Heirloom Offerings :: Mennonite Zwiebach

This offering to Heirloom Offerings :: The Grandma Project was contributed by Maria Epp. Are you interested in sharing? Read our submission guidelines and get started.

Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my Grandma. She loved to share her skills with us in baking, sewing, crocheting, preserving and house-keeping. Now that I live far away from her, I cherish those childhood memories that much more.

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Maria learning to bake in Grandma’s kitchen

Coming from a Mennonite background meant that there were a lot of traditional foods that we would look forward to each time we visited Grandma’s. Roll Kuchen, Perishky, Wereniki, Borscht and more.  I’ve tried making many of them on my own, but of course, they never come close to Grandma’s!


The traditional bun was called Zwiebach. Watching my Grandma make the beautiful white dough and squeeze the little balls through her greased fingers was so fun. Trying it myself as a kid was often humbling as I fumbled along, not nearly as fast as she was. These have always been a treat and now that I’m gluten-free I can’t enjoy them any longer.


Her tricks of the trade were marvellous though. She would use potato water and bacon fat to make them fluffy and rich! Re-using a meal, rather than throwing those parts out. This type of thrifty cooking was not only tastier but meant that there was a rhythm to each week. There was no money to buy a quick loaf of bread. Everything was made from scratch, over and over again. The recipes were tried and true and the routines were depended on and cherished.


As a kid, I was comforted by the familiar. The same recipes became our favourites. It may not have been the healthiest, but I still long for the simpler, more grounded life that was shared by my Grandma. No surprises. No doubt, that the food was good, the home welcoming and the love strong.


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Passing on the tradition to the Great Grandchildren


Here is the Zwieback Recipe (unaltered):


  • 1 package yeast
  • 2 cups warm potato water
  • 4 cups milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 level tbsp. salt
  • 1 cup shortening (or bacon fat)
  • 1 cup margarine


  1. Sprinkle yeast into warm water, cover and let stand 10 minutes.
  2. Scald milk.
  3. Beat eggs well, and after milk has cooled somewhat, add eggs and salt slowly.
  4. When still warm, add yeast mixture and beat in enough flour to make sponge.
  5. Cover and let rise until light, 1 to 1 1/2 hours in warm place, free from draft.
  6. When light add shortening, which has softened at room temperature, and enough flour to make a smooth elastic dough.
  7. Knead well.
  8. Cover and let rise until double in bulk, punch down and let rise again.
  9. Punch down and set buns on greased cookie sheets (You pinch off round pieces, and after your pan is filled you pinch off somewhat smaller pieces and put these on the first bun, and put your thumb in the centre right down, to hold these two balls together.)
  10. Let rise until light and bake in 375°F oven for 20-25 minutes.

{Kris}: I love that Maria’s family recipe can get a quick whole foods boost without compromising the recipe by simply using butter in place of margarine, sea salt instead of table salt, and perhaps experimenting with different flours.

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Maria Epp is mom to two beautiful girls, partner to Nathan, and creative explorer with a passion for nature and working with her hands.

{Kris}: Those photos are oozing with sweetness! What a special experience for your girls to bake with their great grandmother and carry on the traditions of your family. Our family bread tradition is for all the women to gather to make paska (easter bread) each year.  Thank you for sharing this!

Share your family’s traditional foods in the comments. What do you remember your grandmother (or other significant person in  your life) making when you were a child?

1 comment

  1. You don’t mention the butter in the mixing of the recipe but it’s in the ingredient list. Is it one cup of shortening only or both?
    Also what are the approximate cups of flour?
    What determines a sponge?
    The thickness?

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