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Hand-cranked beaters, wood-burning stoves and horse-drawn buggies. Glimpse into the Amish way of life and you’ll feel as though you’ve traveled back in time. The Amish are a religious community that separate themselves from modern technology. In The Amish Cook’s Baking Book, written with Amish cook and columnist Lovina Eicher, Kevin Williams writes that the Amish “aspire to live simply and self-sufficiently.”
Though the lifestyle is reserved, the Amish express themselves through their food. From homemade lattice pies to 600-person feasts, there’s a lot we can learn from them. Though we may not choose to give up our electric mixers or microwaves, these 10 Amish cooking secrets are good rules for any home cook.
1. Share breakfast as a family.
“Breakfast is a busy time, but it’s also a quiet time for the family to be together before going their separate ways for the day,” Lovina Eicher’s mother, Elizabeth Coblentz, once wrote in her syndicated newspaper column, the Amish Cook. A typical Amish family rises as early as 4 a.m. to prepare breakfast and get started on chores. Some children milk the cows and others hand-wash laundry while eggs and cornmeal cook atop a wood stove. Most importantly, the family sits down and eats together in the moments of peace before the day begins.
Don’t want to wake up at the crack of dawn? Make this Amish Breakfast Casserole the night before to share with your family in the morning.
2. Eat pie. Lots of it.
Pies are practically synonymous with Amish cooking. From fruit-filled to stuffed with mincemeat, pies are a way for Amish cooks (like the rest of us) to showcase seasonal produce and use up leftover ingredients. It’s not uncommon for an Amish baker to make 8-12 pies in a given week. Shoofly pie (yum!), often served for breakfast, is perhaps the most popular. Learn how to make pie from scratch, here.
3. Enjoy the earth’s bounty.
If you’ve ever set foot in an Amish farmers market, you know the harvest is unlike any other. Crisp golden apples, just-unearthed potatoes, fresh eggs and baskets of tomatoes and garden-fresh greens are star players among the bunch. Since the Amish produce so much of their food on their own lands, recipes generally incorporate fresh ingredients straight from the garden, chicken coop or orchard. Check out our best seasonal recipes, here.
4. If you can’t eat it now, you can can it for later.
Canning is a central practice of the Amish community, since it serves as a low-tech way to keep produce. Bumper crops of cucumbers or strawberries, for example, are preserved in jars and stored in a cool cellar. This way, families can still savor fresh fruits and veggies in the winter months, and nothing goes to waste.
5. Waste not, want not.
Like many practical cooks, the Amish are taught not to waste while cooking. Cooks may therefore spend days putting every inch of a pig to good use. The results include homemade sausage, tender ribs, smoked meat pies and ham-laden soups. Even the smallest scraps make their way into cornmeal scrapple, a dish common among the Pennsylvania Dutch.
6. You can always make something out of (almost) nothing.
Many Amish recipes call for only a handful of ingredients. For example, our popular recipe for Amish Sugar Cookies uses basic ingredients such as flour, butter, sugar, oil and eggs. Lovina Eicher (who took over the Amish Cook column for some years after her mother passed) has written about Amish “nothings.” Nothings are simple deep-fried pastries reserved for weddings. They’re made with just five ingredients: egg, cream, flour and lard-and a pinch of sugar sprinkled on top.
7. Celebrate life’s special occasions with food.
Weddings, family reunions, anniversaries and barn raisings are big events within Amish communities. Such festivities accommodate anywhere from a dozen to several hundred hungry folks. How does one cook for such a large event? Friends, neighbors and extended family, with rolling pins in hand, volunteer to help.
In the Amish Cook column, Elizabeth Coblentz wrote about her wedding anniversary: “My, what a table full of food, which consisted of pizza, fish sticks, mashed potatoes, gravy, macaroni and cheese, pies, corn, mixed vegetables, cheese, cakes, ice cream, cherry delight, potato casserole, pretzels, potato chips, fruit salad and lettuce salad. Lots more than we could eat for thirty-two of us present.” Cooking for a crowd? Try our Top 10 Potluck recipes.
8. Cooking is good for the community.
After Sunday service (held every other week), it is customary for the Amish to share in a church meal. Services are held in members’ homes, so hosting church also means hosting the meal. Naturally, playing host takes lots of preparation, so families take turns. This setting brings the community together to bond and celebrate the day with a light lunch, tea and cookies. Sounds like fun, right? Invite your community over this weekend to share in a delicious 13×9 dessert.
9. Pass down cooking traditions from one generation to the next.
Amish kitchens don’t usually house a lot of written, detailed recipes. A woman may have an index card that lists ingredients, but instructions are nowhere to be found. This is because mothers teach cooking and baking to their daughters by showing them the process hands-on. Rather than relying on a recipe, girls learn methods and techniques by experience and feel.
10. When in doubt: Make applesauce.
One item you’re likely to find at every Amish meal is homemade applesauce. Because it pairs well with breakfast, dinner and dessert, the Amish are masters of the stuff. “A yellow apple,” Coblentz wrote in her column, “works best for applesauce. We pick these in the fall and store them in the cellar so they are ripe and ready for applesauce by the early spring.” When you’ve finished making the sauce, consider pairing it with sausage or folding it into a sweet treat (like this Spicy Applesauce Cake).
Feeling inspired? Save yourself a trip to the grocery store with our recipes for homemade pantry staples.