Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Homemaking—Tips from Amish Country

Last week-end while we were in Pennsylvania we visited some Amish communities. If I had ten lives I’d want to live half of one of them with the Amish. At Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania (that name just hollers self-reliance doesn’t it? But I suppose A-Bird-in-the-Hand-is-Worth-Two-in-the-Bush is just too much to ask any postal patron to write. Anyway, back to what we saw at Bird-in-Hand . . .)

. . . we saw ten buggies hitched outside of a General Store and only a couple of cars in the parking lot. We knew we’d found something off the beaten tourist track, so I went inside and was one of only two non-Amish. The store had no electrical lights, but rows of shovels, hammers, rakes, nails, bolts and what have you items to tame the earth. However, what fascinated me most were the groceries—only two shelves worth. They held crackers, a few cold cereals, creamed soups, rolls of loose, rough toilet paper for 30 cents each and Easter egg candy from last season. There was a wooden bin of apples in the corner and some cheeses in a dairy case. I’m supposing because of full Amish pantries and lives of self-sufficiency there was no need to carry bottles of fruit, a shelf of donuts, cans of vegetables, eggs, milk or light bulbs. A whole family could walk out of that store with only a small box and have done their grocery shopping for a month.

I needed to buy something, so I bought a box of cereal for $1.40, a little pan of fudge for $1.50 and a bag of Dove eggs for $1.05. Not only were the items inexpensive, but I got a free pen at the checkout counter and the opportunity to visit and observe the people in line. It was the best $3.95 I spent all day. (Ooops. Nope. I take that back. I got two 10” hand-crocheted doilies for $3.50, so it was the next best $3.95.)

We also went into a butcher shop. Calvin can look at meats as long as most women can look at shoes. He called me over several times from the shoo-fly and Whoopi pies corner to see different meats. He remarked several times about the thickness, amount of lean verses fat and the coloring of the bacon. During college I worked in the BYU meat lab packaging hundreds of pounds of bacon, so his thrill was not lost on me; the Amish bacon was exceptionally fine. In fact, we saw something in the meat case that I think will make a perfect Christmas dinner for us because it can be done ahead. Here’s my rough recipe version of what we saw:

Stuffed-Rolled Pork Roast

1 boneless pork roast (about 1” x 10” x 6”)
stuffing made from your favorite recipe
several strips of bacon

Unroll pork roast and spread stuffing on it. Roll pork roast back up. Line strips of bacon (like a picket fence) around the outside of the roast. Tie with string. Bake until done.

A perfect side-dish for the rolled pork roast would be Trice Tres Potatoes (I just made that little name up ; ) and here is a picture that I just happened to snap at the Bird-in-Hand market of red, sweet and white potatoes

Trice Tres Potatoes

4 large baking potatoes (peeled)
4 small sweet potatoes (peeled)
4 medium red potatoes (unpeeled)

Parboil potatoes and drain. Layer potatoes in a greased 9” x 13” pan. Season between layers with salt, pepper, seasoned salt, garlic, onions . . . whatever you consider good potato seasoning. Pour one cup of heavy cream over top. Cover and bake for 45 minutes in a 350 degree oven. These can be made in advance and refrigerated until time to bake. (I just made these a few weeks ago for the first time and they are really, really good.)

Another little homemaking tidbit that I gained from the Amish community came from the furniture shops. In the first furniture shop we visited there were no electrical lights, in keeping with the avoidance of electricity, and the show room was obviously only going to be open as long as the sun was up. However, in the second furniture shop there were electrical lights because it was a Mennonite/Amish furniture shop and the Mennonites, though similar in beliefs, don’t shun electricity. Because of the lights the show room could obviously stay open longer hours and host a deeper showroom. Now you can argue that the Amish who had their wares in the second shop were fudging on principle or you can say that by combining their efforts with the Mennonites they were able to showcase their talents more effectively. For today I’ll go with the showcase-their-talents theory.

It’s been a long time since I’ve participated in a cookie, soup or casserole swap, but this is the time of year when they make the most sense. For one, people are cooking more and using their best recipes and secondly with the added time pressures of the holidays who wouldn't like some kitchen help. So, make a triple or quadruple batch of whatever you like to make and call a friend or two and make a swap. If you organize it simply enough it should add more hours to your day which is like joining the Mennonites and adding more lights to your showroom.

One of my favorite things was the clothes hanging on the lines. The wires were connected between the barns and farmhouses and lined with dozens of black, purple and green clothes and white linens and socks. It was cold and the wind was whipping the wrinkles right out of them.

My other favorite thing to see was the children running and playing in the schoolyards. I wanted to run and play with them, or at least be the one scolding them from the sidelines.

If only I had ten lives . . .

If you had ten lives, where would you spend half of one?

Do you make Christmas dinner ahead? What do you serve?



Okay, I am hungry now! I am going to have to try your recipes! I love reading about your adventures!

Geri said...

I agree it would be great to one life in the Amish community. I'd probably want to live another life during the time of Henry VIII, and another one during the late 1800s when women were all hepped up over getting the vote. Wouldn't life be grand if we could do that? I'd just love to meet Harriet Beecher Stowe, Alma Vanderbilt, and Helen Hunt Jackson. I think I was born in the wrong time.

Jenny said...

I need to pull you on my trek with me. You are just the lady I need right by my side!

That fact about the meat had me totally chuckling. I am not sure I know too many men that can look at meat that long.

Looks like you had a wonderful time in PA!

CookinsForMe said...

Oh wow, what a trip that must have been! When I was a kid, one of my grandmothers took me to an Amish village and I just loved it. I wanted to be Amish!

The recipes sound great and I might have to try to potato recipe some time.

And if I had ten lives I'd have to spend at least half of one in some poverty stricken nation. I can't help but think it would make the other lives sweeter and make me more compassionate.

Barb said...

I have never tried that potato recipe with sweet potatos. Next time!

Kathy said...

Love this post! If I had ten lives, one of them would be a dancer!

Anonymous said...

Wow- what a trip! I would love to go visit an Amish community sometime. I could see myself thriving in that lifestyle. Every time I read or watch something where people are living off the land or grid or what have you, well it is down right appealing to me. I would love to have you as a neighbor in that life!

I am going to make your recipe this weekend- I have everything on hand and always love a new potato recipe!