Classification scheme: 

Title: David Luthy collection about Edna (Cress) Staebler

Dates of creation: 1969-2013; 1984-2006 predominant

Physical description: 13 cm of textual records

Biographical sketch: Edna Cress (1906-2006) was born in Berlin (Kitchener), Ontario, the eldest of three daughters of John and Louise (Sattler) Cress. Edna's parents had Mennonite ancestry, but were not practicing Mennonites. Edna married Frederick (Keith) Staebler in 1933; the couple later divorced. While an emerging writer of creative non-fiction, she was assigned by Maclean's magazine to write an article on Old Order Mennonites. "How to live without wars and wedding rings" describes her stay with the David and Bevvy Martin family (Bevvy is referred to as "Hannah" in the original article). Her connections with Old Order Mennonites grew, and in 1968 she relied heavily on Bevvy Martin, Louise Cress, and other local Mennonite women for recipes for her first cook book Food That Really Schmecks. The book and several sequels became popular in Canada. Edna Staebler was made a member of the Order of Canada in 1996.

In the early 1980s, Proctor & Gamble (owner of Duncan Hines) sued Nabisco. Proctor & Gamble claimed that Nabisco had violated its patent for an industrial baking process that made cookies both crisp and chewy. Bevvy Martin's recipe for Rigglevake cookies in Food That Really Schmecks came to the attention of lawyers from both sides as an example of crisp and chewy cookies that could be said to be in the public domain. Lawyers collected cookie recipes through advertisements in Mennonite and Amish newspapers and Old Order Mennonite women were paid to bake demonstration cookies. Edna Staebler, while remaining neutral yet amused, helped facilitate these interactions. In 1989 the dispute was settled out of court. The incident has been called the "cookie war," and inspired a play and movie script.

In January 1984, David Luthy, an Amish publisher and founder of the Heritage Historical Library in Aylmer, Ontario, began a correspondence with Edna about a chapter on the Amish in her book Whatever Happened to Maggie (1983). Coincidentally, in late 1984 he was also contacted by lawyers researching Mennonite and Amish cookies. The two began a friendship that lasted until Edna's death in 2006.

Custodial history: Donated to the Archives in 2019 by David Luthy

Scope and content: Edna Staebler donated her personal papers to the University of Guelph. This collection consists of materials collected by David Luthy, and housed by him in the Heritage Historical Library. It contains correspondence, scripts and news clippings related to the "cookie war" as well as news clippings, articles, and other materials about Edna Staebler's life and activities. It also contains personal correspondence between Edna Staebler and David Luthy. Doris Kramer of St. Jacobs, Ontario assisted in the collection of materials for David.

Notes: Original archival description created 2019 by Laureen Harder-Gissing.

File list:

Series 1: The "cookie war"

  1. Correspondence and news clippings, 1984-1990, 1992, 1995, 2013
    Note: See also Mennonite Historian X, no. 4 (Dec 1984)
  2. Appeal for cookie recipes in Family Life, 1984
  3. Print advertisements for Duncan Hines cookies
  4. Proctor & Gamble's United States and Canadian patents for "Doughs and cookies providing storage-stable texture variability," 1984
  5. McDonnell, Kathleen. The Cookie War. Toronto, Ont.: Playwrights Canada Press, 1988.
    Note: playbill for a production by Theatre Wellesley (2001) tipped in
  6. Productions of "The Cookie War" play, 1988-1989
    Note: Includes clippings and ephemera from the original production at the Blyth Festival in 1988, and by the United Mennonite Educational Institute in 1989
  7. Woolnough, Jeff and Dick, Brian. "The Great Cookie War" (screenplay). Toronto, Ont.: Dazzle Films, 1988. - 100 pages
  8. Cookies, 1984
    Note: Consists of three Rigglevake cookies baked by Old Order Mennonite women Leah Martin and Lena Horst.

Series 2: Edna Staebler biographical materials

  1. Various events honouring Edna Staebler, 1991-2006
  2. Correspondence with David Luthy, 1984, 1987-1989, 1991-1997, 2000-2001, 2003, 2006
  3. News clippings re Edna Staebler, 1969, 1979, 1982, 1984, 1989-1991, 1993, 1995-2006, 2008, 2010, 2013
    Note: Some clippings located in map case
  4. Staebler, Edna. "How to live without wars and wedding rings," Maclean's, April 1, 1950.


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