It's not easy to find, nestled deep between back roads and generational family farms ... but it's soooo worth the effort.
The store's hours are odd ... very late a few evenings and closed Thursdays (many Amish weddings and meetings are held on this day) and Sundays. The lane off the rural road to get there is pitted and almost impassable when it's raining heavily; the ruts from repeated buggy tracks are genuine impact tests for most shock absorbers.
But DAMN! ... the bounty of treasures and low prices makes me almost swoon with gluttony! When I go I have a list and a set amount I want to spend ... cash only because they don't take checks or credit cards ... but I always overspend ... and over indulge! And my family and friends benefit from my lack of fiscal discipline because I bring them a jar of pear butter or a half-dozen sinful cinnamon rolls.
Every day, fresh batches of bread, dinner rolls, muffins, and pies are carefully cooled and wrapped by a bevy of plain-but-wholesome-looking young Amish women. Baskets of locally-grown items are placed in small bins ... potatoes, green beans, summer squash, cantaloupe, onions and leeks, peas, sweet corn, cabbage, rhubarb, strawberries, and peaches. This time of year, in particular, apples and pumpkins and decorative gourds and Indian corn are in abundance. Shelves are stocked with unusual pastas, beans, homemade jams and jellies, jars of thick and savory bread and butter pickles, and powdered ingredients for a wide variety of homespun cooking. This little shop is the only place where I've found tomato-basil lasagna noodles and a unique type of white bean that makes for incredible "white" chili. It's like the Old World met The Food Network, fell in love, and had a baby ... "The Amish Iron Chef."
And the spices ... this little cinder-block building is my restock "depot" for cilantro, capaprika, ginger, dried mustard, anise, caraway seed, nutmeg, and thyme, as well as the only place where I've found interesting things like "sweet cumin," a sun-dried tomato/green pepper/red pepper combo that is a must-have for omelets and spaghetti sauce, lime curd for pork roast, and a garlic lemon pepper that makes anything taste better. I'm half tempted to put it on my morning oatmeal ... it's that good!!
There are also some truly unusual items that attract kitchen "dabblers" like me. They have blocks of chocolate the size of newborn babies. And every few weeks they feature hand-churned herb butter ... heavy with garlic, sage, and rosemary. And on occasion, usually around major holidays, they sell large batches of butter cream and cream cheese icing that a local non-Amish lady whips ... what a timesaver for Christmas cookies and the occasional fancy and festive Easter dessert. And there is a whole candy aisle of tiny samples ... sour balls, fruit slices, peppermints, old-fashioned butterscotch, toffee bark, and more. I always start my hunt for "stocking stuffers" at this establishment.
In fact, the one concession to the traditional Amish "stereotype" is a set of freezer cases run by a generator ... no permanent hook up to electric utilities. Anyway, this allows for a wide selection of cheeses and trail bologna and summer sausage made regionally. Buttery farmer's cheese ... Swiss with fennel seeds ... cheddar with pepperoni ... "chocolate" cheese ... the variety switches with the seasons, but there's always something new and unique to try. And I can't stress how inexpensive some of these items are ... like about 30 percent of what I'd usually pay at the grocery or specialty deli store. But it's the soda in the chillers that amazes me ... the Amish must really enjoy carbonated beverages because I've found brands and unique sizes of cola that I never knew existed.
So I used the word "stereotype" earlier. I realize that not everyone is familiar with Amish culture, or just thinks of them as backward folk in plain clothes living without electricity, riding around in horse-pulled buggies, and speaking an odd combination of Dutch and Germanic languages. But like so many of our ancestors, the Amish came to the U.S. in search or religious freedom. In 16th century Europe, many people adopted a faith that did not baptize infants like the predominant Catholic faith, but instead embraced baptism as more knowledgeable adults. These same people also often came into conflict with the Swiss Protestant Reformation movement because they wanted more structure within their churches. These people, closely associated with Mennonites, became known as the Amish, or "the plain people" because of their disdain for many of the worldly possessions coveted by others.
A simple Amish tenet comes from I John 2:15 --
Do not love the world or the things in the world.
If any one loves the world,
love for the Father is not in him.
In the 1700s, a small number of Amish families ... less than 100 ... came to America and settled in Pennsylvania. Many more families followed, and over time a large number of Amish "orders" spread into Ohio and Indiana. Primarily farmers, the Amish have also become well known for their carpentry and repair skills. Additionally, traditional Amish artisans have kept alive many crafts and metal arts disciplines such as blacksmithing, weaving, quilting, and more.
I had an aunt whose farm was adjacent to a small-but-thriving Amish farm. As a kid, I remember spending time at her house and playing with the Amish children. We all loved tag and hide 'n' seek and climbing this big, gnarled tree that sat in the middle of a field. We also got put to work picking raspberries and blackberries, and this slightly older Amish girl showed me how to pick them without getting nicked so much by the briars. But one thing I will never forget is how my aunt would have us all come in for about an hour and draw or play board games. She said it was because she didn't want to send the Amish kids home to their parents all excited or sunburned. I think she just liked having 60 minutes where we weren't all screaming and screeching like maniacs. Here, during the inside time, I noticed the intrinsic differences between "them" and me. The clothes never bothered me, but most of the kids wanted to play checkers or work puzzles. They had no real interest in Candyland or Clue Jr. And when we drew pictures, mine were spaceships and castles where theirs were always horses and pigs and cats and family picnics and trees ... ALWAYS!! And my aunt would usually fix microwave popcorn for a snack and the mood in the house would instantly change. Every Amish child in the room ... usually about five ... would drop what they were doing to watch the "magic" occurring in the "silver box." I never gave it a second thought.
POINT OF RANT: I should have got more trail bologna this trip ... damn it's good!