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

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Maple Syrup Time

So, it’s that time of year (March as I write this)—buckets have appeared on maple trees all over Amish Indiana.  It’s time to make maple syrup!  Ads are appearing in The People’s Exchange for maple syrup supplies, and posters can be seen all over town for maple syrup festivals, maple syrup cooking demonstrations, and other ways to celebrate the spring ritual.

I wondered how maple syrup is made, so I looked to
I found out that sugar maples are the best trees to tap, but black, red, or silver maples also work.  The sap starts to flow in February or March, and the best weather is alternating warm and cold—it gets the sap flowing.  Trees should be 12” in diameter or more, and bigger trees can have multiple taps.  The sap typically flows for four to six weeks, and tapping stops when the temperatures remain above freezing and the leaves start to come out.

The basics are simple:  Drill a upwards-slanting hole 2 to 2.5 inches deep, then hammer in the metal tap and hang a clean bucket from the hook on the tap.  (The photo below uses a different kind of taps.)  Sap starts to flow immediately, and it looks like water.  It may drip slowly, or it may fill a bucket in a day or two.

Then it’s just a matter of collecting the sap buckets, filtering out the impurities, then boiling off the excess water, which turns the maple sap into maple syrup.  The syrup is done when it’s thick and golden.  The sap-to-syrup ratio varies, depending on who you ask—some sources say as little as 10-to-1, but most say much more.  Someone at our church makes a few gallons of maple syrup every year, and he gave us a pint the other day.  I asked him how many gallons of sap it took to make a gallon of syrup, and he said it took forty!

One caution—don’t try this in the kitchen!  This warning comes from Rink Mann on 

The main thing about making maple syrup is you have to boil off about 32 quarts of water in the form of steam to end up with one quart of maple syrup.  That means that if you’re boiling down a batch some Saturday afternoon on the kitchen stove and are aiming for three quarts of syrup, you’re going to put about 24 gallons of water into the air before the boiling’s done.  Unless you’ve got one powerful exhaust fan, you’ll end up with water streaming down the walls and enough steam to impair visibility across the room.  And, when things finally do clear, you’re apt to find the wallpaper lying on the floor.  Then, too, even if the batch doesn’t boil over, which it can, the sugar spray from all that furious boiling gets all over the stove and is harder than blazes to get off.  So, if you want to maintain a measure of domestic tranquility, it’s best to do your boiling outside, or in a handy garage or shed.

Rink also has a great step-by-step guide to making maple syrup in your own back yard (see the above link).

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Kids at Play

A few days ago, I spotted these boys on a school playground as I waited for their teacher...  Such joy!

Friday, March 23, 2018

More Lights on the Buggies

Here's an article about the move to add more lights to Amish buggies in Wisconsin.  (The photo above was taken from the article.)

Amish buggies here in northeast Indiana are quite well lit up, and it makes a huge difference!

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Westview Warriors

It's the tail end of basketball season, and in Amish Indiana, that can mean only one thing in the Shipshewana community:  Westview Warrior fever.

Even the Amish are followers of the local consolidated high school and their excellent basketball program.  Those English farm boys can play!

Here's a video:

Friday, March 16, 2018

Amish Converts

Here's an interesting article on the handful of "English" who have managed to successfully convert to the Amish faith.  (The above photo was taken from the article.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Topeka Hay Auction

While driving an Amishman around the other day, my husband found himself at the Topeka Hay Auction—his Amish friend "Junior" needed to stock up for his buggy horses—and he learned a few things.

Gary listened awhile, as the auction truck moved down the row—that’s the auction truck on the right side of the photo below.  It was hard for Gary to understand all the auction chatter, but what he heard was this: It seemed like some of the loads were just a few thousand pounds, while others were as big as 18,000 pounds—and yet they all seemed to be selling for about $200!  When Gary asked Junior about that, Junior was amused!  He said, “That $200 is the price per ton.”  Well, that makes more sense!

Gary asked, “Do the first truckloads sell for more, and then less as they move down the line?”  Junior answered that it is more like the opposite, because as they get towards the end, if you still need hay, you have to pay whatever they’re asking.  Junior bought about nine tons of hay.

Some of the bales were big square ones, weighing perhaps half a ton apiece.  Gary asked Junior, “How long will one of these big bales feed your five horses?” and Junior answered, “About a week.”  Gary said to him, “Hmm… I’m trying to figure out your mileage…”—which drew another laugh from Junior and his brother.

I’m not such a farm girl myself…  When we first moved here, and we wanted some bales of straw, I had to ask an Amishman what the difference was between straw and hay.  Quite a difference, as it turns out…  The horses use straw as “bedding” (i.e. to poop and pee on), whereas hay is a yummy food!  “Straw” is the leftover stalks from oats or wheat.  “Hay” is various grasses which are grown because they are good horse feed.  Or as Wikipedia puts it hay is “grass, legumes, or other herbaceous plants that have been cut, dried, and stored for use as animal fodder (feed), particularly for grazing animals such as cattle, horses, goats, and sheep.”  But, I digress. 

Some of the hay at the Topeka auction came from as far away as Ohio, Gary discovered.  There are other local hay auctions in our area, most held weekly.  There are a lot of horses to feed in Amish Indiana!

Here's a video of the action:

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Amish Schools, Part Three: What They’re Like

So, what are Amish one-room schools like? 

The first thing to know is that it is an integral part of the Amish religion that formal education ends after eighth grade, around their children’s 15th birthday. This bothers some outsiders, but it’s not my place to either judge or defend.  All I need to say here is that the Supreme Court determined in Wisconsin v. Yoder in 1972 that for Amish children, an eighth-grade education was more than sufficient to equip them for their farming- and craftsmanship-oriented lifestyle.

An Amish child begins first grade at about age seven.  Up until this time, they have spoken only “Dutch” at home (a colloquial form of German unique to the Amish culture).  So the first order of business is learning English, which is the language used in their schools.  Most of them have picked up plenty of English by this time by paying attention to the adults and older kids, but they haven’t spoken it.

Most of the schools have two teachers, and a curtain can be drawn down the center of the room when needed.  One teacher might have grades 1-2 and 5-6, and the other might have grades 3-4 and 7-8.  That way, the older ones can help the younger ones.  But they can also be divided according to how many students are in each grade.

The subjects taught are set down in a booklet called “Regulations and Guidelines for Amish Parochial Schools of Indiana,” published by the Amish leaders to help their local school boards follow the state guidelines.  The curriculum includes:

  • Reading (including phonics for younger students) – at least 4 times weekly
  • Math (including fractions, decimals, and measurements) – at least 4 times weekly
  • English (grades 3-8) – at least twice weekly, plus it’s the spoken language in school
  • Handwriting – at least once a week
  • Spelling – at least twice weekly
  • Geography and History (one semester of each) – at least twice weekly
  • Health and Safety (including buggy safety) – twice weekly for one semester
  • German (the language used at church) – once a week

Students (or as the Amish say, “scholars”) are expected to be well-behaved and respectful.  Parents are encouraged to visit the school frequently, and most schools have a guest book for this purpose.  Parents are expected to dress their children according to the “ordnung” (rules of the local Amish church); the children’s clothes are nearly identical to what their parents wear.

On one of my visits to an Amish school, I was accompanied by a school board member.  The teacher had the children stand up, one family group at a time, and then each child introduced himself by name, starting with the oldest first.  It was very impressive, actually!

Amish schools must be in session for 167 days per year, which is the Indiana state standard, and school days must be at least five hours long.  Their agreement with the State of Indiana requires a 97% daily attendance average, which they usually exceed.  Absences for medical appointments, illness, or “attending places where the Word of God is preached” are allowed, but absences for home chores, farm sales, or vacations are not.

The Amish school system, according to a booklet given to every school board member, says that the goals of the school are to prepare the child for a life of Christian service; the Amish way of life; and the responsibilities of adulthood.  From what I’ve seen, they succeed in those goals very well.