What’s true about Amish and Mennonites

All right. We know that some of you have been watching some of the Amish “reality” shows that have appeared on TV in the last few years. And, you are thinking “Can this really be true?”

Amish man and wagonWell, the key thing to remember is that these shows are “entertainment”. They aren’t documentaries and they make no claims as such. Wikipedia defines a documentary as “a nonfictional motion picture intended to document some aspect of reality, primarily for the purposes of instruction or maintaining a historical record.”

On the other hand, reality TV is described by Wikipedia as a genre that “often highlights personal drama and conflict to a much greater extent than other unscripted television such as documentary shows.”

So, without condemning anyone’s show business career, let’s list a few things that are true about the Amish and Mennonites.

True: Not all Amish are the same

It’s pretty dangerous to generalize about the Amish. There are many variations of Amish churches, somewhat like the Baptist or Methodist denominations. Some are more permissive than others. In reference to the Ohio Amish groups, the most conservative group is the Swartzentruber Amish. They reject conveniences that “English” might consider the most basic – running water, indoor toilets, battery-powered buggy lights, even slow-moving vehicle signs on their buggies. Muddy driveways are common since gravel is not allowed. Farming is done without even the most modern of horse-drawn equipment (technology of 50 or 60 years ago).

On the other end of the spectrum, the Beachy Amish allow members to have electric, drive cars and tractors and have telephones in the house. They don’t approve of TV, movies or the internet, but they still require button-up shirts for men, homemade dresses and prayer coverings for women.

In between these groups are the New New Order Amish (yes, that’s two News), New Order Amish, New Order “Tob”, Old Order Amish, “The Dan Gmee” and probably a few groups we’ve missed. And within each “order”, the bishop in each district can make decisions about what’s accepted – even neighboring districts can be quite different. They pick and choose the types of technology that will serve the community, but not destroy it.

True: Not all Mennonites are the same

Amish and Mennonites (and Brethren, Apostolics and Hutterites), come from the same branch of Anabaptist Christian faith. Note that this is not anti-baptism. It means they believe in a Believer’s Baptism for those who have committed their lives to the Lord.

There are all varieties of Mennonites and most of them are more liberal than the Amish. Among the most conservative are Old Order Mennonites and Black Bumper Mennonites. Then there are the Conservative Amish-Mennonites all the way through the Mennonite Church USA conference. Many Conservatives may have grown up Amish, but “jumped the fence” to become Mennonite. Some Mennonites wear plain dress and a prayer covering, some do not.

True: Amish and Mennonites get along just fine

People are people and not everyone gets along with each other on a personal level. But as a community, the different Orders of Amish or Mennonites get along with each other. They may make fun of each other’s differences, but they generally will speak with each other and do business with each other.

Mennonite Disaster Service is one place where this teamwork is demonstrated. In the case of a hurricane, flood, tornado or other disaster, you may see both plain Amish and liberal Mennonites working together on one roof to repair shingles that have been torn away by the wind.

True: Amish do ride in cars

To clarify, some Amish will not ride in cars. But many Amish think nothing of hiring a driver to take them grocery shopping or on a hunting or fishing trip.

What’s the difference between owning a car and riding in someone’s car? They fear that owning cars and traveling at will could pull the community apart. The horse and buggy signifies the separation of being “in” the world, but not “of” the world. Families and neighbors should stay at home, work together, eat together and play together for the sake of the community. Traveling by tractor is accepted in the less conservative orders of the Amish, but again, many tractors don’t go much over 20 miles per hour.

Amish taxi drivers are often Mennonites.

By the way, Amish do go on vacation, usually by van, bus or train. They do travel on long trips to Florida or the western US, but they rarely fly unless there is a medical emergency. Air travel is not allowed by the more conservative orders.

True: Amish do pay taxes

Everyone pays taxes, including the Amish. They pay income tax, sales tax and property tax.

Amish do not collect Social Security, unemployment or welfare benefits because they believe that they should insure themselves. Insurance shows a lack of faith in God. Depending on where they work, they may continue to pay these payroll taxes even though they were exempted in 1965.

There are Amish-run LLC’s that lease workers to English businesses so that they can be exempted from payroll taxes. Note that once an Amish person exempts himself from paying payroll taxes, he o she cannot reverse this decision.

True: The Amish are community-centered, but not a commune

Each person in the community is expected to do business honestly and fairly. They are expected to pay their own bills and manage their own money. Individuals that have trouble with their finances are sometimes said to have “no management” and may be assigned a mentor by the church to teach them how to pay bills and control their finances.

True: Amish Aid does exist

Amish do not generally buy health insurance, but there is indeed a fund called Amish Aid or Amish Insurance. This fund is overseen by a committee of leaders and members of the Amish churches pay into the fund to help pay each others’ medical bills, etc. When there is an accident or sickness that incurs a huge expense, the community bands together to help raise money to pay the bill, such as fundraisers and benefit auctions.

The insurance “fee” is set by the committee of members. It’s voluntary, but most people are happy to participate.

True: The Amish do use cell phones, sometimes…

For Amish youth on Rumspringa, a cell phone is a must. Many Amish churches frown upon members owning a cell phone. That said, it’s not surprising to see Amish with cell phones, particularly for business use. Often, cell phones are limited to basic flip phones that do not have internet access.

True: Amish and Mennonites are people just like you

In a fast-paced world, it’s easy to think that living where life moves slower must be happier. Amish and Mennonites are just people like you. The same human problems plague us just like the English world…rebellious children, financial problems, marriage problems and so on. Problems are solved through the lens of living peacefully with one another.

For both the Amish and Mennonites, a key to their faith and community is submitting to one another. That means that each church member agrees to give up his/her own will for the benefit of the community, as Christ modeled for us. Loving your enemies, praying for those who despitefully use you and not taking revenge are tenets of the faith.

The Old-fashioned way of making Apple Butter

The cool days of autumn are a sign that it’s time to “put up” the last crops of vegetables and fruits of the year. It’s time to harvest pumpkins, apples, grapes and squash in preparation for winter.

Apple Butter and Bread

Apple Butter and Bread

Here in Amish Country, one of the traditional ways of preserving apples is to make apple butter. Yes, it’s possible to make apple butter in your kitchen, but it’s often an event for families to get together, visit, eat and stir a big batch of apple butter to share. My neighbors, the Harry and Kate Gerber family made it a priority every October to schedule a stirring where everyone, old and young,  chipped in the help prepare apples and then help stir the pot. It is an all-day affair.

Prepare the apples

According to June Miller, Harry and Kate’s daughter, the first step is to purchase the right kind of apple. Grimes Golden is the Gerber family pick, but they’ve tried blending other varieties to enhance the taste. Grimes Golden a yellow apple and is the perfect for apple for apple butter because it cooks down to a fine texture and is sweet. Although it can be used for eating, it’s also an excellent apple for pie baking.

The night before the Stirring, the family gets together to peel the apples (yes, done with an old-fashioned apple peeler). The peeled apples are quartered or cut in eighths if the apples are large. This is called schnitzing. The seeds are cut out and discarded and the apple slices are soaked in water overnight.

Stirring the Apple Butter

Apple Butter Stirring at Yoder's Amish Home, Walnut Creek, Ohio

Apple Butter Stirring at Yoder’s Amish Home, Walnut Creek, Ohio

It literally takes all day to make apple butter – the Gerbers start cooking at 7:00 or 7:30 in the morning. The soaking apple pieces are drained, then a copper kettle filled with 13 gallons of apples and 13 gallons of fresh water is set over the fire to cook…and cook…and cook. The kettle must be watched at all times so the apple butter does not burn.

A long-armed wooden paddle is used to stir the pot almost constantly for 8 or 9 hours. This is not a job for the weak and frail. It will work out your arms and back after a day of stirring!

When is the apple butter ready?

After the apple slices have cooked down into a fragrant brown sauce (you don’t want to see any pieces floating) it’s time to add brown sugar and white sugar. How much depends on how sweet you want your apple butter to be. It’s especially important to keep stirring the apple butter once the sugar is added because it will burn more quickly.

The apple butter is ready when it cooks down to exactly the right consistency. To test it the “Gerber way”, dip a spoonful of apple butter out of the kettle, let it cool slightly on the spoon and then tilt the spoon downward as if to empty it. If the apple butter slowly drops off the spoon with a “plop” (a very technical term), it’s finished and ready to take off the fire.

June recommends having some freshly baked butter bread ready to test taste and consistency of the apple butter as you go along. This is half the fun of the stirring!

After the apple butter is cooled, everyone brings their own jars to fill and take home for the year.

A recipe for a small batch of Apple Butter

Most of you won’t be stirring apple butter in a 30 gallon kettle, so we’ve included a recipe for a small batch you can make in your own kitchen. If you don’t want to schnitz apples, you can also cook apple butter directly from applesauce. It should cook faster that way.

APPLE BUTTER  – taken from Der Dutchman’s 1973 Cookbook
Contributed by Mrs. Ben D. Miller
3 gallons uncooked apple schnitz
8lbs white sugar
1 gallon Karo

Put all ingredients together and cook 3 hours with the lid on the pan. Take the apple butter off the heat and put through a sieve (such as a Victorio strainer). Return the apple butter to the pan and heat again. When the apple butter is thick, put in canning jars and seal.




Amish Date Pudding

Amish Date Pudding

Date pudding, served with caramel sauce and whipped cream

During the holiday season, every culture has traditions that are cherished and celebrated. Mennonite and Amish culture is no different, particularly in foods. Here in Ohio, no holiday meal (Christmas or Thanksgiving) would be complete without serving date pudding.

No, it’s not a pudding that you’d find in sealed plastic cups at the grocery store! It’s actually a very moist cake, flavored with dates, nuts and lots of sugar. And while we can’t say exactly when or why the date pudding tradition started, it’s certainly a fine way to celebrate Christmas or any important occasion.

There is no right or wrong way to make date pudding. Recipes are handed down through the generations and each family thinks their version is the best! Date pudding may be baked Up-side Down (or right side up), with bananas, without bananas, with caramel sauce and so on. My own Grandma Miller served date pudding cake broken into pieces and mixed thoroughly with fresh whipped cream (made from milk from the cows gave that morning), placed in a large deep dessert bowl and topped with bananas.

I’ve personally made date pudding several ways, but here is the recipe that I’ve used the most. It’s actually the recipe Der Dutchman Restaurant uses to make the date pudding they’ve served for 40 years.

Amish Date Pudding

1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon soda
1 cup chopped dates (buy them already chopped or use a food processor to chop whole dates)
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon butter
1 egg, beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup walnuts

Pour boiling water over dates and soda. Let set until cool. Add date mixture to the rest of the ingredients. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Test the cake with a toothpick – if it comes out clean, the cake is ready. Cut into squares and top with whipped cream, walnuts and bananas.

Peach Pie Season in Amish Country

Dutchman Fresh Peach Pie

Dutchman Fresh Peach Pie

Nothing tastes like summer like fresh peaches! Beginning mid to late July, they are in season here in Ohio. Families all across Amish country will buy them by the bushel and either can or freeze them.

Whether you can them or eat them fresh, you’ll want to start out with quality fruit. Here are a few tips for buying peaches.

Selecting your fruit

When shopping for peaches, be very picky. You’ll want to make sure the fruit is soft but not bruised. While bruised peaches spoil quickly, peaches that are hard will never ripen correctly and are not as tasty. To save yourself both grief and work, be sure to select free-stone varieties – “cling” peaches do not lift off the stone easily and will be harder to slice. Red Haven is the variety of choice but there are many good options for eating and “putting away.”

If you plan to can or freeze your peaches, try to ask for varieties that do not turn brown when sliced. Although the peaches may taste OK, they won’t retain the beautiful yellow color they had when fresh. If you’re not sure what kind of peaches you have, just coat your sliced peaches with an acid, such as lemon juice or orange juice. The acid helps the peaches look fresh and yellow until you eat them next winter.

It’s fine to store peaches in your refrigerator, but be sure to store them side-by-side. Stacking peaches will cause them to bruise and get mushy. Before eating fresh peaches, remove them from the refrigerator to warm up. Peaches at room temperature seem to have better taste than those straight out of the frig.

If you do happen to buy some peaches that aren’t ripe (a ripe peach should be soft but not mushy), just lay them out in one layer on your kitchen counter. They’ll ripen up naturally in a day or so.

Where to buy peaches

In Walnut Creek, Hillcrest Orchard is one place that raises their own peaches (50 acres of peach and apple trees) and they pick them only when they are ripe. Peaches will be available there by August 1.

Another option is at our local livestock auctions, such as Farmerstown (Tuesday), Mount Hope (Wednesday) or Kidron (Thursday). You’ll find multiple vendors there with peach varieties such as Harvestor, Contender, Red Haven and the later varieties of “white” peaches. If you are in the market for large lots of fruit, check out the Farmer’s Produce Auction in Mount Hope on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

In Plain City, just west of Columbus, you’ll be able to find peaches at Yutzy’s Farm Market. They’ll be selling the varieties Contender, Red Glow and later Red Haven. All three are good for freezing and canning and are free-stone varieties.

Peach Pie

Fresh peach pie, as the name states, is made with fresh uncooked peaches. At our Der Dutchman and Dutch Valley restaurants, pie bakers peel and slice the peaches, then cover with a homemade peachy-orange glaze. Although we can’t give you our recipe (it’s got a secret ingredient), it’s made with peach-flavored jello as its base. It’s the job of one baker to peel the peaches for all our pies – it takes nearly all day. The pies are made by filling a pre-baked pie shell and topped with whipped cream.

On the other hand, if you’d like to bake your peaches into a pie, here’s a simple Peach Cream Pie recipe that comes from our original and old-fashioned 1973 Der Dutchman Cookbook

Peach Cream Pie
From Mrs. Ben Miller

1 cup white sugar
1 cup cream
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Approximately 3 – 4  fresh peaches, depending on the size

Fill an unbaked pie crust with peeled fresh peaches. Mix the sugar, cream and cornstarch and pour mixture over the peaches in the pie shell. Bake like a custard pie.

Editor’s note: Instructions for baking a custard pie are as follows: Bake for 400 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes or until until nicely browned on top.

What in the world is Rhubarb?

Ahh…rhubarb. It’s one of the first crops of the spring. A sure sign that spring really has arrived, it starts sending up its first green shoots as soon as the ground begins to warm, usually in April in our neck of the woods.

Photo of Rhubarb

Rhubarb often has beautiful red stalks

Don’t know what rhubarb is? Well, you’re not alone. Here in Ohio’s Amish Country, most people are quite familiar with the plant. Most people with a garden will have a clump of rhubarb somewhere on the property. The wide triangular leaves of this rhizome are poisonous, but the stalks have a unique tart taste that makes wonderful pies, cakes, jams. salads and many other tasty recipes.

Rhubarb is said to be a very “old” plant, meaning that documented knowledge of the plant goes back as far as 2,700 years in China. The roots were said to have medicinal value and were a prized commodity. In his travels, Marco Polo became acquainted with rhubarb and soon the roots of Chinese rhubarb were traded in Italy. Interest in the plant began to spread throughout Europe. Seeds or rootstock were brought to America with the early pioneer farmer. Cultivation and use of the stalks as a food grew as sugar became more readily available as a sweetener.

How to grow Rhubarb

Rhubarb is a cool season crop and is well-suited for Canada and the northern United States. Winter time temperatures must be below 40 degrees to break its dormancy period. Harvesting can begin as soon as the stalks are between a half inch or an inch in width. The more you harvest, the more the plant will yield.

It likes well-drained slightly acidic soils with an abundance of organic matter. The recommended fertilizer is well-aged manure. Since no herbicides can be used, weeds can be a problem and should be addressed by diligent hand-weeding and hoeing. Rhubarb is relatively pest and disease-free.

Our own rhubarb patch was started from the seeds of a neighbor’s plant. Rhubarb will grow a rather unsightly seed head which many people cut off before it reaches maturity. Leaving the heads on the plant also seem to strain the vigor and decrease the yield. Alternately, roots can be dug and transplanted to start a patch.

A word of caution: If you go looking for rhubarb, don’t confuse it with the weeds that grow along the road sides. This is Burdock, a weed that is considered toxic! It looks similar but is not what you are looking for. You can tell by the leaves – rhubarb has smooth leaves and burdock leaves have woolly undersides. It will grow into an annoying perennial weed that spreads quickly and produces cockle burrs that will attach themselves to your clothes, your hair and your dog. Don’t let this get going in your garden.

Recipe for Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Der Dutchman Rhubarb Crumb Pie

Our crumb-topped rhubarb pies from Der Dutchman and Dutch Valley Restaurants

Here’s the best part! At our Der Dutchman and Dutch Valley restaurants, we make rhubarb-cream cheese cookies, coffee cake and the most popular of all, rhubarb crumb pies. Rhubarb has many delicious uses but because of its strong tart flavor, it requires large amounts of sugar. Often, bakers will mix in strawberries to lessen the tartness. Below is a Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie recipe from our 40th Anniversary Cookbook contributed by on of our salad cooks, Clara I. Miller.

1 pint fresh strawberries
2 cups sliced fresh rhubarb
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind or 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Make (or buy) enough pie crust for a double crust pie:
1 layer to line your pie shell, 9 inches in diameter
1 layer to form your top pie crust (or make a topping of crumbs with butter, brown sugar and flour)

Combine the sugars, flour and lemon; Add the fresh fruit and toss together. Add the mixture to your unbaked pie shell and cover with the second the top crust. Pinch together the edges and bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 50 minutes. Enjoy warm with a dollop of vanilla ice cream!

Purple Martins: a Sign of Spring

After a long winter’s nap, the days get longer, the sun shines a bit warmer and the earth begins to awaken. Along with the tulips and crocuses, another sign of spring are the birds returning from their winter feeding grounds. Robins, red-winged blackbirds and buzzards are among the early arrivals, but April 1 marks the expected arrival of the farmer’s friend, the purple martin.

Purple Martin

Purple Martin

In their purplish-black plumage, martins are among the most desired birds in Amish country. Have you ever wondered about those huge white “bird condos” often seen near a barn or pond? While they are charming and scenic, they aren’t just for looks. They are specially designed to attract the notoriously picky purple martins

Martins are known as the tamest of wild birds and have adapted to make their homes among humans. They are the only bird to completely depend on humans for housing.

Purple Martins are the largest species of swallow in North America. They spend their winters in Brazil then migrate to their summer grounds in spring. The time of arrival depends on weather – they can starve if the temperatures are too cool. Beginning in January, martins return to Florida and the Gulf Coast and they move northward as the temperatures warm.

Because they feed only on flying insects, martins are a valuable friend to the farmer or any resident of the country. Entertaining to watch, they dive and catch food in mid-air, including flies, midges, Japanese beetles, mayflies, moths and other bothersome insects. They feed mainly during daylight hours, and so are not predators of mosquitoes, which come out mainly at night.

Attracting a colony of martins is a difficult task. It’s all about location, location, location! According to the Purple Martin Conservation Association, their houses must be placed in an open locations between 30 and 120 feet from human housing or farm buildings. Trees taller than their housing should be far away – between 40 and 60 feet from the birdhouse. Housing must be 10 to 20 feet high with no wires attached or other vegetation in the vicinity. And, they are attracted to white or light colored houses.

Purple Martin houses on an Amish Farm

Purple Martin houses on an Amish Farm

Once a colony of martins has been established, they will return to the same houses year after year as long as predators and competing birds are controlled. Most houses are built on a telescoping post, so  the nests of more aggressive competitors, such as English sparrows and starlings, can be removed.

And while all this takes work and maintenance, there is no more “green”  or natural way of insect control than with birds such as martins or barn swallows.

The next time you are visiting Ohio’s Amish country, be on the lookout for the big white birdhouses, home to the purple martin!

Leaf Peeping – the best time to visit Ohio

Hard as it is to believe, summer is almost gone. School has started, the weather is cooling off and it will soon be time for the leaves to change. For those of you “Leaf Peepers” who enjoy the fall colors, you don’t need to drive to West Virginia to the fall landscape in all its glory. Ohio has its own share of scenic view and foliage.

Waynesville, Walnut Creek and Sugarcreek are all filled with dense woods featuring gorgeous colors. Maple trees, which are very common in our forests, are the flashiest and range from brilliant yellows to intense reds and oranges. Oaks are generally a rusty red color and hold their leaves far beyond most trees. Tulip or poplar trees are also known for their bright yellow fall foliage.

In northeast Ohio, the general rule is that the leaf colors will peak the second week in October. Waynesville, being further south, peaks slightly later. The most brilliant colors come when late summer is dry and sunny and evenings are cool (in the 40 degree range.) So far, 2009 is setting up to be a great year for viewing leaves here.

If you are a photographer, you’ll also find lots of opportunities for great shots during September and October. Along with the brilliant trees, you’ll find Amish buggies traveling shaded back roads, Amish farmers harvesting their fields, brilliant flower beds full of mums, pumpkins decorating porches, and produce markets full of colorful vegetables and fruits.

To be sure, autumn is the high season in our locations with various festivals, apple butter stirrings, and or course, “leaf peepers.” If you can, try to get away during the week to avoid crowds and traffic. Believe it or not, you may still find a hotel room open during the week and on Sundays. Try out Carlisle Inn Walnut Creek or Carlisle Inn Sugarcreek to inquire about a room during the autumn leaf season.