I must confess that all I know about the Amish is what I've learned by watching movies and "documentaries" (more like news magazine segments) on TV. Not a very accurate picture, I'm sure, but then again I have never been specially fascinated by these people. Patriarchal theocratic societies just don't do very much for me.
I was expecting Amish food to be very homey, made lovingly from scratch from recipes handed down from generation to generation. Boy, was I surprised. To begin with, finding recipes for main dishes, rather than for pies and other sweets, wasn't particularly easy. Most cookbooks (and internet sites) specialize in the latter, with good reason, as it turns out that Amish meals are both prosaic and uninteresting. What most surprised me is that most of the recipes for main dishes I found seemed like everyday American fare; from meatloaf to chili con carne, the Amish have mirrored in their tables the foods served by their "Englisher" neighbors. Moreover, the Amish seem to have embraced modern conveniences such as packaged foods, and therefore most of the recipes I found relied on at least one or two packaged items: store bought noodles, cream soups, crackers and Worcestershire sauce among othes. Not surprisingly, newer cookbooks which rely on newly collected recipes, more closely reflect modern American cooking and rely more heavily on these store bought ingredients. Amish women, who do the cooking, must appreciate these time savers just as "Englisher" women do.
I was also a bit surprised at how much of Amish food is baked in the oven rather than cooked on the stove top. I know very little about gastronomic history, but I do know that home baking is a fairly modern invention. For example, I learned that many of the Indiana Amish (there are several groups of Amish that have settled both in the East Coast and the Midwest) came to America by way of Alsace. When I cooked Alsatian food I found that when Alsatian cooks wanted to prepare a special dish (such as baekeoffe, a stew named as such precisely because it was baked) that had to be baked, they would take it to their neighborhood bakery. Most other dishes were cooked by other methods. I imagine, therefore, that the Amish adopted the use of home ovens after they moved to America. Indeed, the Amish seemed to have acquired other modern conveniences, for example they use refrigerators, though these are powered by propane rather than electricity.
The menu I finally settled on incorporated recipes from both the Pennsylvania and Indiana Amish. I wasn't particularly excited with it, but it fulfilled my requirement of including fairly "typical" dishes that weren't too much like those served in other American households and of not being too dependent on store-bought ingredients. It consisted of:
Fried Salmon Patties
which I served with:
Broccoli with Cheese Sauce
Beef and Noodles
and for dessert:
Shoo-Fly Pie with Lemon Sauce
The food was generally OK, but not that great and I doubt I'll be trying Amish food again.
Amish Food Links
- Bibliography - cookbooks I used