Sampling Pennsylvania Dutch Country Satisfy Your Craving for Comfort Food, Your Yearning for Yesteryear and Your Curiosity about the Plain People on a Ramble through Lancaster County
Mink, Randy, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Byline: Randy Mink Daily Herald Correspondent
For those of us who travel on our stomachs, vacation memories in Pennsylvania Dutch Country weigh heavily - and I do mean weigh - on scrumptious baked goods and home-style meals.
Just imagine: apple dumplings and apple butter; shoofly, pecan and pumpkin pies; platters piled high with fried chicken, roast beef and made-from-scratch bread; soft pretzels fresh from the oven.
Bring a hearty appetite and be ready to nibble and nosh at any time here. Flitting from town to town one day, I did so much sampling - much of it free - that I totally forgot about lunch.
Eating and sightseeing converge in a colorful patchwork of towns and rolling farmland in southeast Pennsylvania. Lancaster County is America's oldest Amish community and second largest after Holmes County, Ohio.
In this rural area being encroached by subdivisions and shopping centers, the Amish and Mennonites (Anabaptist religious sects who came from Germany in the 1700s) hold on to their customs, living in peace with God and their neighbors despite the distractions of modern life. The Amish (more tradition-bound than the Mennonites) do without conveniences such as cars and electricity, and few have telephones. You'll see them in horse buggies and plowing their fields with mules.
The Amish - and many more non-Amish of German descent - speak a dialect known as Pennsylvania Dutch, a term that has nothing to do with being Dutch. The word "Dutch" is a corrupted version of "Deutsch," the word for German.
My first stop in Amish Country was the Pennsylvania Dutch Country Visitors Center, off U.S. Route 30 in the town of Lancaster. There, I signed up for a one-hour van tour of the countryside - a smart idea because it summed up Amish culture and food in a nutshell.
It's easy to identify the Amish homesteads, our guide said as he pointed out simple white houses with plain green curtains, no electrical lines, propane tanks in the yard and plain-color clothes hanging out to dry.
During the afternoon tour, we saw Amish kids walking home from one-room schoolhouses. They don't have too far to walk, our guide said, because Lancaster County has 160 of these schools for students in grades 1-8. The U.S. Supreme Court exempted the Amish from attending high school.
You also might see boys - in brimmed straw hats - and girls - wearing white or black bonnets - on scooters or inline skates. They're not allowed to have bicycles, a form of transportation that, their elders fear, could take them too far from home.
Near the village of Bird-in-Hand, our van pulled into the Eli and Mary Glick farm where we had time to peruse a gift shop stocked with Amish crafts. Several people bought dolls, spice mats (hot pads filled with fragrant cloves) and quillows (a little quilt that can be folded into a pillow). I came away with a jar of homemade apple butter.
At the wood shop next door we got a look at the air-powered machinery used to make the hickory furniture and cedar chests for sale. Many Amish farmers operate woodworking and other cottage businesses to supplement declining farm income.
In a separate building the Glicks tempt visitors with baked treats at low prices. It was hard for me to bypass the cinnamon rolls, sticky buns and pumpkin bread. Apple and cherry half moons (turnovers) also caught my eye. I decided on two Pennsylvania Dutch standbys: shoofly pie (a heavy, molasses-based concoction) and a whoopie pie, a spongy round chocolate cake sandwich stuffed with cream filling.
The Amish do not like to be photographed, but a good picture would have been the Glick boy driving around the farmyard in a cart pulled by a miniature horse. We heard him and his sisters speaking German.
The farms in Lancaster County are not especially big and seem rather close to each other. Shopping strips, industrial parks and new upscale homes loom just beyond the barns, silos and windmills. …