“Church spread,” informally referred to as Amish peanut butter, is the newest addition to GC’s Westlawn Dining Hall menu as of last month. A staple of Sunday lunch in the nearby Amish community, the peanut butter has since gained a following among students, Mennonite and otherwise.
Amish peanut butter is a variation on traditional peanut butter, and while recipes may differ slightly based on region and household, it is usually made up of one-third peanut butter, one-third marshmallow fluff and one-third Karo syrup. The presence of the condiment at meals after church on Sunday in the Amish community is what led to the nickname, “church spread.”
For many GC students who grew up in the region or who are connected to Mennonite or Amish circles in other ways, Amish peanut butter is a taste of home on a meal plan. 24 percent of the 2019-2020 first-year class identify as Mennonite.
But for some Westlawn Dining Hall regulars, it constitutes an entirely new food item.
“I had no idea it existed,” said first-year Samuel Ramer, who also identifies as Mennonite.
Still many students welcomed it as a familiar addition to campus. Caroline Robling-Griest remembers that a jar found its way into her cupboard a couple of years ago. While Robling-Griest did not grow up Mennonite, she encountered it after her sister enrolled at Goshen College. Since then she has had a soft spot for the butter.
The question of how an Amish brunch item came to be served at Goshen College is answered with one student’s name: Joel Yoder.
Yoder, a native of Elkhart County, initially suggested the new food item. Following the approval of head chef Jeremy Corson, it appeared on the menu.
Corson confirmed that it was a student interaction that spurred the introduction of the peanut butter.
Yoder, with roots in both the Amish and Mennonite communities, is one of the many Goshen College students who grew up eating Amish peanut butter.
“Had [Amish peanut butter] at family night every month,” Yoder said. “So I thought it would be funny if they had Amish peanut butter here.”
Yoder also remembers Amish peanut butter being served while a student at Bethany Christian Schools in Goshen.
“It was not unheard of to have Amish Peanut Butter show up at potlucks,” he said.
When Yoder proposed the addition, Corson and others at AVI Fresh were in prime condition to try it out.
“We had just made fresh peanut butter and when presented with the recipe and interest, it just took off,” he said.
The recipe for Amish peanut butter used at Westlawn Dining Hall is sourced from a different student, only demonstrating the familiarity of cuisine at the college when it comes to “church spread.”
According to Corson, the “church spread” is made with freshly ground peanut butter and other existing pantry ingredients. But veterans of the snackable spread find Westlawn’s version slightly different than they are used to.
“[AVI Fresh’s version] tastes the same but looks kind of different because they use fresh, chunky peanut butter,” Yoder said.
In Yoder’s experience, the texture is typically smoother and more spreadable due to the use of processed peanut butter. This difference has not stopped Goshen College students, both those familiar and unfamiliar with it, from whole-heartedly embracing the new food choice.
Utilizing recipes from students is somewhat unusual for AVI Fresh as recipes are primarily sourced from a corporate database. Still Corson notes that student preferences seen through semi-annual surveys, comment cards and interactions with employees have helped to shape the menus.
Corson is open to suggestions campus-wide any time, he said.
“We are glad so many are enjoying this tasty peanut topping,” Corson said.
For now, Yoder suggests trying the Amish peanut butter “by itself on fresh, homemade bread, but there should always be more peanut butter than bread.”