Weddings, frolics, and church services all have one thing in common in the Amish world. There are special foods for each occasion. Snitz pie, made from dried apples, is often served at Amish church services. Amish "roast" (bread filling with pieces of chicken or turkey, and gravy) is served for the wedding feast along with creamed celery, mashed potatoes, and numerous other dishes. A picnic or frolic means a table spread with chunks of cheese and relishes, such as chow chow and pickled red beets.
Most people have heard stories of the large meals served to hundreds of people at Amish barn raisings and weddings. With over 300 people at a wedding, it is not uncommon to need gallons of mashed potatoes and gravy, many quarts of coleslaw and applesauce, many pies, and hundreds of doughnuts. Good food and family values are the recipe for Amish meals both large and small.
Eating at Home
Unlike many families today, the entire Amish family sits together to eat at least two of the three meals each day. After the milking is done, and before the children leave for school or an off-the-farm job, the family gathers for breakfast. This might consist of eggs, fried potatoes, fried mush or scrapple. They often finish with cereal topped with fruit. Cooked oatmeal could also be served. Farm fresh milk is always available to pour over fruit or cereal. Cold cereal is bought in bulk and might be eaten as a snack before retiring at night.
Most Amish women do not spend lots of time cooking creatively. Their cooking is often done "on the run," as they have other chores around the house or may even help in the fields or in the barn. The garden and lawn all require lots of attention during the summer, so the recipes are very basic. The large meal at noon might consist of meat and gravy, mashed potatoes made with lots of butter, noodles, and a vegetable served with either browned butter or melted butter as a garnish. Applesauce is served with the main course as a salad.
Chicken Pot Pie
Chicken pot pie is another dish that can be prepared while doing other chores. The chicken is cooked earlier and then the potatoes are added along with a few chunks of carrots and celery to simmer for about one hour. The pot pie noodles are added as the final step and then cooked another 20 minutes.
Amish women prefer to make their own pot pie noodles by combining one cup of flour and one egg. The egg is dropped in a hole made in the flour and mixed with a fork. Just enough water or milk is added with a half teaspoon of salt to make a stiff dough. Some women add a dash of baking powder. This is rolled very thin and cut into squares to be added to the boiling stew.
If they are in a hurry, they will resort to store-bought noodles. Noodles can also be added to beef stew. The meat in an Amish home is usually cut rather small and served in stew or gravy, and meat loaf is very popular.
Treats from the Garden
Annie, an Amish mother of six, said that she really appreciates the "treats" from the garden to round out her supper or "snack." These treats from the garden are usually watermelon, cantaloupe, or fresh tomatoes. Cheese and pretzels would also be on the table. Ice cream would be an appropriate dessert, although this may not always be available. To be Pennsylvania Dutch is to enjoy a salty pretzel with your ice cream.
In the hot summer months, the afternoon meal might consist of cold sandwiches of bologna and cheese. As an alternative to sandwiches, many Amish have "bread soup." This is simply homemade bread torn into pieces in a soup bowl, with fresh fruit over top and fresh milk poured over it. If fresh fruit is not available, they could use some of those canned peaches or pears stored in the cellar.
Gas grills have made an impact on Amish cooking. Chicken has always been a staple meat, and now many Amish prepare barbecue chicken for a picnic, family gathering, or even to sell to tourists. This could even complement a "corn roast." The corn is left in the husk and steamed on an outdoor fireplace over a wood fire, with lots of butter available to put on the corn.
A salad would also be served at a picnic. This is prepared on a large platter with layers of lettuce, shredded carrots, onions, tomatoes and cheese, topped with dressing. Fresh garden vegetables are readily available.
More Than One Dessert
Desserts are always popular at gatherings. Banana pudding, vanilla cornstarch, caramel pudding, as well as cracker pudding are all well received. Layered desserts with fruits like peaches or pineapple with Jell-O are often seen. When entertaining, four or five desserts at one meal would not be uncommon. Finally, shoofly pie is a staple that can be served for any meal of the day, including breakfast!
Christmas is the time for the family to spend those long winter days making candies and cookies for the holidays. Many pounds of coating chocolate are bought at the local store to be melted down for Christmas candies and cookies. One favorite is made by applying a layer of peanut butter to a graham cracker, topping it with another cracker, and dipping it in melted chocolate. These are then placed on wax paper to harden and dry. Caution: if the finished cookies are not well hidden, they will disappear quickly.
The Amish remind us of the simple joys of gathering the family together for special times. To have a good time, the Amish do not need food that is exotic or expensive. Celebrating together as a family is a trait of the Amish that we can carry into our own homes.
A Sample Amish Menu
Below are three actual meal menus from an Amish family. Each meal includes homemade bread, butter, and jelly.
Breakfast - Eggs, cornmeal mush with ketchup, oatmeal with raisins, applesauce
Dinner (lunch) - Beef and carrots, scalloped potatoes, gravy, baked corn, carrot salad, graham cracker pudding, cookies, peaches
Supper - Vegetable soup, bologna, tomatoes and Chinese cabbage, apple sauce, chow chow, apple dumplings with milk and sugar
Amish Country News Article by Joyce Hershey (1992, 2002)