” to tackle assembling The Beverly Lewis Amish Heritage Cookbook, drawing from the culinary tradition that she has researched for use in her novels. What casual readers may not realize, as I myself did not, is that Lewis’ own maternal grandmother was raised in the Plain community. This daughter of Old Order Mennonite’s left her roots in order to marry a young man called to ministry in the world beyond their sheltered community.

Ada Buchwalter’s life became the inspiration for some of Lewis’ work, her talent in the kitchen and handed-down recipes forming the basis of this cookbook. Along with recipes from Beverly’s family — her grandmother, mother, aunts, siblings and daughter — Lewis called upon a plethora of talented cooks living in Amish communities. The result is a combination of cultural cookbook and family memorabilia. Lewis shares her remembrances of traditional recipes from her family in the “Note from Bev” section that occasionally follows a recipe, providing a selection of memories, serving suggestions, personal comments on flavour, and such.

Each major section: “Appetizers and Beverages”, “Breakfast Specialty Dishes”, “Breads”, Salads and Salad Dressings” and so on, opens with a quote from one of Lewis’ novels. These quotations are always taken from a food-related scene in which an item from the relevant category plays a part. Better still, Lewis’ fans will be thrilled to find that some of the intriguing foods described in the novels are given recipes in the cookbook. Whether it’s “Old-Time Lemonade” from The Betrayal, “Cornmeal Mush” from The Postcard, “Cottage Cheese and Pepper Salad” from The Covenant, or one of many others – the opportunity to take a trip through the culinary landscape of Lewis’ novels is a unique treat.

The Beverly Lewis Amish Heritage Cookbook draws heavily from modern Amish cooking practices rather than those you’d think of in a book including “heritage” in its title. The majority of the entries do include some form of prepared short cut, and even those older recipes passed down through Beverly’s family have been modified for modern cooks. Those mainly interested in "from scratch" recipes are likely to suffer from some disappointment. One of the most striking examples is the traditional sourdough friendship bread recipe that calls for a box of instant pudding. Some of the recipes call for regional ingredients – those living outside of territories traditionally associated with the Pennsylvania Dutch may find themselves improvising and substituting. Thankfully recommended substitutes and brands are provided in many cases.

It’s refreshing to read a cookbook with recipes that still incorporate cream, butter, lard, and shortening. The Beverly Lewis Amish Heritage Cookbook is certainly traditional in respect to the amount of rich, creamy goodness and sweet treats packed between its pages. And with five of 13 sections relating to desserts such as puddings, cakes, pies, cookies, and a generous listing of jello dishes in the salad section, those with a taste for the sweet things of live will be well-satisfied.

Most charming of all are the favourite Bible passages, commonly quoted wisdom, and domestic tips included on nearly every page. Reflecting the simple life and humility aimed for by these hard-working folk, such tidbits of knowledge contribute strongly to the theme. Practically fitted with a lay-flat, plastic comb binding, cooks ranging from novice to expert will find this companion easy to work with in the kitchen.

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