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.




Where were you in 1969?

From guest blogger, Vicki VanNatta

For some of you, 1969 was ‘before your time’….way before your time. For some of you, 1969 was part of the ‘good old days’ — dating, less responsibility and more fun – and those great cars: Chevrolet Camaro, Pontiac GTO, the Ford Mustang.  Others were in the throes of raising your children, dealing with how long your teenage son’s sideburns were, making sure his hair didn’t touch his collar. And were your daughter’s skirts down to her fingertips when her arms were at her sides?   Infractions meant they would be sent home from school or reprimanded.  Wearing slacks or jeans to school? Forget about it. It wasn’t happening.  It was a different time in Walnut Creek, Ohio.

What was happening in Walnut Creek, Ohio in 1969

In 1969, Dan and Shirley Lehman had just partnered with Emanuel Mullet and Bob and Sue Miller to purchase Der Dutchman Restaurant on the square in Walnut Creek. I was a teenager, and I began my very first job as a dishwasher at Der Dutchman Restaurant. A paycheck! I earned a paycheck!

Original Der Dutchman Restaurant

The original Der Dutchman Restaurant in Walnut Creek, Ohio

Bert and Emma Hershberger had started the small 75-seat restaurant in what was previously a hardware store. The business was doing well, but if you’ve ever been in the restaurant business, you know the demands put on your time and energy can be draining.  It was those demands that led Bert and Emma to sell Der Dutchman Restaurant to Dan Lehman, Emanuel Mullet and Bob Miller, owners of Dutch Corporation, formed for the specific purpose of purchasing the Restaurant.

It started with one restaurant

Forty-five years later, that 75-seat restaurant is now a 650-seat restaurant that has undergone six major renovations and expansions. What was once known as Dutch Corporation is now Dutchman Hospitality Group, and that ‘group’ includes two Carlisle Inns, six gift shops, a retail food market, a wholesale food and hospitality supply company, live theater productions, and not just one 650-seat restaurant, but six, with locations in Ohio and Sarasota, Florida, plus a sister location in Middlebury, Indiana.

45 years later…still the same traditions

Der Dutchman Walnut Creek

Der Dutchman Walnut Creek as it appears today.

Forty-five years later, high school freshmen boys might have their hair below their shirt collar and most girls are wearing jeans and shorts to school, but Der Dutchman Restaurant is still on the square in Walnut Creek.  Der Dutchman is still serving real mashed potatoes, delicious pan-fried chicken, dressing, noodles and more than twenty kinds of pie.  Their traditional menu hasn’t changed, but at each Dutchman Hospitality restaurant you will find a variety of menu items including delicious salads, stir fry, and salmon plus other regional and local favorites – just in case you aren’t craving mashed potatoes on any given day.

Relax, visit with each other

What you won’t find is a large screen TV over your head in the dining room. You won’t find loud music playing and you won’t find a bar. But you will find a place where you can sit down, look across the table and actually have a conversation about the day or just quietly relax and enjoy.  Dutchman Hospitality restaurants, shops, and inns are all about fellowship and food around the table, a sense of peace and comfort during an overnight getaway, and delightful shopping for your home, your friends, and your family.

Continuing to grow and adapt

Forty-five years later, I’m not washing dishes at Der Dutchman, but Dutchman Hospitality continues to grow and serve the six communities they now call home. Throughout the annual seasons, Dutchman Hospitality employs approximately 1300 individuals who speak a variety of languages; arriving from many parts of the US and the world, Dutchman Hospitality employees work together each day to make sure everyone eating at their tables, staying at their inns, and shopping in their shops enjoys the traditional foods, simple comforts, and rural charm of the Midwestern Amish and Mennonite communities.

Dutchman Hospitality remembers 1969 as the year it all began.  No matter where you were that year, 2014 is good year to visit any of the Dutchman Hospitality restaurants, shops or inns. Bring a friend, your family, or your neighbors. Gather ‘round. It’s time to make some memories of your own.

Fried Amish Cornmeal Mush

No breakfast in Amish country is complete without a hearty helping of fried cornmeal mush. Most often eaten with syrup or sausage gravy, it’s a simple, honest and economical dish that has long been a staple in Amish and Mennonite households.

Fried Cornmeal Mush

Fried Cornmeal Mush

Humble Cornmeal

Made with ground corn, mush was well-known on the American frontier. Corn was first cultivated by the Native Americans, but newcomers to the New World soon learned the value of corn. Easily dried and ground, corn could be ground and used in mush (either fried or in a porridge), cornbread, corn pone and grits.

Because mush required few ingredients to make and cornmeal was plentiful, the American pioneers carried corn mush with them on wagon trains and other travels. A breakfast and/or supper dish, it was served with butter and milk if available. Since the Amish themselves were pioneers from Europe with large families to feed, they soon learned to appreciate humble corn mush as must in the farmhouse kitchen. It’s been said that that corn mush might have been the food staple that kept the pioneers alive during long winters and lean times.

How to make Amish cornmeal mush

Corn mush is made with finely-ground yellow corn meal. It’s easily available in grocery stores or, if you are ambitious, you can make your own. Just be aware that corn meal is not made from sweet corn! Sweet corn is what you eat off the cob, but it’s not suitable for corn meal. Yellow cornmeal is made with “dent” corn or field corn (look for the dent at the top of the kernel). Field corn is harder and more starchy.

You will need to make sure the corn dried thoroughly before you grind it in dry mill. Specialty stores such as Lehman’s Hardware carry mills and even corn to grind.

Once you have cornmeal, mush is pretty simple. Other than cornmeal, the only ingredients are water and salt. There are variations, but here is a recipe:

3/4 cup – cold water
3 cups boiling water
1 cup – corn meal
1 tsp – salt

First make a paste with cold water and cornmeal/salt mixture, then stir in boiling water. Continue to cook (stirring often) over a low heat for about 20 minutes, then pour into a pan and let cool until the mush is set. Slice thinly and fry in oil until crispy brown. Serve hot with breakfast syrup, sausage gravy, tomato gravy or apple butter.

If you’d rather go straight to the frying, ready-made corn mush is available in many bulk food stores and bakeries in Ohio’s Amish country or online at the Dutchman Online Store.


For a really Pennsylvania Dutch variation, try scrapple, also known as “pon haus”. Pon haus was made at butchering time and consists of pork scraps and trimmings mixed with cornmeal mush. We won’t go into the details here, but the scraps were cuts that were not usable elsewhere and therefore made into scrapple to avoid waste. Pon haus is sliced like regular mush and fried. It’s still available in some butcher shops and sometimes bulk food stores.

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.

The Lowly Dandelion in Dandelion Gravy!

dandelion gravy

The common dandelion

The lowly dandelion reminds us both of our childhood days (remember blowing the fluffy seeds away) and of the unwelcome weed in our lawns. Many of us spend quite a bit of time trying to get rid of the hardy little flowers. Yet, for a brief time in the spring, you might want to sample them in a salad or in the Amish country specialty, dandelion gravy.

Dandelions for your health

The Common dandelion is an introduced plant in North America. In the mid-1600s, European settlers brought the common dandelion (scientific name, Taraxacum officinale) to eastern America and cultivated it in their gardens for food and medicine. Since then it has spread across the continent as a weed.

The plant spread widely because of its adaptability to various climates, but also because they clone themselves. Dandelions don’t need to cross-pollination to set seeds – they develop seeds completely on their own, which explains why they seem to multiply in your yard overnight.

If you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em!

While we won’t vouch for the accuracy of these statements, our thrifty Amish and Mennonite ancestors did accept their nutritional value in a pioneer diet.

According to the website essortment.com,

· A cup of raw dandelion greens has the same calcium as ½ of a glass of milk. It also has 14,000 i.u. of Vitamin A, plus 19 milligrams of thiamin, 26 mg. of riboflavin and 35 mg. of ascorbic acid, your body changes it into vitamin C. That’s more than most multi-vitamins.

· Some herbalists say the milky substance from the stem treats warts. Apply once a day for up to 5 days. Hey, it may not work, but the bugs will love you. But, be careful. It can cause an allergic rash in some people.

· The Chinese use dandelion root for relieving Tonsillitis. They slowly cook one ounce of the root, chopped, in two cups of water until only half of the liquid remains. After it cools, they sip this syrup, sometimes sweetening it with juice.

· The French grow Dandelions to eat much like we grow lettuce in our gardens.

According to MotherEarth News:

Dandelions have long been used as a liver tonic and diuretic. In addition, the roots contain inulin and levulin, starchlike substances that may help balance blood sugar, as well as bitter taraxacin, which stimulates digestion. Dandelion roots can be harvested during any frost-free period of the year and eaten raw, steamed, or even dried, roasted and ground into a coffee substitute. The flowers are best known for their use in dandelion wine, but they also can be added to a salad, made into jellies or dipped in batter to make dandelion fritters.

How to harvest

Dandelion gravy

Dandelion greens

Always harvest dandelions from a yard that is free of chemical herbicides, fertilizers  and other lawn sprays.  Pick the leaves as soon as they appear.  In fact, the earlier the better, for the younger the leaves, the less likely they are to taste overly sharp. If your dandelions grow too large, the only alternative is the lawnmower.

Fresh-picked dandelion greens are frail; they wilt quickly and should be cleaned in very cold water and dried thoroughly (a salad spinner comes in very handy here). Place the clean, dry greens on paper towels in a plastic bag or bowl, and keep them covered and chilled until you’re ready to use them.

Dandelion Gravy

Dandelion gravy is a truly unique recipe in Amish country and there are several ways to prepare it. In some recipes, it’s really more about the gravy and less about the dandelions.

At Der Dutchman Restaurant in Walnut Creek, Ohio, dandelion gravy is served as an occasional lunch special and only made in spring when the dandelion greens are the most tender. Courtesy of Verna Yoder and Mary Raber, longtime cooks at Der Dutchman, here’s a general recipe for preparing the gravy:

1. Make a gravy by browning butter then adding flour and milk. Stir until smooth.
2. To this mixture, add chopped hardboiled eggs, chopped bacon, salt and vinegar to taste. If you prefer, you may leave out the vinegar.
3. Last, add fresh clean dandelion greens and stir until just wilted.
4. Serve over boiled potatoes (mashed slightly with a fork) or mashed potatoes.

Life in Amish Country: Garage Sales and Auctions

When I was a server at Der Dutchman Restaurant, we were often asked, “What do people in Amish  country do for entertainment?” It’s true that the nearest mall and movie theater is at least twelve miles away, at least from where I live in Walnut Creek. And really, you won’t see lots of Amish people at the mall anyway. But, just like anyone else, we like to go shopping…with a twist.

One activity that is immensely popular in Amish country is going to auctions, garage sales and flea markets. We just love to sort through other people’s “treasures” and see if there’s anything we can use. To the eye of the beholder, it might be a pile of junk, but it’s just in our genes to be thrifty and either get something for nothing, or make something out of nothing.

One man’s (or woman’s) junk is another man’s treasure

When you travel through Amish country in the spring, it’s common to see Garage Sale signs posted along the road. The Amish and Mennonite community is wild for Garage Sales. Often, you’ll see a particular bunch of neighbors or maybe a town get together and plan to have garage sales on one weekend, so the crowds can visit them all. Extended families will get together to do a family sale. The month of May is prime-time for garage sales.

In the spring, our local free newspaper “The Bargain Hunter” is chock full of Garage Sale ads that will fill at least one whole page of the paper. Usually, the ad will specify whether it’s an Amish sale. This is important if you’re shopping for clothes, although what you’ll find is anyone’s guess. Like a garage sale in any other place, you can find clothes (Amish or otherwise), tools, dishes, antiques, videos, equipment and sometimes even vehicles. And get there early. Folks here get up with the chickens to get their pick of the best deals.

Looking to populate your gardens or flower beds? Often in the spring you’ll see “Perennial Sales”. Amish and Mennonite women love to fill their flower beds with perennial flowers that will come up every year. Perennials need to be divided to bloom properly, so they’ll sell their extras for a dollar or two. It’s a great way to get plantings if you’re just getting started and for a fraction of what you’ll pay at a greenhouse.

Auctions of all kinds

Amish in our area in love with auctions because it’s another way to find good used items. They’ll sell nearly anything at auction – livestock, horses, vehicles, farms, houses, antiques and household goods. We have an abundant supply of auctioneers here, so there’s an auction going on somewhere almost all the time. There area a couple auction houses in Holmes County with regular auctions on Monday and Thursday nights. You’ll be able to find a schedule and sale bill in any of our local newspapers, including “The Bargain Hunter“, Dover “Times Reporter”, Sugarcreek “Budget” and Wooster “Daily Record”.

You’ll need a valid ID like a driver’s license to obtain a buyer’s number. If you have the winning auction bid, you’ll need your buyer’s number to identify you. It’s good practice to keep track of what you buy on the back side of the buyer’s card. Even auctioneers make mistakes on occasion. One more piece of advice at auctions – some of us tend to talk with our hands. Be careful you don’t accidentally bid on some useless widget or perhaps a very expensive antique piece. As they say, once the gavel falls, the item is sold!

Flea Markets and Antiques

A traditional flea market is usually a variety of vendors who deal in “junque” (antiques + junk). Nearly every Amish livestock auction in the area has a flea market. Expect to find tools, glassware, dishes, knives, books, watches and so on. They are open during the spring, summer and fall months at Farmerstown on Tuesdays, Mount Hope on Wednesdays and Kidron on Thursdays and on Saturdays. Besides “junque,” you’ll find fresh fruit and vegetable vendors selling whatever happens to be in season.