After a week exploring Philadelphia and camping in New Jersey, we headed to Lancaster County in the Amish country of Pennsylvania for two weeks. I wasn’t sure what I would think about this area. I knew it was popular with tourists, but I didn’t know if it would just be a big tourist trap or have authenticity to it. Would we really see many Amish living and working here? Would we find this part of Pennsylvania as beautiful as we hoped it would be? And the answer was yes to these questions, except for the tourist trap part. It is true that there are many offerings here for tourists, but I did not find it overdone or tacky. During our stay I was captivated and delighted with our visit to the Amish country. This area was indeed one of the more special places we found during our travels.
There was much to enjoy exploring here. I loved the countryside with beautiful farmland, homes, barns and silos. There were plenty of country roads and lanes to get lost on. It was indeed quite picturesque.
It was fascinating driving around seeing Amish families working in their fields and gardens. It was neat to see all the buggies on the roads and wagons pulled by horses getting the land ready for planting. This is a place where you feel you have stepped back in time – a time when life was simpler and more tied to the land and family. A place where religion and traditional values frame every day life. The Amish seemed to have successfully blended their lives to fit into the modern world and not compromise those values. I took the first picture above while we were driving down one of the main roads in the area. I was somewhat amazed at how the Amish could drive their buggies through a great deal of traffic if needed. I think I would be nervous with cars backing up behind and driving around me all the time, but they are skilled at handling it.
Tourists like to visit the Amish country for the beauty of the countryside, shopping for crafts, woodworking, quilts and specialty foods and to dine on great food. The area is known for Pennsylvania Dutch food specialties and buffets serving these foods. Buffets and restaurants serve favorites like fried chicken, brown buttered noodles, chicken pot pie (a stew made with square noodles), creamed cabbage, chicken corn soup and scrapple. Desserts are also popular and include custards, puddings as well as shoo-fly, oatmeal, pecan and whoopie pies. It appeared to me that shoo-fly pie is the favorite dessert as it was served everywhere. For those that don’t know, it has a regular pie crust with a dark sweet filling featuring molasses or corn syrup and a crumb topping. One day I headed from our RV park to Dutch Haven Bakery, walking along side a busy road and dodging two Amish buggies along the way. This bakery claimed to have the best shoofly so I wanted to give it a try plus take a picture of the cute building and sign. After sampling the pie a few times during our Lancaster visit, I decided I didn’t like it enough to have it on a regular basis as I find it rather bland.
Mark and I ate at a few of the buffets and my favorite item was the pickled red beet eggs. I hope the picture above of the egg did not scare you – I know it is a little too big and perhaps the color too bright! I loved both the color and the taste, a combination of sweet and sour. Mark liked them quite a bit as well. I decided to try and make them as a fun little project. The recipe I used called for both white and cider vinegars, a little sugar and a can of red beets. After the eggs are hard boiled, you separately mix and boil the other ingredients, including the beet juice from the can. After peeling, you put them into a mason jar and pour in the red liquid. You then put the beets on top and stick in the refrigerator for a few days so the eggs can marinate and turn that nice dark pink color. They are great in salads or by themselves!
Our stay in the RV park included a free two hour small bus tour of the Amish country. The park is affiliated with a company that operates several motels and Inns in the area and offers this complimentary activity for guests. Our tour took us on a drive through the countryside past farms and homes with a couple stops. Everyone loves the warm, fresh, soft pretzels at the farm stand pictured above. There is also a gift shop with crafts and specialty foods for sale. I didn’t look very long at the gift shop though, as I was too busy scarfing down a pretzel and trying out the homemade root beer (below), another Amish specialty. You could have a small sample cup for $.25 out of the igloo or take home a jug. I love root beer, but shouldn’t be drinking it so no jug for me!
Our next stop was a dairy farm with a barn for horses, cows, calves and German Shepherd pups. There was another craft store to check out as well. During our stay I spent little time in craft shops. I was more interested in the countryside, homes, barns, people and farm animals. So at this stop I was off to find the cows and puppies. I did find the scooters (below) interesting.
Although you mostly see the Amish using buggies for transportation, scooters are also popular and frequently seen along the roads. What you don’t see is bicycles. Our guide explained that the Amish believe bicycles take people too far away from the community and they want to stay close knit. Since scooters are slower, they are more acceptable. Below is a picture of a young boy on a scooter.
As our tour continued, our guide told us a lot about Amish wedding customs. Weddings are held in the months of November and December after fall harvest. The rest of the year people are too busy on their farms or shops for weddings. The weddings have a lot of attendees but are simple in ceremony and held at the family home. There are no flowers, decorations or music and the bride makes her own dress. There is a big meal afterwards and people don’t bring gifts. The newlyweds visit the homes of relatives and friends for some weeks after the wedding and that is when they are given gifts. I had a question about whether the Lancaster Amish community was increasing or decreasing. Our guide reported that they are increasing, with approximately 37,000 Amish in this community. I later read that the largest Amish community is in Ohio with Lancaster the second. I also read that the reason the Amish population is growing is their large families and the ability to retain their young people as 95% join the church.
Thanks for reading! In the next blog I will write more about our visit in Lancaster County.