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

Monday, July 29, 2013

Knee Surgery

I still remember the trip to Amish Indiana when my new husband finally became comfortable around the Amish.  It was the time that Glenn had knee surgery.

My Amish friend Glenn had torn up his knee sliding into third base during a family game of baseball the previous summer.  (I guess men are just overgrown boys in any culture!)  One December when we were out visiting, Glenn told us that the doctor had said that surgery was needed, and he was obviously feeling out of his comfort zone as he talked about it.  My husband, after conferring with me for agreement, said, “We can come out here and take you—would that help?” 

So plans were made… We would come out on Thursday night, spend the night at the farm (something my husband had said he’d never do), and then on Friday we would take Glenn and his wife to the surgery center fifteen miles away, sit with her while he was in surgery, and then drive them back.

The time came, and out we went.  Late that Thursday evening we settled in with Glenn, Ruth, and their 14-year-old son to play a few games of dominoes by gaslight.  It was a game my husband and I had to be taught—another step back to a simpler time!  Things were going along just fine until there was a ruckus outside.  An Angus steer had broken out of his pen at the Angus beef farm down the road, and he was running renegade through the snow in the dark, breaking through any fences that got in his way.  The men (Amish) dropped everything and ran out to assist, and that was the end of dominoes!  Later that night we slept under a homemade quilt, with an electric lantern by the bed.

The next morning we headed to the surgery center, and I do think that having us along made a difference.  We knew where to go and what to do and what to expect, and Ruth didn’t have to wait by herself.  Glenn’s surgery went well, and we were able to get him his prescriptions on the way home.  So it all worked out… and after that, my husband was as comfortable around the Amish as I could hope for.  Now he felt like they were his friends, too.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Best Pretzels Ever

I never thought I could make a meal out of a pretzel… but that was before I discovered JoJo’s Pretzels in Amish Indiana.

JoJo’s has been on the first floor of the Davis Mercantile Building for as long as I can remember—it dates back to the old building, before the big fire (but that’s a story for another day).  The shop has expanded as its popularity has expanded.  But two things haven’t changed—the Coca Cola décor and the pretzels.  These days they come in all kinds of flavors with all kinds of dipping sauces, instead of just the original white and whole wheat with sauces of sweet or sour  mustard.  There’s something for everyone—even hot dogs or soup for anyone crazy enough not to like their pretzels.

I’ve read that owner Levi King named the place after his wife JoAnne, and that on a busy day, they make over 1,000 pretzels.  You can watch them being made—the workers cut off a chunk of dough, twist it into a rope, and flip it around to make the interconnected loops.  Then it’s baked, dipped in butter, and salted.  Yum.

Right next door is the Kitchen Cupboard, one of the few places in Shipshewana where you can get a good latte or cappuccino (or a frozen ice-blended coffee drink).  The two businesses are connected, so it’s a great combination.  We often sit at one of the tables there to rest our feet, enjoy our snacks, and plan out the rest of our day.  (Note—Kitchen Cupboard goes heavy on the flavorings in their lattes etc., and I like then less sweet, so I ask them to go light on the syrups.)

Fresh-baked pretzels don’t travel or reheat well; therefore, it’s best to eat them on the spot.  So pace yourself and make sure you leave room for a JoJo’s pretzel and a soda (I like the Boylan brand diet cherry) or a coffee drink.

I should mention that there is another pretzel place further down Route 5—Ben’s Pretzels—and the pretzels there are a bit different (more bready) but still very good.  So if you find yourself south of downtown when the craving hits, or if JoJo’s has a line going out the door, take a chance and try Ben’s Pretzels instead.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Amish Guests at My Wedding

In 2007, at age 51, I got married—for the first time.  (Call me a late bloomer.)  One day not long after I got engaged, my boss asked, “Have you thought about having your Amish friends at your wedding?”  My answer was, “I’ve thought about it every day.”  I’d brought my fiancée out to meet them, and they shared my joy that I was finally “settling down.”  But I didn’t think there was a way to have them attend the wedding—after all, they lived 150 miles away, and the logistics would be more than I could handle.

My boss had been thinking about it, too, or he wouldn’t have asked the question—and he had a plan.  He offered to rent a 7-passenger van; drive over that Friday; bring back six of my Amish friends; have them stay at his house Friday night; bring them to the wedding on Saturday; and then drive them home on Saturday evening, in time for them to attend church at home on Sunday morning.  I was overjoyed.

The next task:  Deciding which six to invite.  I quickly decided on Glenn and Ruth, my two original Amish friends, and two of their daughters with spouses—the oldest two—the two who had invited me to their weddings several years earlier.  (In the end, one of the daughters was just too nervous to come, but her younger brother and his wife came in their place.)  Glenn said to me, “Well, Sue, we’re nervous.  But we’re coming.” 

How to make them less nervous, I thought to myself?…  So I printed out three copies of the entire wedding script and mailed the copies to them.  I also assured them that there would be no alcohol, loud music, or dancing at the reception—just food, quiet music, and socializing.

The time came, and they arrived.  I decided they might be more relaxed if they met the wedding party and families the night before, so I invited them to the rehearsal dinner at my new home.  They arrived looking very nervous indeed!  But half an hour later they were eating and talking and having a fine time.  The next day, after asking the wedding photographer to not take any pictures of them (it’s against their religious beliefs), they settled in at the church, and I still remember the beaming smile I got from Ruth as I walked back down the aisle.

It was so special to share my big day with my friends from a different culture who had been so accepting of a middle-aged, unmarried woman in their midst all those years.  After being invited to two of their weddings, it was wonderful to return the favor!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Camping Out - Not Just for the "English"

Last time we visited Amish Indiana, we stopped to see our original Amish friends, as we often like to do.  Glenn was out in the fields, so we hopped in the Jeep with his wife Ruth in the back seat and drove out there, down the long, sandy lane to the far end of their deep and narrow acreage.   Glenn took a break from his corn-planting, gave the five-horse team of Belgians a rest, and we walked back into the woods, where Ruth wanted to show us something. 

On the way, Ruth told us that their two youngest sons had always liked to camp out in these woods on a summer night with their friends.  They had been doing this for a number of years—but this year, the older brother was sixteen, had a buggy and horse at his disposal, and was old enough to be ‘running around’ socially.  He had other interests now, and no longer camped out in the woods with his friends.  But his younger brother planned to do so that very weekend, and had been working with his friends to upgrade the site.

A few minutes into the woods, we saw this wonderful picture.  Is there any young boy who likes the outdoors—Amish or “English”—who wouldn’t love this?  The boys had cleared an area in the woods, made a fence using a circle of trees, and set up a campfire pit with a cooking area over it.  In the right foreground you can see their firewood supply, cut and stacked.  Ruth told us that they planned to come out that afternoon to set up a tent and make other final preparations.

But, boys will be boys…  We asked Ruth what the boys would be cooking over the fire the next evening.  She smiled and said, “They told me that what they really wanted was for me to heat up a pizza and bring it out, and they would keep it warm over the fire.”  Fourteen-year-old boys may like to camp out, but that doesn’t mean they know how to cook!

The Amish being a very social people, the plan was that the boys’ parents would come along as well, and while the boys camped out in the woods, the parents would socialize at the main house.  It sounded like a great plan to me.  I hope they had good weather!

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Quilt Gardens of the Heritage Trail

It’s June as I write this, and time to bring on the “Quilt Gardens and Murals Along the Heritage Trail.” 

This is something rather new in Amish Country, but it seems to have caught on.  A number of places in the various towns of Amish Indiana (including Elkhart, Bristol, Middlebury, Goshen, Nappanee, and Wakarusa) participate in the display.  The quilt murals are painted on wood and mounted on the sides of buildings.  The quilt gardens are just what they sound like—gardens made to look like quilts. 

Some of the twenty or so gardens are planted on slanted surfaces created just for the gardens.  Others are on flat ground, but a viewing platform has been built to offer a better view.  We drove around and took pictures of a few:

This garden (above) was seen at Das Dutchman Essenhaus in Middlebury.  It was built on a natural hill.  It is one of the largest that we saw, and had a grass path running through it so that people could stand in the middle and have their picture taken.  The quilt pattern is called “Dresden Plate” and they chose it because of their popular restaurant.

This second garden was found at Menno-Hof in Shipshewana.  A viewing platform had been built in front of the quilt garden.  Notice that the quilt pattern is a replica of the Menno-Hof logo, found on the upper part of the barn behind it.

This third garden (above) was found near the second one, this one at the Farmstead Inn.  The ground was built up to more of a slope here, to show the garden to better advantage.  The pattern is called “Goose Tracks.”

Many of the locations have brochures and maps of the entire collection, and some have fliers describing their particular garden.  The garden at Essenhaus in Middlebury, for example, is over 3,200 square feet in size and contains 7,700 flowers—begonias, marigolds, ageratums, and petunias.  The garden at Menno-Hof contains 4,752 flowers—marigolds, ageratums, and begonias.

Peak time is August through September, so the brochure said.  When we saw them in late June, some still needed to grow in a little, but others already looked wonderful.

These days (2018), the quilt gardens are in Elkhart County only, and no longer in Lagrange County (Shipshewana), but the quilt murals are found in both counties.