Friday, December 28, 2007

A Visit to an Amish Dry Goods Store


Well, the holidays are almost over. I don't really do New Year's, but last year I babysat for my niece and nephew. It was very stormy, with rain and thunder and lightning. I remember the weather very well, because my nephew, the little jokester, locked us out of the house when we stepped out on the porch to watch some fireworks. He would have thought it was really funny if I hadn't been able to pop a lock off a different door and we'd gotten stuck counting down the new year in the garage with the stray cats.

Right now, we're in the middle of kind of a thaw. It's still pretty snowy, but the roads are melting off every few days, and it's making it really easy to get around. We were able to make a lot of visits to my grandmother's house and to my sister's house between the weekend and the holiday and, apart from a little freezing rain on Christmas Eve and Chrstmas morning, the roads were good everywhere we went. We didn't need to change any plans because of weather. I even took a break from all the visiting and treated myself to a birthday trip to the movies to see Sweeney Todd. Eek! Is it bad that my three favorite new movies from this year were Eastern Promises, No Country for Old Men, and Sweeney Todd? Cronenberg, the Coens, and Tim Burton are my favorite, favorite, favorite directors, and I got so spoiled this year. I also ended up at the movies alone, since no one in my family wants to go and see all those creepy movies about people killing each other.

This week, at different houses, we had two birthday parties plus Christmas dinner (plus brunch at my sister's), so the family got together down at my grandmother's on the day after Christmas and did a family gift exchange and ate a big meal of leftovers from the whole week. We do one of those things where you draw a number and can either steal someone's present or open a new one. The hot presents this year were a fancy hoe with a light fiberglass handle and a bird feeder. I got some barbeque tools, which I needed. Most of my cooking things are either presents or beg borrow or steal, and my grill is definitely a beg from when my dad got a new and better grill, and until now, I didn't even have a grill brush for it!

Today, I decided to take advantage of the good weather and make a trip to the dry goods store. The only thing I was really low on was spelt flour, but I can always find some good things down there. Ideally, I should get a picture of some of the store shelves and things like that, but they aren't keen on pictures. My sister and I are both convinced that the cover of People magazine that they had after the happening down in Lancaster last year of two women walking through a field were just actresses in Amish dresses. On the news, a month or so ago, they did an interview with an Amish man, and they just filmed his shadow on the grass and had his voice. Instead, I took a picture of what I bought today after I got it back to the house.

There are actually quite a few Amish stores in our area, and I do mean Amish. They are owned by Amish people, and a really interesting mix of people, mostly Amish, shop there. It's very, very common to hear people speaking "dutch" which is acutally kind of a funny sing-songy Swiss German dialect. It is an amazing experience every time. There is always some ingredient you can find that might be the next great food adventure. Or you can just get a really yummy snack while picking up the basics for bread and cookies.

The store is located off the main road down a dirt road that is a little hilly, which is why the weather is always a consideration when heading that way. On the way, you pass a mix of "anglish" and Amish farms and the usual kinds of businesses you get in this area. There's a car repair place (not Amish) plus a sawmill and a construction and roofing company. The store itself is warm little place, not much bigger than a good sized shed, maybe twenty by thirty feet or so, but they make good use of space. There is no packaging other than plastic bags, and the shelves are loaded all the way up to the ceiling. In the winter, there is a kerosene heater, and on dark days a kerosene lantern. Your purchases are rung up on a battery operated adding machine.

I usually hit the flour aisle first where they have all kinds of whole grain flours and white flour and also all kinds of mixes for breads, pancakes, biscuits, doughnuts, funnelcakes, and anything else. There is everything you could ever want to make cookies with and decorate them. Every kind of dried fruit, flavored chip, flavoring, sugar, sprinkle, filling, leavening, spice, shortening: they have it. And I mean every kind. There are those food service bags of different jelly fillings for doughnuts in about five flavors. The Amish store had the non-hydrogenated palm oil shortening for months before the regular grocery stores added it to their health food sections. And every time I hear about a "new" healthier alternative sugar, they already have had it there for a while, too.

They have lots of non-wheat flour and lots of gluten free mixes and also snacks and sweets for diabetics, too. The candy aisle is equally fantastic with all the stuff you'd expect like brandname candy plus all kinds of old fashioned stuff and just everything you might ever want. There is bulk cereal and jello and pudding mix and dip mixes and rice and soup mixes. There is also a freezer and a fridge for meats and dairy, and a different times produce boxes with things that don't really need refridgerated like onions, garlic and bananas. The last time I paid less than a dollar for a lemon was at the Amish store, and they were three for a dollar there.

Lots of stuff is organic, and everything is a few pennies per pound less than things cost at the grocery store or the co-op. A lot of the things simply aren't available anywhere else, too, so the fact that the prices are good makes it even cooler. Some things like odd candies, coffee, and really common grocery store items are more like convenience store prices, but the "real" food is all affordable.

At the back and the sides of the store, there are lots of nonfood things. There are schoolbooks and lots of cookbooks and toys and games songbooks and books in German. Also things for drawing and stamping. Greeting cards, notepapers, windchimes, knicknacks, household things like clocks that don't take electricity. There is any kind of cooking utensil you can think of including these amazing hand crank egg beaters that are made in Ohio and are like an heirloom item they are so nice. There are shoes and boots, in black only, of course. One row has bolts of cloth and quilting and sewing things. Most of the cloth is dress cloth or denim or white muslin for bonnets and household things. There aren't a lot of prints or anything like that. There are a few pre-made dresses and bonnets, but it seems more usual to make those things, though, there is a basket of pre-made bonnet strings to attatch to what people sew for themselves. You can also get Lye for soapmaking, though that is one craft I haven't tried yet.

Overhead, there are all sorts of larger items. Giant metal mixing bowls, lamps and oil stoves and pots and pans. You can also get plates and cups and glasses. Most aisles you need to kind of duck though, there are so many things hanging. Then, there are all herbs and vitamins and supplements. Plus, medicinal teas and natural soaps and toothpaste. I haven't even mentioned snacks, pretzels, trailmixes, crackers, and cookies. There are all kinds of pectins and picking things for jelly and canning, too.

A good portion of the books and stamps and toys are religious-based which makes the store a really popular destination for homeschoolers and Sunday school teachers. Also, a lot of "special diet" people shop there. And older people who are getting the things they grew up eating at better prices than at the grocery store. I usually go for candy and flour, but I get socks there pretty often and shoes and snacks, and today I bought a bag of that brown salt that comes from Utah and my favorite toothpaste: Tom's of Maine Fennel, no flouride, no baking soda. My other purchases included graham crackers, organic oatmeal -- Wednesdays are Oatmeal for Breakfast Day -- and popcorn, plus a new pair of socks, a huge splurge for me, but really useful, as I can wear my black plain knee socks when I work, and it looks like I'm wearing tights or nylons!

I'm actually pretty excited about buying in bulk right now, since my dad got me a vacuum sealer as a combination birthday and Christmas present. It's a great present since, my basement storage area gets a little damp and moldy in the summer when I also tend to have a lot of sugar on hand for jelly making and I don't run through flour as quickly. He got me the canister set and also this really cool attatchment that will put a vacuum seal on a standard sized mason jar with a regular old lid. I know I have a quart jar from honey around here somewhere that takes a regular lid. I'm going to go and find it and seal up some of that oatmeal for storage right now!

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