The Amish way, naturally

Two of Laura Anne Lapp's sons , Micah, 3, and Thomas, 4, eat her soup in their Cumberland County, Pa., kitchen. She uses family recipes in her cookbooks and to feed her husband and children. APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer
Two of Laura Anne Lapp's sons , Micah, 3, and Thomas, 4, eat her soup in their Cumberland County, Pa., kitchen. She uses family recipes in her cookbooks and to feed her husband and children. APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer
Posted: August 23, 2013

The scene is as ordinary as it is trend-setting.

Laura Anne Lapp, an Old Order Amish wife and mother, is hosting "a light lunch" for visitors who have just toured her bountiful garden in Cumberland County, Pa.

Everything is homemade and prepared from scratch, harvested from the garden or the chicken coop, and turned into something simple and delicious: chicken-corn soup; bright-yellow egg salad atop thickly sliced tomatoes; a salad of tomatoes and crusty bread; and pale gold "meadow tea," made with apple mint and sweetened with sugar.

"Amish people drink meadow tea all summer long," says Lapp, who seems surprised by her visitors' oohs and ahhs over so much fresh, wholesome food.

This is the Amish tradition, a natural way of growing, cooking, eating, and preserving locally grown food that in 2013 is the trendiest trend in the "English" or outside world.

"We've been at the forefront of a food revolution, I guess," says Lapp, 32, who often draws upon family recipes to feed her husband, John, and three young boys. "We really just take it for granted."

Lapp drew upon that same reservoir of knowledge in 2011, when she compiled three generations of recipes for Lizzie's Amish Cookbook, named for the star of the Lizzie Searches for Love trilogy penned by her mother, Linda Byler.

Although the series follows Lizzie's ups and downs from her mid-teens to early 20s, there is one theme, comforting and familiar: the importance of food in Amish culture.

"Lizzie likes to eat," Lapp says with a giggle.

The fictional Lizzie Glick, a spunky Amish girl, inhales those light-as-a-feather dinner rolls, the toasted Velveeta sandwiches that drip down the fingers, and piles of mac 'n' cheese so irresistible, she doesn't care "if she gains five pounds at one sitting."

Which pretty much summarizes the recipes in the Lizzie cookbook, published by Good Books in Intercourse, Pa., as well as Amish Cooks Across America: Recipes and Traditions from Maine to Montana, by Kevin Williams and Lovina Eicher, from Andrews McMeel Publishing in Kansas City, Mo.

The books are more welcoming than scholarly, which better describes William Woys Weaver's latest work, As American as Shoofly Pie: The Foodlore and Fakelore of Pennsylvania Dutch Cuisine, from the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Weaver, a noted food historian and director of the Keystone Center for the Study of Regional Foods and Food Tourism in Devon, suggests that many of the dishes associated with Pennsylvania Dutch Country were actually created by novelists, tourism officials, and restaurant owners cashing in on the public's relentless fascination with the Amish.

Whoopie pies, for example. Ways disputes the notion that these cream-filled sandwich cookies were invented by the Pennsylvania Amish.

Williams, an Ohio native who has been exploring "the culinary corridors of Amish and Mennonite culture" for more than 20 years, agrees. "Whoopie pies, even things like Amish friendship bread, are popular in pop culture, but there are a lot of Amish people, especially in the Midwest, that have never heard of them and never made them."

No one is saying the Amish don't make whoopie pies.  Lizzie's Amish Cookbook includes three recipes.

"But this is largely an 'English' invention, and it happens a lot," Williams says. "These things are sort of superimposed on Amish culture, so there are Amish that make these things, but their origins are not Amish."

Williams, creator and editor of "The Amish Cook," a syndicated newspaper column written by Eicher, began his study of the Amish assuming that Amish everywhere eat the same foods on the same occasions.

Not so.

Amish Cooks Across America highlights the seasonality and local nature of Amish cooking, from Maine (blueberry-lemon buttermilk muffins) to Florida (fried alligator nuggets), Ohio (apple cake) to Texas (okra gumbo), Kansas (green chile salsa) to Montana (elk bologna).

And homemade raisin pie may be a popular wedding offering among Indiana Amish, but it's served so often at Amish funerals in Pennsylvania that it's known as "funeral pie."

"This is an ever-evolving cooking tradition," says Phyllis Pellman Good, who owns Good Books with her husband, Merle, and has lived and worked closely with the Lancaster County Amish for 35 years.

The Amish cooking tradition literally has roots in large home gardens like Lapp's.

"They are not hobby gardeners. They live from these gardens," Good says, which means eating green beans at harvest time and canning and preserving the rest for winter, practices that will sound familiar to 21st-century foodies.

Amish are also known for big meals - mashed potatoes with noodles, too - and multiple courses, a phenomenon Good believes is about generosity and a desire to "express their affection and regard and respect through the food they prepare."

It may surprise some that among the foods being prepared in Amish kitchens these days are pizza and Tex-Mex. At the same time, these entrepreneurial people are opening their own health-food stores.

"There's a lot of concern about obesity and diabetes and the kind of health concerns everybody in America seems to have," Good says.

Everybody except Lizzie, that is.


Crispy Baked Chicken

Makes 6 to 8 servings

3/4 cup cornflakes

11/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 egg, beaten

3 pounds chicken

   legs and thighs

8 tablespoons

   butter

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Crush cornflakes to make crumbs in shallow bowl. Add salt and pepper.

2. Beat egg in separate shallow bowl.

3. Line roaster or 9-by-13-inch baking pan with aluminum foil.

4. Dip chicken in egg, then in cornflake mixture. Place in pan lined with aluminum foil.

5. Melt butter and drizzle over chicken.

6. Bake uncovered for 1 to 11/2 hours, or until juice runs clear when chicken is pricked with a fork.

- Lizzie's Amish Cookbook by Linda Byler (Good Books, 2011)

Per serving (based on 8): 442 calories; 50 grams protein; 2 grams carbohydrates; no sugar; 25 grams fat; 202 milligrams cholesterol; 693 milligrams sodium; no dietary fiber.


Corn Fritters

Makes 4 servings

2 cups fresh, frozen

   (thawed), or canned

   (well-drained) corn

2 eggs

1/4 cup flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon baking

   powder

2 teaspoons cream

1/2 cup vegetable oil

Confectioners sugar

   (optional)

1. In a medium bowl, combine corn, eggs, flour, salt, pepper, and baking powder.

2. Stir in cream.

3. Heat 1/2 cup vegetable oil in a large skillet

4. When oil is hot, drop teaspoonfuls of corn mixture into oil. Fry until golden brown and crispy on both sides.

5. Before serving, sprinkle with confectioners' sugar if you wish.

- Lizzie's Amish Cookbook by Linda Byler (Good Books, 2011)

Per serving (without confectioners' sugar): 185 calories; 6 grams protein; 22 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams sugar; 10 grams fat; 82 milligrams cholesterol; 615 milligrams sodium; 2 grams dietary fiber.


Zucchini Casserole

Makes 6 to 8 servings

3 eggs

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

11/2 teaspoons

   baking powder

1/2 cup grated cheese

   of your choice

1/4 cup parsley

1/2 cup chopped onions

2 cups unpeeled and         grated zucchini

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, beat eggs and oil together. Stir in flour, salt, and baking powder. Add cheese, parsley, onion, and zucchini. Mix well.

2. Pour into greased 2-quart casserole dish. Bake for 45 minutes.

- Lizzie's Amish Cookbook by Linda Byler (Good Books, 2011)

Per serving (based on 8): 150 calories; 5 grams protein; 8 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram sugar; 11 grams fat; 69 milligrams cholesterol; 219 milligrams sodium; 1 gram dietary fiber.


Chocolate Whoopie Pies

Makes 48 whoopie pies

2 cups sugar

1 cup oil

2 eggs

4 cups flour

1 cup dry baking cocoa

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup sour milk

2 teaspoons vanilla

2 teaspoons baking

   soda

1 cup hot water

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Combine sugar, oil, and eggs in large mixing bowl. Beat until creamy.

3. Sift together flour, dry cocoa, and salt.

4. Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with sour milk. Stir in vanilla.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk baking soda and hot water together until soda is dissolved.

5. Stir into batter until thoroughly mixed.

6. Drop rounded teaspoonfuls onto well-greased baking sheets. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. To avoid dry whoopie pies, do not overbake.

7. Remove from sheets and allow to cool completely.

8. Spread filling (see note) on flat side of one cookie. Top with second cookie.

9. To store, wrap each whoopie pie in plastic wrap.

- Lizzie's Amish Cookbook by Linda Byler (Good Books, 2011)

Note: To prepare filling, mix together 2 beaten egg whites, 2 cups confectioners' sugar, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Next, beat in 11/2 cups Crisco and 2 more cups of confectioners' sugar.

Per whoopie pie: 218 calories; 2 grams protein; 28 grams carbohydrates; 19 grams sugar; 12 grams fat; 11 milligrams cholesterol; 110 milligrams sodium; 1 gram dietary fiber.


Read more about Laura Anne Lapp's garden in Friday's Home + Design section.

Contact Virginia A. Smith at 215-854-5720 or vsmith@phillynews.com.

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