My Thoughts About One of My Favorite Places--Northeastern Indiana's Amish Country

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Yoder Popcorn

Just south of Shipshewana, Indiana, there’s a place where anyone who’s a popcorn fan might want to spend some time. 

I’ve been a microwave popcorn person for years now—and Yoder’s is the best I’ve found—but visiting their retail store makes me want to branch out!  They stock unpopped popcorn in lots of varieties, popping oils, all kinds of salts and seasonings, popcorn bowls, various types of popcorn poppers, bags of premium caramel corn, microwave popcorn in several varieties, gift baskets, and all kinds of novelties for the popcorn lover.

Rufus Yoder started growing popcorn on his family farm in 1936.  He shared his surplus with friends and family, and soon he had such a reputation for quality and taste that a business was formed.  When Rufus retired, his children continued to market Yoder Popcorn.  Today  Rufus’ grand-niece Sharon and family operate the 1,700-acre farm and the popcorn shop.  

When arriving at the shop, visitors are given a free bag of popcorn.  The last time I was there, it was their famous “Tiny Tender” brand.  I never knew there were varieties of popcorn, other than yellow vs. white—but they have loads of choices, in various kernel sizes and colors.  Yoder grows and stocks varieties such as “Large Red,” “Sunburst,” and “Baby Blue.”  On the largest end of the spectrum there is “Monster Mushroom,” and on the smallest end, “Tiny Tender” and “Ladyfinger.”  

Each type of popcorn is described in detail, both in the store and on their website.  For example, “Ladyfinger” has this website description:  “Lady Finger is the smallest kernel available.  It is yellow in color and is completely hull-less!!  Very small when popped.”  The store displays a handy chart, shown below:

The popcorn is grown locally, much of it on their own land, and it is all non-GMO.  Like most local businesses, they are closed on Sundays.

Yoder Popcorn’s motto is, “Popcorn the way you remember it—from the heart of Indiana Amish Country.”  It is available from their retail store and also at other local food shops.  They also have a website with both information about their business and the option of online ordering.  Their address is 7680 W 200S, Topeka, IN.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Mrs R.

Okay, so this post is more personal than most.  I’m not even sure how much I’ll share.

Some time last summer I was visiting an Amish farm where my husband was discussing the building of a pole barn with the man of the house, who happened to be a carpenter.  Meanwhile, his wife and I and my Amish friend Ruth were chatting at the kitchen table—the usual thing.

Before long, an elderly Amish lady hobbled in (she had a bad knee) and joined us; she was the carpenter’s mother, and she lived in the dawdi haus adjoining the main house.  (I wrote about the dawdi haus tradition previously.)  To protect her privacy, I’ll call her “Mrs. R.”

Mrs. R. was about 80, and something about her just struck me.  Maybe it was her sweet voice and demeanor; maybe it was the fact that she reminded me of my late grandmother; maybe it was the still, small voice of God, telling me to pay attention.  She was a widow—her husband had died many years ago at age 53, leaving her with twelve children—nine still at home.  All were now grown, and most had joined the Amish church.

I went home that day and couldn’t get Mrs. R. out of my mind.  In fact, I was awake most of the night, to my husband’s bewilderment.  I felt like I was to play some part in her life—but I couldn’t figure out what it might be.  She was well taken care of by her son and her extended family, and wasn’t “needy” in any way.

A few weeks later, she took a turn for the worse.  Her bad knee failed her completely, and during the course of dealing with that, she had a stroke. 

I went to see her with my friend Ruth, and Mrs. R. was much changed.  Her family sadly said that she wasn’t even responsive, most of the time—but we sat down anyway, if only to chat with the family. 

But when Mrs. R. realized I was there, she woke up and lifted her head, her eyes lit up, and a big smile came over her face.  For some strange reason, my presence cheered her up!

So I began to visit her regularly.  But what could I offer?  She had plenty of company—I could see that from her guest book.

After my second or third visit, I was singing a hymn as I drove home, and it hit me:  I could bring my hymnal and sing to her!  No one else was doing that!  The Amish church hymns are long and complex and sung in German, but Amish young people sing English hymns—some of the same ones that English churches use.  So I put my old Presbyterian hymnal in the back of the car.

Sure enough, Mrs. R. loved being sung to.  Her daughter-in-law told me that she had always loved music, and it was hard for her being housebound in recent times and missing church.  As I sang hymn after hymn to Mrs. R., her face would light up.  Some of them she recognized from her youthful days long ago.

It’s the dead of winter as I write this, and I’m still visiting Mrs. R. every week or two, and I’m still bringing my hymnbook.  She’s getting better now, and she can talk a little, although not as well as before—and she is building up her strength.  When she is strong enough, she wants to have a knee replacement so she can walk again.  Since I’ve had two knee replacements recently, I am trying to help her get mentally ready for that challenge by sharing my experiences. And, I sing...

I don’t know how this story will end.  I only know that she has been more of a blessing to me than I can say, and I hope she gets that new knee so we can take a walk together someday.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Old Hoosier Meats

The other day Gary and I stopped by Old Hoosier Meats in downtown Middlebury (our new home town).  This time, I paused to ask the owners, Randy and Michelle Grewe, to tell me about their business.

Turns out that the building was originally the Middlebury high school gymnasium!  That was in the 1920s and 1930s, when the high school was in that area of town.  After that it was used for meat freezer storage services, and then, later in the 1940s, it became a retail butcher shop.  It still has an old-school atmosphere.  All kinds of meats, cheeses, and other foods are available here.

 Their specialty is smoked meats.  Smoked offerings include ham, bacon, pork chops, pulled pork, turkey, ribs, beef brisket, wings, jerky, summer sausage, and more.  Sam told us that on the weekend of Super Bowl Sunday, their smoker is maxed out, and they sell 400 pounds of wings and 100 slabs of ribs.

Old Hoosier Meats is open from 9 a.m. to 5 or 6 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays, and on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.  They are closed on Sundays and Mondays.

A sidelight:
There are several photos in the store of Sam Grewe, Randy and Michelle’s son.  Sam had cancer in his right leg when he was just thirteen, and the leg had to be amputated.  But he turned tragedy into triumph, becoming a champion Paralympics athlete.  He’s nineteen now, and he has already won the world Paralympics high jump competition twice, and he was the silver medalist in last year’s Rio de Janiero Paralympic games.  What an inspiring hometown hero!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Amish Schools, Part One: Celebrating Christmas

Last December my husband and I had the privilege of attending the Amish School Christmas programs (two of them) of our “Amish grandchildren”—which is to say, the children of some of our Amish friends.  I’ve known both mothers since before they married, and now they have eleven children between them!

Anyway—it was a rare glimpse into how Amish school, church, and family life are tightly intertwined.  Most Amish children in this area get their education in private parochial schools, taught by Amish teachers and supported by the people of their local church districts.

Both programs followed the same basic format:  The children presented poems, songs, skits, and short plays, both as a large group and by grade levels.  Each school had about 40 students (or “scholars,” as they are called).  They attend school from grades 1 through 8—never beyond—but that’s a story for another day.

The first program was at a school in Goshen County, Indiana, and it lasted about 90 minutes.  (The photo above  is of a different local Amish school.)  I was so impressed at how well-rehearsed the students were, and the great amount of material they had memorized so flawlessly!  But my favorite part was a song which all the students sang (in German) a song which was called “Kommet Alle Zu Dem Stalle”—which translates as “Come All to the Stable.”  The children sang the song strong and clear, and it was like hearing a choir of angels.

The second program was at a school in St. Joseph County, Michigan, and it lasted about 60 minutes.  Again, the students were well-rehearsed and poised, and they had been carefully coached to speak loudly enough to be heard.  (Both programs had perhaps 150 people in the audience, and we were almost the only “English” in the crowd.)

Besides all the English-language songs, poems, and skits which were performed, the students and the audience sang “Stille Nacht,” which is our popular Christmas carol “Silent Night” in German. 

But the highlight for me was the singing of a song from the German hymnal which is used by the Amish.  This one was sung to an old Amish tune, as all their Sunday church hymns are.  It’s hard to describe their church singing style…  It’s unchanged from the 1600s and sounds almost other-worldly, with its lack of a regular tune or rhythm.  The words are below. 

After the second program we attended, there was lots of good food served potluck-style in the school’s lower level, and I was able to take this picture (below) of the front half of the schoolroom.  The student desks had been removed and the Sunday-church benches moved in for the program.  (I wrote about the bench wagon in another post.)  I was glad to be able to share this part of Amish life, and it really made it feel like Christmas!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Old Christmas

So, I noticed this sign the other day...  What exactly is “Old Christmas”? 

Turns out it is what the mainline Christian church calls “Epiphany”–exactly twelve days after Christmas and the traditional date of the Three Wise Men coming to Bethlehem to find the infant child Jesus.  The Amish all over North America celebrate it as a major holiday.  Amish businesses are always closed, as well as those mostly staffed by the Amish.

For more details, I turned to a couple of websites and my Amish friend Glenn.

Der Dutchman News says that throughout the Middle Ages, Christmas was a twelve-day feast which began on December 25 and ended on January 6—thus the song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”  But with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in place of the old Julian calendar in the 1500s, Pope Gregory XIII declared that December 25 was to be celebrated as Christmas Day.  Some Protestant groups, including the Amish, rejected that decree and continued to celebrate Christmas on January 6.  These days the Amish celebrate both days, while the rest of us stick to December 25th.

The Amish, however, keep their December 25th celebrations much plainer and simpler than ours.  Gifts are exchanged, but in a very low-key way compared to our excesses.  There are no Christmas trees or decorations in the house, and no Santa Claus.  The day is mainly for food and family gatherings, in addition to celebrating the birth of Christ.

North Country Public Radio’s website says that both holidays are for visiting and eating, but one thing sets the two days apart: “Old Christmas is a fasting day, which means that you fast until noontime, and so as one person told me, “It’s more fun to go visiting on December 25th, because then you're not fasting in the morning—you get started celebrating from the time you arrive!” 

My friend Glenn added a few details as to how Old Christmas is celebrated in Amish Indiana.  He said that in there are different traditions for different families, but he celebrates Old Christmas as his father did.  Generally, in this Amish settlement, the morning is a time for fasting.  (He thinks that in Amish Pennsylvania, they don’t have that tradition.)  Then from lunchtime onwards, it’s a time for good food and visiting with family, friends, and neighbors.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sunday Morning in Amish Indiana

Saw this church gathering on our way to church this morning...  There are usually 25-35 families in a church district.  This one may be smaller, since the Amish population in our neighborhood (a bit northwest of Middlebury) is just starting to grow.  Church lasts from about 9 a.m. until noon, with a meal following, including the famous "Amish church peanut butter."  The white bench wagon can be seen just to the right of the house.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Shipshewana Ice Festival

So, earlier this month was the 10th Annual Shipshewana Ice Festival. 

I’m not fond of anything that happens outdoors in the winter, but as your loyal and faithful reporter, I decided it was about time that I checked it out.  

The festival happens during the week after Christmas.  On Day One, the ice carving happens, with professional ice carvers drilling and shaving ice blocks all over the downtown area and beyond to the south—eleven in total this year.  Some choose their own designs, and some create carvings requested by their sponsors.

On Day Two, the “Competition Ice” event happens starting at 10 a.m. in front of the Wolfe Building at 345 Morton Street (on the edge of downtown).  The ice carvers compete for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prize, creating their own original designs on larger blocks of ice.

Also on Day Two, there is a Chili Cook-off in the Wolfe Building, running from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.—or whenever the chili runs out!  $5 gets you the chance to taste samples of all the chili, and three voting tickets to drop off at the table of your choice.  The cooks compete for trophies, cash awards, and of course, bragging rights. 

There are three ways to do the Ice Festival: 
  • You can just walk around town and look at the sculptures.  
  • Or, you can walk around and look, and also purchase a $5 ticket to get into the Chili Cook-off tasting at the Wolfe Building. 
  • Or, you can buy a $15 Ice Festival pin, which gets you into the Chili Cook-off on Day Two and also gets you all kinds of discounts 35 local stores—and the discounts last through January 31!  (The festival brochure lists the locations of the various discounts.)  This year’s festival pins were designed by three local students.
 This year’s brochure says that the 2018 Ice Festival will happen on December 27th and 28th.  Hope to see you there!