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

Monday, March 31, 2014

For the Love of Pie

My husband does love a good piece of made-from-scratch pie…  It was how I first talked him into going to Amish Indiana with me.  And just like his love for me, his love for Amish pies is strong, true, and eternal.  But who can blame him?  Look at these pies!

I am not a pie lover, but I am a pie liker.  And I think the ones at Blue Gate Bakery in Shipshewana are the best I’ve ever had.  (The pies pictured here are from Blue Gate.)  Gary would agree.  But there are other good bakeries in the area, and it’s fun to try them all, especially the smaller mom-and-pop Amish places.  Most tourists are familiar with Essenhaus Bakery in Middlebury and the Blue Gate Bakery in Shipshewana.  But there are other pie bakeries in the Shipshe-Middlebury area that are well worth a visit, including Country Lane Bakery and Rise N Roll, along with great homemade pie in nearly every restaurant in Amish Country.

Fresh fruit pies heaped with whipped cream (strawberry, blueberry, and peach) are available seasonally around here.  The pecan pies are also very good.  Another Amish specialty is chocolate peanut butter pie.  Then there are the other cream pies, like lemon and chocolate and banana; and the pumpkin pie; and the baked fruit pies of every conceivable kind; and then there’s coconut, and rhubarb, and who knows what else?  And the lemon meringue in the photo below certainly speaks for itself!

We never go to Amish Indiana without a cooler in the back of the car.  My husband likes to bring home a few smaller-sized pies and take them to work.  He can polish off one of the smaller ones during a twelve-hour shift.

Some local treats you can order online, but not the pies...  For those, you need to travel there yourself.  My husband would say that it’s worth the trip.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Starting Over

Years ago I attended the wedding of a young Amish couple—we’ll call them Gordon and Kate.  I watched as the young couple began their lives in Amish Indiana.  Gordon took over the family farm.  He was a bright young man, and out in the barn, he began a business of his own making lawn furniture—at first from wood, and then plastic lumber, which was a new trend at that time. 

The business grew, and soon he was employing his father, brothers, and cousins.  When I had a tour of the business around 2008, he was selling to retailers all over the country and was on the verge of a contract with a local university to make special furniture for their sports training room (in the school colors!).  Business was booming.

The next time I visited, Kate’s mother told me that Gordon and Kate were leaving it all and moving to southern Michigan.  Their new farm would be about 17 miles away—a long distance in their culture, considering that a horse and buggy aren’t good for a trip that long.  Kate wasn’t thrilled with the decision, as she was leaving everything she’d ever known to be a newcomer in an Amish settlement unfamiliar to her.  But there had been Amish in southern Michigan for generations; in fact, Gordon’s ancestors had lived there before coming to Indiana.

Later that year I visited their new farm in Michigan.  They owned 8 acres with house and outbuildings and were renting 100 more.  They hoped to make a go of it as dairy farmers.  The house and barns were in bad shape and needed lots of work!  In the winter they slept on the living room floor, gathered around a potbelly stove. 

Later I asked Kate’s mother, why would Gordon leave his thriving business and family farm to move to such a relatively faraway place and start over?  She said, “I don’t know…  I think it was all just too much for him.”  Recently I talked to Gordon about it, and he said, “The furniture business involved a lot of paperwork.  Whenever I could get away from that and be outdoors or doing the farm chores, I felt so much happier.  I could see that as the business grew, it was going to be more and more paperwork, so I decided to make a change.”

One interesting thing:  The farm had been owned by an “English” farmer, so it was wired for electricity.  Amish families who move into homes with electricity are allowed to use it for one year, by which time it has to be removed.  Kate remarked at one point, “I sure will miss that dishwasher!”

Whenever we can, my husband and I like to grab some fresh baked goods and head up there to visit them, and sometimes we bring Kate’s parents along.  Gordon and Kate don’t get a lot of visitors from home, since normally it involves hiring a driver to make the trip.  Amazingly, although a horse and buggy cannot make the trip, Kate’s parents, who are in their late fifties, regularly make the round trip (17 miles each way) on their bicycles!

Gordon and Kate have seven children now.  They are making a go of it in Michigan.  Slowly they are fixing up their house and outbuildings and making a life there.  (And they have a fine new heating stove which heats the entire house!)  At first, during the winter, Gordon had to take a job in a recreational vehicle factory to make ends meet, leaving Kate to run the farm by herself during the day.  But before long their dairy herd grew, and they were able to purchase the 100 acres they had been renting, adjacent to their farm.  Presently they are milking 50 cows, and they have passed the three-year prep period beyond which they can sell their milk as “organic,” meaning more income.  Their two oldest boys are now big enough to help out.  Soon Gordon will purchase more land across the road—he needs to grow more corn to feed his herd.

Witnessing their courage and their struggles reminds me of the stories of my pioneer ancestors on the Nebraska prairie.  I admire Gordon and Kate, and I’m glad I’ve been able to watch their story as it unfolds.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Winter in Amish Indiana

I used to avoid visiting Amish Indiana in the winter, but not any more.  Our recent trips to search for a retirement home there have caused us to visit Shipshewana and Middlebury all winter long this year.  We’ve found that the winter season has a charm all its own.

Of course, there are disadvantages.  If you come for the flea market (we don’t), then you have to wait until May.  If you come for the bike trail (as we sometimes do), then stay home for a few more months.  But we have enjoyed our winter visits.  The days are shorter, but that just gives us more time to enjoy a leisurely dinner, a piece of pie, and then a long evening at one of our favorite Bed & Breakfasts or country inns.

We have always liked to take long drives through the countryside, and winter is a good time for that.  The scenery is different, and we get a glance of Amish life during a different season.  The roads are snowy, so everyone drives more slowly, which suits us fine—we like to slow down and look at everything.  It’s a good time to visit our Amish friends, because they have more free time in the winter.

It’s easy to buy food to bring home in the winter—we just set it on the back seat and don’t have to worry about having a cooler for everything.

Shopping?  Walking up and down the streets in the shopping district of Shipshewana in the winter is too cold for our taste, but there are alternatives.  The Davis Mercantile has lots of shops of all kinds, and also places to get a pretzel, a latte, sweets, or even a meal.  Yoder’s Department Store and Hardware Store is always good for an hour of shopping or people watching.  (There’s also an excellent quilting shop there, and a place to get a snack.)  The Red Barn Shoppes building is another good winter shopping destination, and a few quick steps away you can stop at Yoder’s Meat and Cheese Shop.  (And all these places have decent restrooms!)   In Middlebury, the shops at the Essenhaus are in separate buildings, but at least they’re grouped close together.  Or drive down to Warsaw Cut Glass Company; call ahead to be sure you get a tour and demonstration.

Mix these up with an hour or two at a good dinner place, and then it’s time to head back to the Bed and Breakfast or inn and hunker down for an evening of relaxation.  Some of the area B&B’s are closed in January, February, and March, but some are open—and Essenhaus Inn in Middlebury is not only open, but it has lower winter rates on weeknights.  They have several public areas there with fireplaces.

So we’ll keep visiting Amish Indiana in the wintertime, and maybe we’ll see you there.