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Amish food is basic but not boring

Amish cooking isn't simple, exactly. Mostly, it's just unfussy.

In their new book, Amish Cooks Across America, Kevin Williams and Lovina Eicher look at Amish cooking and what makes it distinct. Obviously, the food is made without benefit of electricity. But there is something more to it than that: Amish cooking is hearty, as it has to be to satisfy the caloric needs of hardworking people. And it is what we often think of as wholesome.

"What makes it Amish food is basics," Williams said. "They take what is very basic and available and can do amazing things with a very small number of ingredients."

Even so, Amish cooking is not at all homogeneous. As Amish communities have scattered across the United States, including nearby Sarasota, many dishes have picked up regional distinctions.

In the Northeast, their dishes are made with maple syrup and potatoes. In the South, though not many Amish communities have settled there, okra is king, along with corn bread and pecan pies. In the West, they serve huckleberries and some of the meats that are most readily available, such as elk and moose. (A recipe for creamy moose steaks requires 2 pounds of moose steaks, salt and black pepper, 1 cup of water, 1 large onion, sliced, and 1 can of cream of mushroom soup.)

The cream of mushroom soup stands out as exactly the sort of thing one does not typically associate with the Amish, but Williams said it and such ingredients as Velveeta are making inroads in their cuisine.

"Amish cooking as a whole is changing. There's more processed food than there used to be; they're not as insular as they used to be," he said.

In the Midwest, which has the largest communities of Amish, the ingredient lists run toward apples, tomatoes and corn. And apparently Mexican cuisine, or at least Tex-Mex, is making a sizable impact in Amish kitchens across the country.

The book is full of information about the people and their way of life, including the Amish and Mennonites who live and vacation in Pinecraft, an Amish community on the outskirts of Sarasota, west of Interstate 75, south of Fruitville Road. Its main thoroughfare is Bahia Vista Street.

Most of the book is given over to recipes popular in the various communities. Many of these recipes are for baked goods: pies, cookies and muffins. Though vegetable dishes receive their share of attention, recipes for meat dishes are fairly scarce, aside from a moose-steak recipe or two.

A recipe for Outrageous Chocolate Chip Cookies makes between 120 to 140 smallish cookies. It helps to remember that the average Amish family has eight children, according to the book, and when you feed all of them along with other family and friends you can run through 140 cookies before you know it. It also helps to recall the Amish lifestyle involves a lot of physical work, and they need the calories provided in these gems of peanut butter, chocolate, vanilla and butter.


Outrageous Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 pound (4 sticks) butter

2 cups granulated sugar

1 ½ cups firmly packed brown sugar

2 cups peanut butter

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 large eggs, beaten

4 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups quick-cooking oats

4 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons salt

1 (12-ounce) package chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the butter and, in a very large bowl, mix it with the sugars, peanut butter, vanilla and eggs. Stir until creamy and smooth. Add the flour, oats, baking soda and salt. Mix the dough until thoroughly blended. Stir in the chocolate chips until evenly distributed throughout the dough. Roll the dough into 1 ½-inch balls and place on baking sheets. Bake the cookies for 12 to 15 minutes, until the edges are golden brown. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Yield: About 120 cookies.

Source: Adapted from Amish Cooks Across America by Kevin Williams and Lovina Eicher


Blueberry-Lemon Buttermilk Muffins

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened

1 ½ cups sugar

4 large eggs

2 ½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice (see note)

2 tablespoons lemon zest

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup buttermilk

2 cups fresh blueberries

For the glaze:

1 ½ cups powdered sugar

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two standard muffin pans, or line the pans with cupcake papers.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla and combine until smooth (don't worry if it curdles and separates; the flour will bind it all together). Beat in the flour mixture and buttermilk, alternating the two, using about one-third of each for each addition. The mixture should be smooth and creamy. Fold in the blueberries and mix until they are evenly distributed throughout the batter. Pour the batter into the muffin pans, filling each up about halfway.

Bake until the muffin tops are golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes.

Make the glaze: Stir the powdered sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest until smooth. Brush the glaze over the muffin tops while the muffins are still warm.

Note: Both the batter and the glaze use the juice and zest of lemons, so be sure to zest the lemons before extracting the juice.

Makes 24 muffins.

Source: Amish Cooks Across America by Kevin Williams and Lovina Eicher


Rivel Soup

8 cups chicken broth

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, beaten

1 onion, diced

2 tablespoons dried parsley (or 6 tablespoons fresh)

2 (14.5-ounce) cans of corn, drained

2 cups cooked, diced chicken, optional

Bring broth to a boil in a large pot over medium heat. In a large mixing bowl, mix flour, salt and eggs to form a crumbly mixture. Rub mixture between fingers over broth, dropping in pea-size pellets, or rivels.

Add the onion, parsley and corn, and cook until the vegetables are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. If you choose, add chicken just before you take the soup off the heat.

Serves 6 to 8.

Source: Amish Cooks Across America by Kevin Williams and Lovina Eicher


Maple-Syrup Cookies

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon milk

1 large egg, beaten

½ cup shortening

1 cup pure maple syrup

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Dissolve the baking soda in the milk in a small bowl, and set aside. In a large bowl, mix the egg, shortening, syrup, flour, baking powder, salt and vanilla, in that order, until fully combined. The dough will be very thick and sticky. Add the soda mixture and mix until fully incorporated.

Drop the dough by rounded teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake until the cookies look set and are honey brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Let the cookies cool for a couple of minutes, then remove them from the baking sheet. The cookies will remain soft when stored in an airtight container.

Makes about 48 cookies.

Source: Amish Cooks Across America by Kevin Williams and Lovina Eicher


Easy Homemade Barbecue Sauce

1 cup ketchup

Small dash of Worcestershire sauce

¼ teaspoon soy sauce

½ teaspoon dry mustard

¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar

¼ cup vinegar

½ teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon chili powder

2 tablespoons chopped onion

½ cup sugar

¼ cup tomato sauce

Place all the ingredients in a large bowl and stir until they are thoroughly combined. Use the sauce fresh in your favorite recipes, or refrigerate for later use.

Makes 3 cups.

Source: Amish Cooks Across America by Kevin Williams and Lovina Eicher

Amish food is basic but not boring 07/09/13 [Last modified: Monday, July 8, 2013 4:32pm]
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