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

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Yellow Buggy Amish of Mifflin County

On our way to Lancaster County recently, we stopped to see our Indiana Amish friends.  One of them said to us, “Have you heard of the yellow buggy Amish?”  We were intrigued!  So on the way to Pennsylvania, I researched the topic on my ipad, and we discovered that we’d have to go to Mifflin County to find them…  So, we made a detour. 

The Amish settled in Mifflin County in the late 1700s, when some Lancaster County Amish purchased land in the Kishacoquillas Valley—otherwise known as the Big Valley (pictured here).  The Big Valley Amish now come in three distinct varieties:  Renno (black buggy), Byler (yellow buggy), and Nebraska (white buggy).  Altogether there are about 30 Amish church districts in the 30-mile-long valley.  

Its remote location keeps it off the tourist trail.  Indeed—once we got there, the black buggy Rennos weren’t hard to find—but it took two hours, and three inquiries of locals, to find the other two groups.

The Renno (black buggy) Amish are similar to the Lancaster County Amish in how they live, but the other two groups are more conservative.  There are about 12 Renno Amish districts in the Big Valley.  Men wear one suspender and women wear black bonnets.  Homes are painted white and barns are painted red.  Indoor plumbing is permitted, as are things like carpets and curtains.  As with the other groups, tractors are used for belt power only—not for field work, which is done with draft horses (as is done in Ohio and Indiana).

To learn more about the Byler (yellow buggy) Amish, I turned to three sources:  old favorite wikipedia, John Hostetler's excellent book "Amish Society," and the University of Pennsylvania's “Center for the Book” website

I found out that the Byler Amish and their leader, Samuel B. King, broke from the main Big Valley Amish group in 1849 over the King group wanting to be more conservative.  They have only about three church districts in the Big Valley, and none anywhere else.  They dress very conservatively even by Amish standards, although the men are allowed to wear colored shirts, especially favoring blue.  The men’s hair covers their ears. The women wear brown bonnets.  Curtains are allowed in their homes (lower half of the window), and window blinds are permitted, but not carpets or rugs.   Their buildings are painted.  In the photo below, one can see a church “bench wagon”—which is also yellow.

One source said that it’s possible the early buggy tops in this community were made from a type of yellow oilcloth once used for raincoats.  But now, they’re just “how it’s done.” 

The buggies are two-seaters—they have no regular back seat—but my Amish friend Ruth has ridden in one, and she says there’s a sort of a “back seat” that you can climb into over the top of the front seat—but it has no windows and is very tight!  The Byler Amish also allow “spring wagons”—a type of buggy with an open platform in the back, somewhat like a pickup truck.  The young unmarried men have single-seated buggies.

But there’s an even more conservative Amish group in Mifflin County, and they were even harder to find:  The white buggy Nebraska Amish.  More on them in another post.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

More About Pretzels

So—once again, my husband has found his way into one of my blog posts—and as usual, he has food in his hand and a smile on his face.  The reason this time is a hand-rolled, fresh-baked, yeasty, buttery, warm, soft pretzel.  These are a common treat in both Amish Indiana and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and we’ve been known to grab a beverage make a meal out of them!  I’ve written about these pretzels before, but this time, I decided to find out more about them.

The recipe for soft pretzels is available all over the internet and in “Pennsylvania Dutch” or Amish cookbooks.  The ingredients are simple:  flour, sugar, salt, yeast, warm water, egg, butter, and coarse salt for sprinkling on top.  When they are bought at a pretzel place, dipping sauces are usually available.  The traditional ones are sweet or spicy mustard, but offerings these days include such choices as cheddar cheese, cream cheese, marinara, nacho cheese, vanilla icing, caramel, or hot fudge.  (But we like them plain!  You can’t improve on perfection.) 

But where did soft pretzels come from?

The website for the oldest pretzel factory in the United States,, says that the Palatine Germans—known on our side of the pond as the “Pennsylvania Dutch”—brought pretzels with them when they came to the United States in the 1800s.   (Other sites say it was the 1700s.)  

I learned on that the Sturgis Pretzel Factory was founded in 1861 in Lititz, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The soft pretzel came first; the hard pretzel was a later development.  This website says, “It’s believed that Sturgis’ factory was the first to develop hard pretzels.  These crunchy, salty snacks lasted longer in an airtight environment than soft pretzels did, allowing them to be sold in stores far away from the bakery and kept on shelves much longer.”  Even today, 80% of American pretzels are made in Pennsylvania.

One more thing:  If you can’t just drop everything and head to Amish Indiana or Pennsylvania for a pretzel, here’s the next best thing—head to the mall and purchase a pretzel from Auntie Anne’s.  Quoting from the website    

“Perhaps the most well-known Amish pretzel baker is Anne Beiler, founder of the Auntie Anne’s Pretzel chain…  She was born into an Old Order Amish home in Pennsylvania, but the family switched to the Amish Mennonite faith when she was a young child.  Anne Beiler started selling pretzels from a farmers market stand years ago and now sits atop a pretzel empire with outlets all over the world.”  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Harvesting the Corn in Lancaster County

Our recent visit to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania happened to coincide with the corn harvest.  As I have mentioned before, a city girl like me didn’t know until recently that most corn grown (by the Amish, anyway) isn’t grown to eat, or grind, or even for seed…  Most corn is grown to make silage for the cattle.  (Google defines “silage” this way:  “Grass or other green fodder compacted and stored in airtight conditions, typically in a silo, without first being dried, and used as animal feed in the winter.”)

I’ve helped my Indiana friends with this process quite a few years ago, back when I was younger and had good knees, and here is how it goes:  First the corn is cut near the base and loaded onto flatbed wagons.  Sometimes this is done entirely by hand, especially in places where the corn grows near a fence or other obstacle.  But when there’s room, it is done by a specialized machine which is powered by a gasoline engine.  You can see this machine in the middle of the first picture.  It cuts a dozen or so stalks, bundles them, and discharges the bundle onto a flatbed wagon which drives along behind it—in this case, at the right of the picture.  Another empty flatbed wagon sits nearby, on the left.

The wagons are quite heavy and are pulled by two or three draft horses.  Usually the farmer has three or four wagons and teams going, so that as one wagon is filled, another is ready to take its place.  The filled wagon is taken to the silage chopper, where someone throws the bundles of cornstalks onto the belt that sends it through the chopper.  (This machine, also, is powered by a gas engine.)  In Indiana, my Amish friends pile the silage in a long mound down the edge of the cornfield and cover it with plastic; but in Lancaster County, the silage is taken upwards and dropped into great, tall silos.   

I saw this pair of horses under a tree, taking a well-earned rest from their autumn corn harvesting duties.

My main and original Amish friends in Indiana were doing the same task as we drove back through Indiana on our way home from Pennsylvania later that week, and twelve men were gathered at their farm to pitch in and help—including some of the young men who work in the factories during the week.  As Glenn directed the teams of workers, Ruth was on kitchen duty, feeding all those hungry men a huge lunch—with enough leftovers to send us home with platefuls of homemade cookies!

It’s hard work, but it feeds the cattle through the winter—and although in this case I wouldn’t say that many hands make light work, it’s still an example of how the Amish work together as a community to get the big jobs done. 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Getting Around in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania

When visiting Lancaster County, Pennsylvania recently, we were struck by the various ways the local Amish citizens manage to get around without cars.

The most familiar and most iconic means of Amish transportation is, of course, the classic Amish buggy.  In Lancaster County they are gray in color, and more boxy than the black buggies found in Ohio and Indiana.  One horse will pull a buggy, and as my Amish friends have told me, about 8 miles away from home is as far as a buggy horse wants to go. 

Although most buggies are enclosed, we also saw open-back buggies—the Amish equivalent of the pickup truck!

Buggies can also be entirely open—a nice option in the summer to stay cool and see the sights.  This type of buggy is also seen in Amish Indiana, but only recently has it become commonplace there.

We also saw these small, fast little two-wheel open buggies.  These, too, are common in Amish Indiana, especially with young boys and men.  They also come in a smaller size which is pulled by a pony.

We noticed right away that there were no regular bicycles in Lancaster County.  Rather, the locals got around on these no-seat, no-pedal push bikes.  We saw mostly children using these, but not always.  They were faster than walking, but didn’t look as efficient as a regular bicycle.  Our Indiana Amish friends, who nearly all own regular bicycles, confirmed that regular pedal bikes aren’t allowed in Lancaster County.

As we sat on the lawn in front of our hotel in Bird-in-Hand one evening, taking photos and videos of the locals (zoom is very useful for this task!)—I saw the most unusual means of transportation of the week—this Amishman zipping along in the buggy lane on his inline skates!