Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Pennsylvania Dutch Treat

Rural Lancaster County, PA

June 7-8

We can hear the brisk clop clopping of horse hooves trotting by as we wake up in our room at the Travelers Rest Motel. We open the curtains to watch the Amish buggies driving by, a perfect start to a very Amish morning, since this is the day we take a two-hour tour of Amish Farm Country, a complimentary benefit of our stay at the Travelers Rest.

Our tour guide is Mim Martin, a Mennonite whose parents left the Old Order Amish Church in 1953, much to the consternation of her grandfather, who was an Amish Bishop. Mim is still close to her Amish relatives, and there are many, since each of her parents had eleven siblings. Consequently, her tour was a lively and fascinating combination of facts about Amish life, and personal experiences and observations.

We learned way too much to share here, but some of the things she told us about their church services were particularly interesting. Each Bishop has two districts, and he leads a Sunday service in one district one week and the other the district the next week, so the Amish here attend church every other week. The services are held in people's homes, which are typically built with folding walls, so that the first floor can be converted into a big room. The service lasts three hours, with one hour of singing (unaccompanied by any musical instrument), one hour of preaching, and the rest praying and talking about the sermon. Since they sit on hard benches with no backs or cushions, the services include a lot of standing up and kneeling down in addition to the sitting.

Men sit to the right of the Bishop, women sit to the left, and children sit with their parents until they are 13, when they are assigned to sit with other kids, arranged strictly by age. The arrangement by age continues for the rest of your life. You better like the person of your sex born before you and the one after you, because you are stuck sitting next to them in church for the rest of your life, unless one of you moves out of the district, which often doesn't happen.

Amish weddings take place in October through December (and into January if it is a busy year). The bride wears a colored wedding dress, and sends swatches of the fabric to friends and family once she chooses it, so they can wear dresses that are the same color. She wears a white cape and apron on her wedding day, and saves them so that she can be dressed in them when she is buried.

We stopped beside a cemetery so that Mim could tell us about funeral practices, when she noticed that there was a freshly dug grave with shovels upright in the dirt, a sign that a funeral would be held today. Then we saw a procession of buggies in the distance. As they approached we could see that each had a number written in chalk on its side, and they came in order. (Later we saw them pass our motel after the service was over, and they were in numerical order again.) The women were all in black, the men wore black suits, and all huddled close around the grave for the service. Our guide told us that when it was over, the family would take the shovels and fill the grave.

On the lighter side, our tour made several stops at Amish businesses. The first was a quilt shop in the walk-in basement of a farm. A young Amish woman showed us some ingenious items (a pillow that unfolds into a lap blanket, a beach bag stitched to a towel that can be stuffed inside) and about thirty hand quilted bedcovers she had for sale. Her family pays the women who make the quilts based on the number of yards of threat they use to make the quilt, not the number of hours they spend on it. The most expensive quilt was $1,200, and had so much intricate hand quilting on it that the person who made it couldn't have possibly made more than fifty cents an hour for her labor!

Our other tour stops inaugurated a theme of our day best summarized by a McDonald's billboard:

You have about 10,000 tastebuds. Use them all.

We stopped at a gift shop that sold home made ice cream and each had a 99 cent cone. At our next stop, a candle and basket shop, we sampled a 25 cent cup of ice cold home made root beer which we agreed was exceptionally full of flavor.

After the tour, we headed to Stolzfus Meat Market and Deli, where we ordered a sandwich to share, and spent our waiting time at their sampling bar tasting cured meats, cheeses, flavored mustards and spreads. If we had a refrigerator in our car, we would have bought a big slab of sweet bologna for Dick.

We picnicked at a table in front of our motel, watching the Amish roll by, then headed north of Amish country for our tasteful afternoon adventures, beginning with a stop at the Wilbur Chocolate Factory in Lititz, 25 miles south of Hershey, where the far more famous chocolate manufacturer resides. Mr. H.O. Wilbur invented the chocolate bud back in 1894, and Wilbur's still makes them today, delicately scenting the air throughout Lititz with the aroma of chocolate. A bud looks a lot like a ¾ size version of a Hershey's kiss. Or, rather, since Milton Hershey invented his Kiss in 1907, 13 years after the invention of the bud, we should probably say that he ripped off Wilbur's idea, supersized it, and ran with it. Poor Wilbur is still here in little Lititz, and Hershey is making Kisses all over the world.

Just a few blocks away from Wilbur's is America's Oldest Hard Pretzel Bakery--Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery, established 1861. Five generations of Sturgises have been making pretzels since Julius opened his factory here and invented the hard pretzel by mistakenly leaving some soft pretzels in the oven overnight. We took a tour, which included an opportunity to try our hand at twisting our own pretzels. Dick is the superior twister, no question. We learned that a good twister could do forty pretzels a minute, and pretzels were hand-twisted until the mid-1950s, when a machine was invented to twist them. Today, pretzels are just extruded—no more twisting. It seems that people stopped twisting pretzels about the same time they stopped doing the dance called the twist. Was there some cosmic confluence?

Five miles away from Lititz is Manheim, where they have a huge farmer's market every Tuesday. There were many hundreds of cars parked in fields all around the market. In outdoor stalls, tables, and trailers and in permanent booths inside several large halls there were hundreds of venders selling everything imaginable--flea market merchandise galore, garden plants, fresh fruit and vegetables, baked goods, roasted nuts, meats and cheeses. All manner of carnival food, fried and barbecued, was for sale. We bought fresh locally grown strawberries, which I am enjoying immensely between paragraphs right now, and we shared a Maryland Crab Cake sandwich, prepared by some Mennonite or Amish women. Mostly, we enjoyed watching the people, a broad spectrum of folks from heavily tattooed bikers to bearded Amish men with straw hats and suspenders.

We also stopped into a barn and watched an amazingly fast-paced auction of lots of live chickens. The bidding was in cents per pound, and the winning bids for each cage full of chickens ranged from 40 to 95 cents. We didn't have a clue what differentiated the cheap chickens from the expensive ones. There were lots of other animals still to be auctioned when we left—rabbits, goats, ducks, white pigeons, and some ugly geese.

We couldn't pack much more into one day--just like the Amish, still working hard in their fields as we drove back to our motel. Whole families were participating in the work around the farm, until they ran out of light. And still, we hear their buggies passing by our window close to midnight.


  1. what an awesome day......wish I could have done every single thing you did today. My favorite day of all your travels so far.

  2. Your info about the Amish is facinating!Had no idea and want to learn more..but my question for today could you"split" any of that food???I would still be on my seconds and thirds! I feel like I am enjoying your trip as much as you. Thanks!