The Amish Cooks' Anniversary Book: 20 Years of Food, Family, and Faith is a beautiful book, oversize with full color photos, some of food, others of scenery and artifacts, such as a horse-and-buggy. The book is a collection of columns spanning the years 1991-2010, written by Elizabeth Coblentz until her sudden death at sixty-six of an aneurysm. Her daughter, Lovina Eichel, took over, writing her first column in October 2002.
The Amish life is one of hard and constant work marked by an ever-present thankfulness and acceptance of God's way. Elizabeth says at one point, "God makes no mistakes." Amish families are close, and when children marry, they often set up their own homes close to their parents'. The Amish also make good neighbors, caring for one another—a benefit auction was held when Elizabeth's two-year-old grandson was hospitalized; the Amish carry no health insurance. The Amish worship in private homes, and the host family provides a plentiful meal for worshippers; in the evening, young people sometimes come back, requiring another meal.
Amish life does not allow some of the modern conveniences we take for granted, but rules vary from area to area. Horse and buggy is still the preferred means of transportation, though by the 1990s a few farmers bought motorized tractors. The Amish can ride in a car, especially long distances, if it is driven by a non-Amish person, and they can stay in modern hotels. Most Amish do not have electricity but in some areas they may have small appliances—alarm clocks, flashlights, etc. In Michigan, they are permitted to use gasoline-powered freezers, but those are not allowed in Indiana.
The Amish grow their own vegetables and fruit and butcher their own meat. On hog butchering day, they make something called pon hoss, made with pork broth, flour, salt, pepper, and "liver pudding"—something like what we know as liverwurst. It hardens and is sliced and fried for breakfast. But they also cook with canned soups, sour cream, prepared mayonnaise, Miracle Whip, even Jell-O.
We read little about men's lives in this book. These columns chronicle the lives of women who rise at dawn, bake their own bread, can vegetables, make quilts, and feed amazing numbers of people. For Lovina's wedding, two dozen women came to help prepare two days ahead. (For some reason, Amish weddings are held on Thursdays.) They baked ninety pies (oatmeal, cherry, raisin, and rhubarb) and made fourteen batches of nothings—deep-fried pastries traditionally served at weddings. The next day the women made potato salad, cleaned and prepared for the ceremony.
At 4:15 a.m. on the day of the wedding they began to fry 300 pounds of chicken. Ham was also served, along with mashed potatoes, chicken and noodles, gravy (sixteen quarts), mashed potatoes, dressing, buttered corn, green beans from the garden, pork and beans, potato salad, carrot salad, lettuce salad (also from the garden), hot peppers, Swiss cheese, fruit salad, tapioca, pudding, pies, cakes, nothings, celery sticks, coffee, bread, rhubarb jam, and butter. Twenty-eight women prepared the meal, serving approximately 170 people both noon and evening meals. This is but one of the many large meals chronicled in the columns, all cooked on wood-burning or kerosene stoves. On another occasion, Elizabeth's daughters gathered to make noodles, using 110 eggs.
When Lovina took over the column, her children were young, some not even in school. Even though she had eight children, Lovina still made fourteen pints salsa, twelve quarts pickles, and ten pints jalapeños in one day. Breakfast at her home, served early, consisted of eggs, pancakes, fried potatoes, cheese, toast, orange juice and milk.
In spite of the title, this is more a journal than a cookbook. Recipes are scattered throughout but not a great many of them. All recipe titles begin with "Amish Cook Classic," but this book cries out for a recipe index. Here are a few I'd like to try: ham salad (a baked version), cheese burger loaf, cucumber salad, poor man's steak, asparagus casserole, after-school no-bake chocolate-peanut butter cornflake cookies, yumasetti (a ground beef casserole—say it aloud and the name makes sense). I'll skip the pon hoss.
Elizabeth Coblentz was an Amish woman who wrote a weekly column from 1991 until 2002, sending hand-written columns to editor Kevin Williams who syndicated the column to various small papers. Elizabeth had eight children, including five daughters who helped her at home until they married. Her husband Ben died unexpectedly in May 2000, and Elizabeth followed in 2002. She had published The Amish Cook, The Amish Cook at Home, and The Amish Cook's Baking Book. Elizabeth's daughter Lovina took over the column in October 2002. Later, with both her parents gone, she and her family moved from Indiana, where she had been raised, to Michigan to be near family. Both Elizabeth and Lovina shunned any kind of publicity. Lovina continues to write the column.
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