MOORHEAD – Mary-Ann Kirkby knew she had a story to tell when she wrote her 2007 memoir “I Am Hutterite,” chronicling her upbringing in a Manitoban Hutterite colony and her parents’ decision to leave the community behind in 1969.
Still, she didn’t think the most common reader reaction to her story would be hunger – literal hunger for the food that got a mention in that first book, and figurative hunger for more information about present-day Hutterite life.
Kirkby released her latest book earlier this year, “Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen,” that aims to feed that hunger. Much more than a cookbook or collection of recipes, Kirkby instead takes a look at the traditions and rituals in the ethno-religious culture of the Hutterites, who are now most concentrated in Canada and the upper Great Plains of the United States.
She’ll be a featured presenter at this year’s German Culture Day, an annual event at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead hosted by the Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County. The family friendly event, which includes traditional music and dance, crafts and food, is free and open to the public from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday.
Though she left the Hutterite colony behind at the age of 10, Kirkby said it was a “difficult and painful transition” to adapt to mainstream society where she often found “sweeping ignorance” about her culture.
Her first book, “I Am Hutterite,” helped introduce that culture to a broader mainstream audience, she said. Still, Kirkby said there’s a long way to go to spread the word about the Hutterite way of life.
“Although Hutterites have lived in North America for over 145 years, there is no other culture on this continent that so many know so little about,” she said. “My mission is to change that.”
Hutterites have a rich Germanic heritage, she said. The day-to-day conversation is in Hutterisch, an Austrian dialect, but all songs, sermons and prayers are still conducted and written in the High German dialect today.
The culture at home and in the kitchen sets Hutterites apart from their mainstream neighbors, too, Kirkby said. Rites for new mothers and the way elderly people are cared for might make outsiders “envious,” she said – “nobody does it better” – and their cooking habits lean toward the meaty, rich and hearty variety, including Knukelah dumpling soup and creamy Shuten cottage cheese pies.
Most of the meat and produce is raised on the farm, and Hutterites keep their pantries stocked with root vegetables and canned goods made with produce right out of the garden, she said.
Before she became an author, Kirkby worked as a television reporter for several years, telling the stories of others in a way that she had first learned as a child from watching Hutterite storytellers and grandmothers “spin a yarn.” She now lives in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.
In addition to promoting her latest book, Kirkby keeps busy with professional speaking engagements, and said she’s “mulling over” her next move as a writer.
“I have some ideas, but not quite ready to let the cat out of the bag,” she said.
If You Go
WHAT: German Culture Day
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday
where: The Hjemkomst Center, 202 1st Ave. N., Moorhead
tickets: Free admission; for more information, visit www.hcscconline.org