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Zwieback

by Barbara Hiebert

The dough moves in smooth
dough circles, roving over the kitchen table
the way my ancestor mothers moved
across Europe and the Russian plains,
trailing a line of children behind them.

Everyday these fingers look
more like grandma's, with veins
that cross like roads among wheatlands.

The scent of expanding yeast fills the house,
warm and persistent as my people's faith in God.

God, who holds together these fragile beings
the way this bread sustained our families
when the earth was hard as crust
and refused to give up nourishment,

when days were lived in nervous apprehension,
nights were scattered with hushed whispers
and hurried movement.

Those days are gone, still I make this bread
in this wide woven land of silk, wool and cotton.
Others shape flour from rice or corn,
into tortillas, fritters and sweet cakes,
retracing the steps of their own wandering people
with each twist and turn of the fragrant dough.


(The following excerpt is from the Mt. Lake recipe book Off the Mountain Lake Range.)

Any Saturday you can step into a Low-German Mennonite home and smell the delicious aroma of freshly baked Zwieback. The word "Zwieback" means "two-bake" and is the High-German pronunciation. In Low-German it is "tweback." The Zwieback sponge is similar to bread dough, although it is saltier, has more shortening and is not so firm as bread dough. After it has risen for several hours, the housewife deftly pinches off pieces of dough to form the Zwieback. She pinches two balls, one for the bottom and one for the top. The top is slightly smaller and is pressed into the bottom one so it will not slide off in the baking. Experience is invaluable in helping one develop the desired texture, lightness and shape.

In former times especially, small Zwieback were made for funerals and were called "Funeral Zwieback."

In many homes the fresh Zwieback are carefully guarded on Saturday to keep them from disappearing too quickly. Usually friends drop in or have been invited for Sunday "Faspa" and it would hardly do to run short. However, in most places enough are baked so that Saturday supper and Sunday breakfast also include a plate of them. Because they are very rich, no butter needs to be spread on them, but jelly is almost a must. Occasionally for Sunday "Faspa" you will find cold meat or cheese served with the "Zwieback."

As to the method of eating them, there are two schools of thought. There are those who love to "dunk" and those who believe dunking spoils the taste of the Zwieback. Either way is entirely acceptable.