My Thoughts About One of My Favorite Places--Northeastern Indiana's Amish Country
Wednesday, December 18, 2019
I know an Amish family where the father and sons love to go hunting! They make regular trips out west to hunt elk, but they also hunt other things, including wild turkeys. Their home has a trophy room where there are all kinds of hunting trophies and souvenirs -- I'll have to take a picture next time I'm there.
The one and only time I've tasted elk in my life was at their house, for Old Christmas dinner.
A while back I noticed these sets of turkey feathers laid out to dry in the utility room, with borax sprinkled on the bases of the quills:
Recently the lady of the house was showing me the finished product, hanging on their wall. Notice the three arrowheads attached to the base of the top one.
Tuesday, December 10, 2019
I present here a delightful guest post by my Italian friend Frederico.
A visit to the Amish county is not just a discovery, it is above all an opportunity. It offers the opportunity to pause and slow down the impetuous pace of everyday life. A visit to the Amish requires the time it takes. It obliges us to administer time according to another meter, according to a slow and rhythmic flow, like a horse's step.
He has been a follower of my facebook page and blog, and a while back, he and his wife Stefania came to America for a visit, and they stopped in Amish Indiana for a day or two on their way to visit relatives in Iowa.
Earlier this week, Frederico got around to writing up his visit, and below I present his story (and pictures) of their experience. It’s a wonderful look at Amish Indiana from the viewpoint of someone from a very different culture—Italy.
A couple of young European tourists visit Amish Indiana
Some time ago I happened to travel through Amish Indiana with my wife Stefania. It was a splendid opportunity to discover a different culture.
Susan Mosey was our personal guide there, and thanks to her help, we could visit some Amish farms.
As I am an organic farmer in Italy, I was really curious to know more about ancient agricultural techniques. The visit was very enjoyable and allowed us to see some interesting farm machinery which was abandoned 80 years ago in Italy, but can still be very useful today.
When I returned to Italy I bought this old piece of machinery called a “rompegara.” It looks like a large iron comb and breaks the surface of the ground when pulled by a horse. Of course I don’t pull it by horse, but with my small tractor—but it is still a very ecological tool; since then I have stopped using a plow on the ground of my farm.
This was a nice consequence of our visit to Amish Indiana, but the most interesting aspect of it was meeting local people. These encounters enabled us to understand much of the Amish way of life: devotion and faith in God, love of the family, respect to old people and to the roles of their society.
The most unusual and impressive characteristic of Amish culture is the strong bind between man and horse. Horses are part of the family, their power is the engine of the society. The horse measures distances and regulates time. Time is so slow in Amish Indiana! This is what I miss the most about this place: the slow flow of time.
Since the date of my visit, one year and half is already gone. Once I returned to Italy I was captured by the stressful rush of modern life. Sometimes I stop for a few seconds, I look around the countryside, I smell the scent of grass and woods... and, closing my eyes, I remember my brief visit to Amish Indiana.
After the above summary, I wrote a more complete description of the visit. Sorry to English readers… This is written in Italian! I can’t tell the emotions I experienced in English, it is too difficult. I can only express them in my language, in the same way I lived them.
This will be a nice guide for the next Italian traveler. If you are curious to read it, you will have to find an Italian friend and ask for a translation! (Sue's note: I included a translation at the end.)
Racconto sull’Amish Indiana da parte di una coppia di giovani turisti italiani
Può capitare di viaggiare attraverso quella grande pianura che, allungandosi sotto i grandi laghi, si distende silenziosa e pacifica per infiniti chilometri nel cuore dell’America.
Lunghe e morbide colline si susseguono come onde, coperte da boschi, pascoli e campi coltivati, punteggiate da fienili e grandi fattorie.
E’ il lato più dolce e romantico dell’America, la dove industrie e metropoli non hanno osato infrangere la spontanea bellezza della natura.
Ma quando, attraversando questa infinita campagna, si entra nella contea degli Amish, l’aspetto del paesaggio prende una nuova forma, le case, i campi, le colline, assumono un aspetto squisitamente elegante. Non un solo filo d’erba è fuori posto, i prati che costeggiano la strada sono tagliati, i giardini sono adornati da alberi e fiori, attorno alle bianche fattorie tutto è perfettamente ordinato: le staccionate, gli orti, i piazzali, anche i cavalli al pascolo sembrano posizionati secondo un preciso modello di perfezione.
L’armonia tra uomo e natura è la più bella espressione della cultura Amish e coglie da subito la curiosità del viaggiatore.
Viaggiatore rallenta! fai attenzione ai Quilt: i giardini di fiori che disegnano un variegato motivo sulle colline, non sembrano un mosaico degno di una cattedrale?
Osserva con quanta cura è disposto il bucato al sole: prima i pantaloni da uomo, poi le camicie, le lunghe vesti femminili, infine i vestiti da bambino … tutto in scala decrescente di misura e tutto rigorosamente in sequenza di colore. A cosa tende tanta cura del dettaglio e tanta dedizione?
Per gli Amish la cura casa e della campagna sono un impegno esistenziale, contrassegnano attenzione verso la famiglia, integrità morale e capacità di governare la terra. E’ un modo per mostrare al Signore la propria riconoscenza per i doni ricevuti ed per confermare il senso di appartenenza alla comunità.
Qui religione, agricoltura e comunità si fondono silenziosamente con il paesaggio.
Queste le sensazioni attraversando questo piccolo angolo di paradiso.
Susan Mosey, appassionata esploratrice del mondo Amish, è stata la nostra guida attraverso l’Amish Indiana, dove abbiamo sostato due giorni. La visita è stata un’esperienza indimenticabile, in due giorni abbiamo scoperto un mondo parallelo, contemporaneo e antico al contempo, una prosperosa civiltà, dove si conservano usanze e costumi di un tempo lontano.
A cena da Philip and Laura
Il principale motivo della nostra visita era la ricerca sulle tecniche di agricoltura biologica. Da agronomo desideravo scoprire come questi agricoltori riuscissero a lavorare grandi estensioni di terra senza l’ausilio della chimica e dei trattori. Cosi Susan ha organizzato l’incontro con una giovane famiglia di agricoltori. Philip e Laura, che ci hanno accolto come amici nella loro casa e ci hanno offerto una cena intima e confidenziale, una chiacchera dopo l’altra ci hanno resi partecipi della loro avventura, ci hanno raccontato della loro vita.
Abbiamo parlato di coltivazioni, di scuola, di viaggi e di famiglia. Questo incontro ci ha permesso di comprendere alcuni passaggi della cultura Amish. Abbiamo selezionato alcuni aneddoti sul mondo Amish.
Ogni comunità Amish si regola attraverso delle norme di comportamento, che sono prodotte da un consiglio di comunità. Non è vero che la comunità rifiuta la tecnologia, ma piuttosto che adotta tutti quei comportamenti che permettono alla comunità di non disperdersi e di rimanere integra.
Quindi il consiglio ha la funzione di guidare l’evoluzione della società, decidendo cosa accettare e cosa rifiutare della modernità.
Il cavallo e il motore
Il cavallo è un componente fondante della comunità Amish. Determina le distanze, i ritmi della campagna, il rapporto tra uomo e natura. La comunità Amish è prima di tutto una comunità di agricoltori ed il cavallo è un compagno di lavoro e di vita per l’agricoltore, esattamente come il cane lo è per il pastore.
Il punto fermo nella filosofia Amish non è quindi il rifiuto del motore, ma la tutela del cavallo. Per questo gli Amish non possono guidare il trattore o la macchina, perché questi potrebbero sostituire il cavallo e compromettere uno dei pilastri fondanti della comunità.
Due sono le principali razze impiegate dagli Amish. Nero, elegante, slanciato e magro, il cavallo inglese ha funzione di rappresentanza ed è quello deputato alla trazione del calesse.
L’altro, il cavallo belga, robusto, forte, muscoloso, di colore bruno chiaro, fornisce la forza motrice ai mezzi agricoli. I cavalli trascorrono una bella esistenza, a loro sono riservati splendidi pascoli, stalle riservate e ricevono amorevoli cure ed attenzioni.
Sfatiamo un mito. Non è vero che gli Amish rifiutano il motore. Il motore è ben accetto fintanto che non ruba lavoro al cavallo. Quindi sono di uso comune motori agevolatori a bordo degli attrezzi agricoli trainati dai cavalli e sono ben accetti anche i motori da imbarcazione.
Infatti gli Amish possono tranquillamente portare una barca! Anzi, sono appassionatissimi navigatori!
La cucina Amish è tutta fatta in casa, un ottimo derivato della tradizione alpina di trecento anni fa. Somiglia molto alla cucina europea, si basa sull’abbondante uso di verdura, lunga cottura di carni delicatamente speziate, latte e burro. Abbiamo avuto modo di provarla a casa di Philip e Laura E l’indomani a casa di Jerry e Wanita, altri amici di Susan, che ci hanno offerto degli ottimi biscotti fatti in casa.
Gli schermi, i telefonini e i computer
Sono generalmente banditi dalla vita Amish tutti i device elettronici. Nulla infatti può essere più superfluo e sviante, soprattutto per i giovani. Niente smart phones quindi.. niente tablet.. una semplice cabina telefonica di quartiere è più che sufficiente per tutti.
Tuttavia, come per il motore, la comunità accetta in parte la modernità. Infatti cellulare e computer sono ammessi fintanto che l’uso è limitato alla sola funzione lavorativa.
La religione non va messa in discussione. Essa permea la vita di tutti ed obbliga i membri della comunità ad un vincolo di fedeltà e sincerità.
La devozione religiosa passa davanti alla scuola ed al lavoro e rappresenta il massimo fine della vita umana.
Molto della vita Amish rappresenta una scelta estrema per noi.
Molto facciamo fatica a comprendere, tuttavia offre degli spunti di riflessione, dei ragionamenti da fare.
Forse c’è qualcosa da imparare da questa antica comunità isolata, come in una bolla, nel cuore della modernità.
Una visita alla contea Amish non è solo una scoperta, è soprattutto un’opportunità. Offre l’opportunità di rallentare e frenare l’impetuoso incedere della quotidianità. Una visita agli Amish richiede il tempo che chiede. Obbliga ad amministrare il tempo secondo un altro metro, secondo un fluire lento e ritmato, come a passo di cavallo.
For those without an Italian friend – I used my friend “google translate”—and I was amazed at the insights that my guests gained in their short visit here. Here is the translation—it’s a little choppy, but far better than no translation at all!
One can happen to travel through that great plain that, stretching out under the Great Lakes, stretches silent and peaceful for endless kilometers in the heart of America.
Long and soft hills follow each other like waves, covered by woods, pastures, and cultivated fields, dotted with barns and large farms.
It is the sweetest and most romantic part of America, where industries and metropolises have not dared to disrupt the spontaneous beauty of nature.
But when, passing through this seemingly endless countryside, you enter Amish country, the appearance of the landscape takes on a new shape. The houses, the fields, the hills, take on an exquisitely ordered appearance. Not a single blade of grass is out of place, the lawns that line the road are cut, the gardens are adorned with trees and flowers, and around the white farmhouses everything is perfectly ordered: the fences, the vegetable gardens, the squares, even the horses in the pasture—they seem to be positioned according to a precise model of perfection.
The harmony between man and nature is the most beautiful expression of the Amish culture and immediately captures the curiosity of the traveler. Here religion, agriculture and community blend silently with the landscape.
These were my impressions while traveling through this little corner of paradise.
Traveler, slow down! Watch for the quilt gardens. Don't these variegated designs of flowers on the hillsides look like mosaics worthy of a cathedral?
Observe how carefully the laundry is hung out in the sun: First the men's trousers, then the shirts, then the long women's dresses, and finally the children's clothes... all in a decreasing scale of measure and all carefully in color sequence. So much attention to detail!
For the Amish the care of the home and countryside is an existential commitment, marking attention to the family, moral integrity, and the responsibility to care for the land. It is a way to show God their gratitude for gifts received and to confirm their sense of belonging to the community.
Susan Mosey, passionate explorer of the Amish world, was our guide through Amish Indiana, where we spent two days. The visit was an unforgettable experience. In two days we discovered a parallel, contemporary, and ancient world, a prosperous civilization, where customs and culture of a distant time are preserved.
At dinner with Philip and Lora
The main reason for our visit was to do research on organic farming techniques. As an agronomist, I wanted to find out how these farmers managed to work large tracts of land without the aid of chemicals and tractors. So Susan organized a meeting with a young family of farmers. Philip and Lora, who welcomed us as friends in their home and offered us an intimate dinner. An after dinner chat made us participants in their adventure, as they told us about their lives.
We talked about farming, school, travel, and family. This meeting allowed us to understand more aspects of the Amish culture. We have selected some anecdotes about the Amish world.
Each Amish community is governed by rules of behavior which are decided at a church council meeting. It is not true that the community rejects technology, but rather that it adopts only those aspects that allow the community not to disperse but to remain intact. So the council meeting has the function of guiding the evolution of society, deciding what to accept and what to refuse of modernity.
The horse and the engine
The horse is a fundamental component of the Amish community. It determines the distances, the rhythms of life, the relationship between man and nature. The Amish community is first and foremost a community of farmers, and the horse is a work and life companion for the farmer, just as the dog is for the shepherd.
The staple in the Amish philosophy is therefore not the refusal of the engine, but the protection of the horse. This is why the Amish do not drive the tractor or the car, because they could replace the horse and compromise one of the founding pillars of the community.
There are two main breeds used by the Amish. Black or brown, elegant, slender, and thin, the English standardbred horse has a representative function and is the one in charge of pulling the buggy.
The other most popular breed, the very strong, muscular Belgian horse, light brown in color, provides the driving force for agricultural vehicles. The horses have a good life—they are given splendid pastures, reserved stables, and receive loving care and attention.
Let's debunk a myth. It is not true that the Amish reject the engine. The engine is welcome as long as it doesn't steal the horse's job. Therefore, facilitating engines are commonly used on board agricultural equipment pulled by horses, and boat engines are also welcome.
In fact the Amish can own a boat! Indeed, they are passionate boaters!
The Amish kitchen is all home-made, an excellent derivative of the alpine tradition of three hundred years ago. It is very similar to European cuisine, based on the abundant use of vegetables, long cooking of delicately spiced meat, and the use of milk and butter. We were able to try it at the home of Philip and Laura—and also the next day at the home of Jerry and Wanita, other friends of Susan, who offered us excellent homemade cookies.
Screens, mobile phones, and computers
Electronic devices are generally banned from Amish life. In fact, nothing can be more superfluous and distracting, especially for young people. No smart phones then... no tablet... a simple neighborhood phone box is more than enough for everyone.
However, as with the engine, the community partly accepts modernity. In fact, mobile phones and computers are allowed as long as the use is limited solely to the work environment.
Religion is not questioned. It permeates the life of all and obliges the members of the community to a bond of fidelity and sincerity. Religious devotion passes through school and work and represents the maximum purpose of human life.
Much of Amish life is an extreme choice for us. We find it difficult to understand, yet it offers food for thought. Perhaps there is something to learn from this old and isolated community, living as if in a bubble, in the heart of modernity.
Wednesday, December 4, 2019
In early September I found myself in a new Amish schoolhouse in the area. I had an hour to kill while my Amish companion talked to the builders about a water system, so I wandered around and took some photos.
It was a rare opportunity to be in a brand-new schoolhouse—one of over 100 Amish schoolhouses which can be seen in the Lagrange-Elkhart-Noble county area. (I have written about Amish schools a number of times, starting with this post.)
Inside, I found this wall display, below. It’s a good indication of the typical first names of the next generation of Amish kids. Since last names are so few and repeated—20% of the local population are named “Miller” and probably nearly as many are named “Bontrager” or “Yoder”—parents sometimes get creative with the first names.
Four of these beautiful hardwood units (below) separated the back of the schoolhouse from the classroom area in the front. The back side had hooks and shelves for the children’s coats and things, and the front side had shelving and cabinets for books and school supplies, as well as serving as benches. The units were on casters, so they could be moved aside for school programs and other special events.
Here is the classroom area. Notice the double set of alphabet posters (in upper case, lower case, and old German script). This is because most schoolhouses have two teachers, and the classroom is divided down the middle by a movable curtain. Each teacher is responsible for four grades. Occasionally there is a smaller special education classroom off to the side.
Light is provided by piped-in gas, as well as the large number of windows down each side.
Many newer Amish schoolhouses have living quarters for the teachers. This one was no exception, with a kitchen which led to a living room, two bedrooms with closets, and a full bath. (The classroom area had two more half-bathrooms for the students.) The kitchen could also be used for refreshments after school programs and other events.
Something I didn’t expect: a copier! I asked my companion where the power came from, and he said it was collected from the solar panels on the roof. I’d not seen one of these in an Amish school before.
Outdoors, there was a horse barn, along with a baseball backstop out back and some playground equipment out front. Most children would either walk to school or ride a bicycle, but some ride in pony carts or even full-sized horses and buggies.
Several new Amish schoolhouses are built in this area every year, and this was a good example of what the newest ones look like.
Several new Amish schoolhouses are built in this area every year, and this was a good example of what the newest ones look like.
More on Amish schools in a series starting here.
Wednesday, November 20, 2019
Recently my husband Gary drove half a dozen Amish young people to a wedding in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. This is an unusual occurrence; not much intermarriage happens between the Amish here in northeastern Indiana and the Amish in Lancaster County.
He had a few hours to wander around, and he found himself at the Weavertown Coach Shop, where Amish buggies have been made for almost fifty years. Notice, you can take your horse through the “horse wash”! (Gary looked around to try and get some photos, but the horse wash was closed.)
Gary took the photo below of the buggies in the lot. Notice the difference between these rounded, gray buggy tops and the angular, black buggy tops seen in northeastern Indiana.
Below is the “window sticker” for a 80%-new, rebuilt buggy which can be had for $7,995. (A new one would cost $10,140.) The buggy has a one year warranty. Buggies can have thousands of dollars of options and upgrades. Notice the options listed here, which include a fiberglass body—most of the buggies in northeastern Indiana have a wood body. This one has upgraded brakes and a swirl navy interior with shag carpeting.
Smaller budget? Try this older buggy, below, for $2,995. It is being sold “as is, decent condition.” It’s a nice buggy, similar to the first one, but probably quite a bit older.
Some of the local buggies resemble pickup trucks, with an open back for cargo. (Gary calls them “Amish El Caminos.”) He took this brief video of one of them:
I’ve written about the Amish buggies in northeastern Indiana, here.
Wednesday, November 6, 2019
A few Sundays ago, it was time for my friends Emmon and Lily (names changed) to take their turn hosting church—an event that happens once or twice a year for most Amish families.
Above is a picture of their “shop building” on the left, which is where they set up for church when it’s their turn. Church can be held in a barn, a shop building, a large open basement, or even a rented tent in the yard. All they need is an area big enough to set up the benches in the traditional way.
Lots and lots of cleaning takes place in the week leading up to church Sunday! Emmon had been busy cleaning out the shop, power washing the cement, and lots of other tasks. Lily and her sisters and other women of the family had been cleaning the house top to bottom, raking the yard, and otherwise making everything shine. Hosting church is a very big deal in Amish Indiana, and everyone wants to make sure they put their best foot forward.
I happened to stop by the day before, and Emmon and Lily let me take a few photos. As you can see above, the shop building, where they normally keep their buggies and other miscellany, had been cleared out and cleaned up. In the back on the left is the area for the married men and young boys (under sixteen) to sit, with the two preachers, deacon, and bishop in the front row. Often there are visiting preachers, etc. from other church districts—church is held every other week, allowing for lots of visiting—so the front two rows may be taken up with them.
In the back of the photo on the right sit the married women and small children and the young girls (under sixteen). Notice the half-row of comfy chairs in the front, for the older ladies!
The young unmarried men sit in the rows at bottom left, and the young unmarried women in the rows at the bottom right.
The bench wagon sits nearby, along with a buggy which had to be moved outside to clear the shop for church. (I’ve written about the bench wagons before, here.)
I drove by on Sunday and took the picture below of buggies in the temporary parking lot next to the shop building—an area that had been mowed the day before just for this purpose.
After the three-hour church service, everyone gathers for a meal. The meal has a set menu, in order to avoid the hostesses feeling pressured to compete to outdo each other:
- Bread (maybe homemade)
- Maybe egg salad
- Regular butter
- Amish church peanut butter (which I’ve written about before, here)
- Jelly or jam
- Canned pickles and beets
- Coffee (the Amish drink it black) and water
- Cookies for dessert
Sometimes the adults sit around under a shady tree and talk all afternoon, while the children play and the young people socialize. The Sabbath is taken seriously here, and no unnecessary work is ever done on Sunday. It’s a day of rest and socializing and worship.
Thursday, October 31, 2019
Thursday, October 24, 2019
As I write this, last night I went to a performance put on by the Rock Run Amish Youth Program music group. When I say “youth,” this means single Amish young people between the ages of sixteen and marriage, which can often be mid- or late twenties. There are several Amish youth centers in the area—the Cove in Shipshewana, and Rock Run near Millersburg are two of them. They sponsor all kinds of activities and sports leagues for the local Amish youth, and are a place for them to “hang out” and meet people.
Anyway, last night was the first performance—“family night.” There will be four more performances open to the public, on upcoming Friday and Saturday evenings. So there I was, with perhaps 300-400 family members of the performers—one of only a handful of “English” people in the large pole barn at the youth center. My good friend Joni was one of the youth involved in the program, and I was sitting with a dozen of his family members, ages infant to eighty.
I’ve been to a few of these youth concerts before, but this one was special.
Last May, there was a terrible accident in Amish Indiana. A young man named Rudy (names changed) was riding his bike home from an evening with his friends when he was killed by a drunk driver. The driver was his childhood friend, an Amish kid gone wild. (Perhaps I’ll write about that another time—that story is still evolving.) The visitation and funeral lasted two full days and brought together many, many hundreds of Rudy’s friends and family.
Rudy’s best friend was Joni, the young man I know so well. It’s been a hard summer for all of Rudy’s friends. They have spent nearly every Saturday night at Rudy’s parents’ home. In Amish Indiana, friends become like family. And Rudy had been one of the youth participating in the Rock Run music program.
So, back to last night:
I found myself at the concert, and it was a nice one—plays and songs, lasting almost 2½ hours—some humorous, some serious. The theme on the cover doesn’t seem so ‘depressing’ when you consider what was in the kids’ minds and hearts—Rudy, their absent friend.
Each performer’s name was also listed in the program, along with the names of their parents—typical of the close family ties in this community. First on the list was Rudy. His parents and a dozen other relatives sat together, women in their black dresses of mourning, two rows in front of us. A side table held a beautiful bouquet of red roses—one for each youth in the program, and one white rose, for Rudy.
At one point late in the concert, the kids sang a song that was particularly meaningful to Rudy. As they sang it, each one held a lit candle. After the song, they silently filed down the side stairs of the stage and placed their lit candles on the table in front of the roses.
There were tears in a lot of eyes, including mine. But it was a wonderful way for his friends to honor Rudy, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world!
Thursday, October 17, 2019
I was stopping by to sing to Mrs. R. this morning (I’ve written about her before) and I noticed right away that it’s winter firewood time again!
Not all Amish homes are heated by firewood, but many are, especially older ones. Mrs. R’s son was doing it as many do – he backed the wagon up to a basement window and put down a ramp, and then slid the firewood down, one piece at a time. Then he went to the basement to stack it.
I asked him how many draft horses it took to pull a wagon load of wood this big. He said one Belgian couldn’t do it – it took two.
He had a log splitter for breaking down the larger logs into usable-sized pieces. I asked how much wood he would typically use in one winter season for a big old farmhouse like his, and he said probably seven loads this size. (A newer, smaller, or better insulated home would use less.)
I asked how often he had to go down to the basement and fuel the furnace, and he said usually once in the morning and once in the evening, plus one more time mid-day in really cold weather. He said a typical zero-degree day might take six logs, split into pieces.
I learn something new every day!
Tuesday, September 10, 2019
Did you know that Shipshewana has an airport?
Wolfe Field is located a mile northwest of town, near Shipshewana Lake. I would guess (but it’s only a guess) that it was named after Edward A. Wolfe, a wealthy and prominent local citizen of the early 1900s, whom I have written about before.
The website airnav.com says that the airport is privately owned by the Shipshwana Air Association and permission must be granted to land there. It was established in November 1960, and has no control tower. The grass runway is 2,600 feet long and 200 feet wide. Five single-engine airplanes are based there, with an average of 30 flights a week. 97% of these are local aviation, with only 3% being “transient aviation.”
As I suspected, the main users of the airport are the local crop dusters. The information says, “Heavy agricultural aircraft activity May through October.” I love seeing the colorful crop dusting planes flying around the countryside!
Wolfe Field also has an unofficial facebook page, which has a very cool picture of a plane coming in as a big storm approaches.
So now you know!
Wednesday, September 4, 2019
For many years I visited Amish Indiana as a tourist, before recently retiring here. Once in a while a local would say, “Have you visited Bonneyville Mill?” and I thought, “Why would I visit a mill?!” But last year I ended up there one Sunday afternoon, and now I’m a fan.
It’s not just a mill! I had no idea… Their brochure says there are 222 acres of “gently rolling hills, woodlands, marshes, and open meadows,” with five miles of hiking trails running through them. There are picnic tables throughout, and five reservable shelters (each with picnic tables, water, grills, and restroom facilities). Wow!
Bonneyville Mill is the oldest continuously operating grist mill in Indiana. In its long history it has produced stone-ground flour and other products from all kinds of grains. The original owner, Edward Bonney, hoped his mill would be the center of a thriving new city—but the railroads bypassed Bonneyville and the proposed canal was never built. Edward sold the mill, went into the tavern business, got accused of counterfeiting, and fled town as an outlaw. Oh, well… “How the mighty have fallen!” as King David said.
Anyway... Recently I was out there again for our annual church picnic, and I took some pictures. A park employee explains how the mill works, and then ‘fires it up’ and grinds some grain. There are helpful displays such as this one (below) to explain the process.
Walking upstairs, the ‘works’ can be seen up close. It’s amazing how many of the elements are made of wood, and yet they still hold their own after almost 200 years. Edward Bonney’s men knew what they were doing!
Walking downstairs and outside, the actual turbines (water wheels), millrace, and dam can be seen. Everything is well explained, and there are self-guided tour guides available for those who are interested in the mechanics of the thing. It was actually quite progressive for its time, with its horizontal water wheel.
Here's a video of the mill in action:
The mill is open to the public, free of charge, on Wednesdays through Sundays from May through October, usually 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Get more information here.
Wednesday, August 28, 2019
A few weeks ago I found myself at an Amish farm in Michigan on a pleasant Saturday afternoon. Ten of us women and girls (and one baby) had just spent a few hours garage-sale-shopping, while the men went out fishing on a nearby lake. I was the English friend-and-driver.
Now it was time for the ladies to relax in the big kitchen while the kids played outside and the men fished… Pretty soon lunch had been eaten, and one of the ladies (Ruth, the matriarch of the clan) started making doughnuts—a process I’d never seen before, except at a Krispy Kreme store. Turns out it’s not that much different.
The basic ingredients are shown in this recipe, which has the unique twist of adding a cup of cold mashed potatoes! (My friend used mashed potato flakes instead.) A doughnut mix can be used to speed things up, adding sugar, yeast, and warm water.
The dough was left in a bowl to rise while we had our lunch. Then it was rolled out, and circles were cut with an upside-down glass. A little heart cutter made the center holes, and some of the leftover pieces (what my mother-in-law would call “snibbles”) were saved, too. They were given time to rise again.
A few at a time, she dropped them into a pan of hot oil, flipped them over after a minute or two, and laid them on paper towels. Five or six dozen doughnuts went in and out of the oil (plus the snibbles).
Meantime, one of Ruth’s daughters had been mixing up powdered sugar and water for the glaze. Now she dipped them one or two at a time, letting the glaze drip off from a long fork (a trick she learned from her mother). Not all of them made it into the glaze—I periodically swiped one from the assembly line!
Now another daughter sprang into action, packing the cooled doughnuts into Tupperware containers (and four for me to take home to my doughnut-loving husband). They were hot, fresh, and delicious. And many hands made light work!