Jennifer Knepper

Jennifer Knepper, the author of Food is Love, appears at Aaron's Books in Lititz on June 3. 

Food, love, warmth, family, friends and stories are the main ingredients in Jennifer Knepper’s life.

Her memories of steam wafting from her Italian grandmother’s kitchen, her Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother’s “best deviled eggs,” her father’s never-ending search for the perfect shoo-fly pie (not too dry and not too many crumbs), the honey she harvests with her beekeeper husband Chad and the stories and recipes Lancaster County restaurateurs have shared with her over the years all find their way into her book “Food is Love.”

“Food is Love,” features 20 short stories, including a number of recipes, from Lancaster County’s favorite restaurants, food trucks and culinary entrepreneurs, as well as memories from her childhood.

For the past 15 years, Knepper, who lives in the Centerville/Rohrerstown area, has helped host the “Gifts that Give Lancaster Hope,” the alternative gift fair event that supports the world of local nonprofit organizations.

“We always have food vendors and I was always very intentional about having cuisines from around the world and promoting food companies that operated with a social enterprise mindset,” Knepper wrote in an email.

There, she met many of the people who would eventually make their way into her book.

“Most of the participants included recipes that for them signified love,” Knepper wrote in an email. “Rachel from Rachel’s Creperie included her grandmother’s sand tart recipe, which always holds a special place in my heart because they were one of my Dad’s favorite cookies.”

Her father worked as a baker at the former Oehme Bakery in Lititz, the family business, and she recalls baking with him at home.

“I spent a lot of time baking with my dad,” Knepper wrote in an email. “He loved cakes. He had a spice cake he would make and we’d try to make the perfect angel food cake and, although they didn’t make it at the bakery, we were always searching for the perfect shoo fly pie.”

For Knepper, sharing food with someone is more than just eating a tasty snack, it’s about having a deep and meaningful experience.

“Connecting people to someone who may introduce us to a new food or insight is one of the most beautiful things you can encounter in life,” Knepper wrote in an email.”

Knepper responded to some questions about “Food is Love” (which features the promising subtitle “Volume One”) ahead of her Friday book signing at Aaron’s Books in Lititz, which takes place during the Taste of Lititz event.

How did you decide on the premise for this book?

"My brother had written a paper in law school about our paternal Italian grandmother called “Food is Love,” and as I reflected on the fact that most of our conversations at family get-togethers revolved around food, the ideas kept coming back to me to build on this concept. Our grandmother would stop what she was doing at any time of the day and make whatever we would request and so her tangible actions forever cemented this idea in our head that food was love. When I had my kids, or when my dad was sick and died, and people would bring food to offer their support and condolences that meant the most to me."

What sort of things did your Italian grandmother and Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother make for you to eat as a kid? What did you learn from them?

"One of the things I lament is not having learned Italian from my grandmother. She didn’t really make traditional Italian dishes. She immigrated in 1946, and I’ve surmised that the collective mindset was to assimilate, do what you need to do to fit in, so she quickly learned to make traditional Pennsylvania Dutch food. It sounds so simple but one of the things she made that my siblings all reminisce about is cream of wheat. I can picture her with her wooden spoon, stirring it over the stove as steam wafts up. It’s the gesture, especially when things are so rushed in today’s world, that she would stand there and stir until it reached the right consistency. Then she served it on these blue plates and instructed us to eat from the outside because it cooled quicker. My maternal grandmother made pot pie, mashed potatoes and the best deviled eggs, which are one of my comfort foods. I learned from both of them to take the time to appreciate the act of what you’re putting into your food but also in a general sense, they were present with me and with what they were doing. The phrase that we often quote from my maternal grandmother Elizabeth is 'If you don’t eat, it’s your own fault' always brings a chuckle."

What are some of your favorite things to cook for other people?

"I love to make peanut butter bars with our honey — my husband Chad is a beekeeper, and we have a small business Chestnut Ridge Honey. I love to make soup for people, like if they’re having surgery (or) going through a rough time. There’s a chicken enchilada soup I really like to make. Baked oatmeal (using) Crystal from Prince Street Cafe’s recipe. Oftentimes, if I’m putting something together for someone who might be going through a hard time, I do what I recall being helpful for me when my Dad passed; items that are nutritionally dense, so if you don’t really feel like eating you can eat a peanut butter ball (peanut butter, honey, coconut flakes, cinnamon, vanilla, chia seeds)."

Knepper food is love

What were some of your favorite stories from the book?

"I would say that my interview with Mustafa (Nuur) really impacted me and solidified the basis for what I really wanted the book to feel like. I had read his op-ed in LNP about being a refugee and as he said 'we had good lives and they were taken from us', which is a point I think we all would do well to remember and sit with. Mustafa told me that in response to his article, someone had written critical remarks, so Mustafa reached out and invited the man to coffee. He said they met for two hours and for a half-hour they talked about the refugee situation and the rest of the time they shared how they had both lost their fathers."

What makes Lancaster County such a special place for food?

"Lancaster feels like a melting pot, and in my mind that is what makes everything in life better — when we can bring together people, customs and tastes from around the world and introduce each other to those experiences. Lancaster has been recognized by the BBC for welcoming refugees and has been designated as a welcoming city in terms of providing an environment for welcoming immigrants as they start over after living in war torn countries / refugee camps for years before being able to relocate. I’ve been fortunate to encounter so many establishments through my work with the annual gift fair and my book is attempting to pay homage and recognize the way that food can build bridges and help us to see our similarities."

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