Whew! It’s been one of those summers here in Ohio – one week it’s hot and humid, the next week it’s just more hot and humid. Seriously, it seems like it’s been hot since the snow melted last spring.
We’ve been running the fans non-stop in my old 1840’s farmhouse in Walnut Creek, but have you ever wondered what do Amish do to stay cool in this weather? And how do they keep their foods cold? The solutions are mostly just plain, simple common sense.
Amish build houses to stay cooler
Because Amish don’t choose to accept the luxury of electricity, traditional air-conditioning is simply not an option. One way to keep the house cool is to build their homes with basements that are built into the bank of the hill, at least as much as possible. The soil around the basement is cooler than the air temperature and helps insulate the basement, keeping it cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
In old farmhouses particularly, Amish will “move into the basement” during the summer. They even equip the basements with kitchens so they don’t even need to cook upstairs. The extra kitchen also comes in handy when they host church and hold weddings where they need to feed many people. The floors are concrete, both for easy cleaning and because they feel cool on bare feet!
Amish are notorious early risers. It’s nothing for them to rise at 4 or 5am to begin the day’s work – laundry, weeding the garden, canning, and farm chores. In this way, they get their tough, more physical chores done before the day’s heat moves in.
Amish often assume that everyone gets up at their hour. When I was young, we regularly got phone calls at 6am for my dad about some farming job, asking “Iss da Chim dat?” (Is Jim there?) It’s amusing now, but I didn’t think it was funny back then. It didn’t matter to Dad – he was up by 5:30 anyway.
Cooling milk in the spring house
A few of the old farmsteads still have spring houses on their farms. Years ago, it was quite important to build a farmstead near a spring, not just for available drinking water, but for cooling your farm products, such as milk.
A trough was built, usually from concrete, with a pipe coming in from the spring and and outlet to drain off the water when the trough got full. In this way, the spring circulated fresh, clear and cool water constantly. The new milk was put in capped milk cans and then placed in the trough to stay cool until it was collected by the milk hauler. Some Amish farmers still use milk cans for their milk. On occasion, you’ll see them placed near the road, ready for the hauler to pick up.
Many Amish have switched to milk bulk tanks now, which run off a diesel generator. The milk is kept fresh in exactly the same way as any dairy and they avoid the back-breaking labor of loading milk cans twice a day.
Natural gas appliances
Many Amish have hook-ups to natural gas and all but the most conservative orders use gas refrigerators to chill foods. These refrigerators function just like the electric models and is hooked up to natural gas just like a gas stove. Many local stores carry this type of appliance, the most famous being Lehmans Hardware in Kidron.
Gas freezers are also available but seem to be a little less common – probably because of the high energy requirements. If they don’t have a big gas freezer at home, Amish will often ask an “English” neighbor (someone with a car and electricity), to host their electric freezer in an outbuilding or garage. My neighbors had a big chest freezer in our old milking parlor for years, making regular trips every day to retrieve frozen food for a meal.
Old-fashioned Ice boxes
You might think that iceboxes went away a long time ago, but there are still some Amish who use them. According to an expert at the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center in Berlin, Swartzentruber Amish still cut ice from ponds in the winter to place in their ice boxes. Rather than the old-fashioned wood boxes, they may use an old non-working freezer and use the ice blocks to keep it cold.
To cut ice, they make a pilot hole with a drill bit, then put a cross-cut saw in the pilot hole and saw the ice into blocks. Ice blocks can be bought a private ice houses in the area for those who don’t have ponds. They store the ice in a dark insulated icehouse and cover it with sawdust.
The BEST way to keep cool – Homemade Ice Cream!
This is by far the best way to beat the heat. In Holmes County, making a batch of ice cream is an event whether you are Amish or not. Get the family, friends and neighbors together and make any excuse to enjoy a bowl of cold, creamy goodness.
The traditional way to make ice cream is to use old-timey freezer – basically a wooden bucket, a steel container and lid to hold the mix and a hand crank (or electric motor) to spin the container. “Dashers” inside the steel container spin with the crank to keep the mix from freezing solid. A couple bags of crushed ice plus some salt, and you are in business!
You really can’t beat a good homemade ice cream made with plenty of cream and vanilla! This is my personal recipe for homemade ice cream in a 6 quart mixer:
1 gallon (approximately) whole milk
1 cup white sugar
1 can of sweetened condensed milk
2 cups heavy cream
8 oz. vanilla instant pudding
1 Tablespoon of Watkins Double Strength vanilla
It is recommended that you cook the eggs for safety: In medium saucepan, beat together eggs, 1/2 gallon milk, and sugar. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is thick enough to coat a metal spoon with a thin film and reaches at least 160 degrees F.
Cool egg mixture and stir in remaining ingredients. Pour into the steel container and add remaining whole milk until the level is approximately three inches from the top. The mix will expand, so you need to leave extra room. Insert dashers and place in the bucket. It takes about two bags of ice to line the bucket and you’ll need to keep layering the salt with ice to lower the temperature of the ice. Crank until the mix has solidified but is still creamy.