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

Friday, June 28, 2013

Country Lane Bakery

We just got back from Amish Indiana, and as usual, we discovered something new.  This time it was Country Lane Bakery.  We had stopped there once before with our Amish friends so they could pick up an order, but since there was no retail area, we hadn’t been back to check it out.  But this time we stopped by to take a look, and it won’t be the last time.

Although there is no retail area, there is a display area behind the counter, and a price list (along with some merchandise on a rack and in a cooler) out in front.  We chatted with the Amishman behind the counter, and asked to purchase some oatmeal whoopee pies.  Knowing we were new customers, and wanting to win us over, he threw in a small loaf of white bread for free.  When my husband asked about the cinnamon rolls, he threw in one of those as well—after he had frosted it, right on the spot.  While he was away from the counter, I took the chance to take this photo:

 As the menu shows, there are a great variety of things to try—breads, rolls, cookies, cakes, and more.  My favorite local baked goods are the chocolate crinkle cookies and whoopee pies; my husband likes cinnamon rolls and almost any kind of pie.  Our boy at home likes the monster cookies.

Country Lane Bakery a mile and a half south of Route 20 between Shipshewana and Middlebury, at 59162 County Road 43, in this unassuming building with a phone shanty out front.  It is Amish-run, the food is made on-site, and they don’t advertise much.  The location is out of the way, but we’re always looking for an excuse to drive out into the countryside.  The food is fresh, and good, and reasonably priced.  As is typical in Amish Indiana, they are closed on Sundays.

 We shop regularly at the big bakeries in Shipshewana and Middlebury and will continue to do so.  But it’s nice to patronize the smaller local establishments whenever we can, especially the Amish-owned ones.  And sometimes, with enough patronage, some of the “little guys” have become bigger players.  (An example is Rise and Roll Bakery and Deli.)  Why should a few wealthy “English” families make all the money, when it’s the Amish culture that brings the tourists here in the first place?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Amish Vegetable Garden: A Thing of Beauty

My husband and I are both gardeners, and we have a great system—I point and he plants.  In the Amish culture, it doesn’t work that way; the garden is the responsibility of the wife.  We like to look at them as we drive around the countryside.  Some of them look plain and utilitarian—but in many cases, you can see the care that was taken to make the garden not just a food source, but a thing of beauty as well.  Often there is a wide swath of flowers on the edge nearest the road or the house.  I could show a hundred examples, but I’ll stick to three or four.

This first picture I took before I knew whose garden it was—and then when we passed the mailbox, I realized it was the parents of one of my friends.  I like how it tucks in between the front yard and the trees.

This next one (below) belongs to a family named Weaver.  I know this because when I stopped to admire it and take a picture, the woman who owned it was relaxing at a picnic table nearby, and we sat and talked for a while.  She was pleased that I liked her garden and she didn’t mind my taking pictures of it.  (The Amish themselves don’t pose for photographs, as it is against their religion.)

But my favorite garden is always my friend Ruth’s, shown below.  She obviously has a gift for gardening, as well as an eye for beauty.  Down the edge of the garden was a mix of perennials, roses, flowering shrubs.  The red and pink flowers are poppies.  She said that she’s already canned 50 quarts of strawberries and has told her grown children that the rest are theirs to pick.  The soil is very sandy there, so she can grow potatoes and carrots, as well as sweet corn, tomatoes, strawberries, onions, green beans, and lots more.

I asked her how much time she spends in her garden in a typical week, but it was hard for her to say.  I think she goes out there whenever the weather is good and she wants to get some sunshine and fresh air.

We will probably never tire of looking at Amish gardens.  Each one is different.  They show the love and care that an Amish wife has for her family, as well as the pride she takes in creating something beautiful and useful.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Ervin's Hardwood Furniture

Lots of furniture places call themselves a “furniture barn”—but in the case of Ervin’s, it is literally true.

We discovered Ervin’s in 2007, when he had a much smaller sign than this one...  It was February, and we saw the small, modest sign by the road, and we decided to drive up the very long lane—past the fields, the farmhouse, and the herd of dairy cattle—and see what was at the end of it.  We were not disappointed.  Ervin and his six or seven sons have two barns full of beautiful pieces, and they also do custom work and millwork of every kind.

The barn is heated and lit in the old Amish way—and like many Amish businesses, it doesn’t take credit cards.  The shop meanders through the old building on two floors, and there are all kinds of handmade hardwood items (mostly oak and cherry) like dining tables and chairs, bedroom sets, desks, TV stands, and bookcases—at prices much lower than we would find at home in suburban Chicago.  A few years ago we got a dining room table with two leaves and six chairs (pictured) for well under $1,500.  There were six or eight styles of chairs to choose from, so we sat on each one to decide which one was the most comfortable.  The chair seats come in two sizes, one regular and one for, shall we say, larger customers.

After we purchased the dining room set, we went back for a china cabinet.  All the china cabinets we had seen were too big for us—they seem to be mostly three-door cabinets these days.  We wanted a two-door, but all of the two-doors we’d seen were corner cabinets.  So I brought a photograph of my old, beaten-up two-door cabinet, and they made me a new one to match the dining room set.  I even saw it when it was halfway done, in the staining barn down the road.

There are a number of furniture stores in Amish Indiana.  If you are looking for a modern, well-designed showroom—or even one with electric lights and central heating—then Ervin’s is not the place for you.  But if you are looking for beautiful items at reasonable prices, then stop by.  Ervin will probably be there to greet you.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Legacy of Rocky Weaver

For many years I stayed at a Bed & Breakfast called Weaver’s Country Oaks quite regularly.  It was out on old State Route 20, south and east of Shipshewana, in the home of Lamar (Rocky) and Catherine Weaver.  A shed out back was the workshop for Rocky’s sign-painting business.  I liked to go back there with him and see what he was up to.  Sometimes I would take an old discarded sign off his ‘burn pile’ and take it home with me.  For years I had an old sign he created for a clothing shop displayed over the washer and dryer in my basement.  Back in those days, many of the local shop signs were his work, signed with his name. 

I enjoyed the many evenings I spent at the Weavers’ home, and they were the ones who first introduced me to my Amish friends.  But eventually the B&B got to be too much for them and they sold their country home and moved into Middlebury.  I saw Catherine a few times after that, since she worked in a local shop, but Rocky died in 2004—a victim of the heart problems that ran in his family.

Rocky painted signs to make a living, but what he really loved was painting local scenes.  Late in his life he got a chance to do one that would live on after he was gone.  It covers the wall over the entrance at the Yoder’sRed Barn Shoppes building, on Route 5, near the flea market grounds.  The mural is 12 by 24 feet in size and took Rocky six months to paint in 2002.  He signed it in the lower right corner, as he did so many of his creations.

Rocky’s work can also be seen on the walls of Rulli’sItalian Restaurant in Middlebury—he created all kinds of Italian motifs and faux bricks and alcoves that are a delight to the eye. 

But my favorite work of Rocky’s is one that he gave me on one of my many visits there—this little box.  I keep little treasures in it—but the best treasure is the box itself, and the memories it brings back of Rocky and Catherine and staying at Weaver’s Country Oaks.

Monday, June 3, 2013

An Amish Wedding

Last fall I went to my second Amish wedding.  I have known the bride since she was young...  I’ve watched her grow up, have her heart broken a time or two, and finally, in her mid-twenties, meet her soul mate.  I was delighted to be asked to her wedding, which was held in this barn.  

Amish weddings take place during the week, in the morning, often at the home of the bride, often in the barn.  Spring is a popular time, since the barn isn't so full of hay or straw.  There are no special decorations.  The backless wooden benches used for church services are set up, men on one side in six or eight rows facing the center; women and small children on the opposite side in six or eight rows, facing the center; the elders, deacons, and preachers on the third side; and the few “English” attending on a bench or two on the fourth side, nearest the door.  The bride and groom dress in their usual church clothing and sit with their attendants in the front row.

The wedding begins with the usual Amish church service—three hours long, all in “Dutch” (the German dialect the Amish speak as their first language).  Then at the end of the regular service, the bride and groom step forward with their attendants for the ceremony, which lasts about fifteen minutes.  Wedding rings are not exchanged; the Amish don’t wear jewelry, not even wedding rings or wrist watches.

For the first two hours, I was nearly the only non-Amish person, along with a few Mennonite relatives of the bride.  But then a dozen members of the groom’s family began to filter in—five of his nine siblings had not remained Amish when they became adults.  (Sidelight: members of an Amish family who do not join the Amish church are not shunned; shunning is for baptized members who leave.)

After the service, the food is brought out.  Usually there are four seatings, in nearby buildings or outside in tents.  The first seating is for those who attend the wedding.  The second seating is for those who helped prepare and serve the food.  The third seating is for those who arrive later—friends and relatives who didn't attend the wedding, due to space restrictions in the barn or other reasons. The fourth seating is held later in the day, for the young unmarried adults.  Over a thousand meals are usually served that day!

Amish weddings aren’t for the fainthearted, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world!