Menno-Nightcaps: Cocktails Inspired by that Odd Ethno-Religious Group You Keep Mistaking for the Amish, Quakers or Mormons
By S. L. Klassen
Victoria: Touchwood Editions, 2021 pp. 168. Hardcover
Reviewed by Jeff Friesen
Menno-Nightcaps is a frivolous and thoroughly enjoyable exploration of the history of Mennonites through cocktail recipes. Inspired by her comedic work blogging and tweeting as The Drunken Mennonite, Sherri Klassen has compiled seventy-seven recipes that each focus on a particular component of Mennonite faith and life from the Radical Reformation onward. Starting with the wider context out of which the first Anabaptists emerged (“Death in the Age of Reform”) and ending with a reflection on Russian Mennonite desserts (“Daut Oolt Plauts”) Klassen take readers on a “booze-soaked romp through the oddities of our history and culture” (3). It is a hilarious yet weirdly informative reading of Mennonite history and libations.
Klassen attempts to write this book holding together two seemingly disparate literary genres: the cocktail recipe book and Mennonite history. The book is structured in a fashion similar to other, more traditional cocktail books. In addition to the recipes there are helpful descriptions of the tools and glassware needed to successfully make, serve, and consume cocktails, and notes on Mennonite drinking etiquette (“Just raise your glass and say, ‘To the peacemakers.’” (9)). In the back there are recipes for various bitters, syrups, and non-alcoholic mocktails. Menno-Nightcaps functions, at least in part, like any other cocktail book you may find at your local bookstore.
But that is not all you will find here. This is also a thoroughly researched and knowledgeable account of the complexities of Mennonite life in Europe and North America through the centuries. Each page of the book contains one small snapshot of Mennonite life. In the first section, “Anabaptist Imbibing,” Klassen takes us through the early Anabaptist beginnings, touching on everything from polygenesis (“Poly-Gin-and-Juice”), to the Schleitheim Confession (“The Schleitside”), to lesser-known Anabaptists like Margret Hottinger (“Margret Hottingwallbanger”). The second section of the book focuses on central, though disputed, tenets of Mennonite faith, bringing focus on such topics as pacifism (“The Peaceable Gimlet”), Gelassenheit (“A Glass of Gelassenheit”), and the swearing of oaths (“Let Your Yes Be a Yes and Your No Mojito”). In “Moved by the Spirits,” Klassen crafts recipes detailing key schismatic and migratory moments. We learn about the Frisian and Flemish disputes of the late sixteenth century (“Frisian Bluster”), the rise of the Amish (“Rum-Springa Cocktail”), and even Mennonite co-existence among Muslims in Turkestan (“Remember the Khanate”). Things wrap with “Quiet in the Liquor Cabinet.” Here Klassen looks more closely at the habits and cultural forms that have made up a large part of Mennonite life in Europe and North America. We read about knack-ing sot (“Knacksot and Tonic”), crokinole (“Crokimule”), and my personal favourite, Plumemooss, which Klassen accurately describes as a “soupy mess of old fruit” (“PlumeMimosa”).
In bringing together her two literary genres, Klassen presents Mennonite life in North America and Europe as never settled, and this is where Menno- Nightcaps really shines. As Klassen puts it, “Do not, however, strain yourself, critical reader, in trying to discern an authentic Mennonite culture in any of these forms. We are many and varied and prone to adapt to our surroundings” (109). Klassen invites the reader to take pleasure in the elements of Mennonite life she discusses, without essentializing what it means to be Mennonite. Drink it all in and enjoy.