The cherry red motor coach rumbled down the country road like a bull in a china shop. All along the way curious plain people in their blue shirts and black pants stood on their porches staring at “the English” as the English stared back from inside the bus. I felt vaguely like a stalker, invading the private spaces of these intensely private people.
But it is the uneasy way that the Amish live among the English. They are economically dependent on selling their wares to us but they are wary. Scott Smith, our tour guide, warned us emphatically not to take photos of them or we would be asked to leave (the photo above is a stock image in the public domain). I left my camera on the bus for fear that I’d slip up.
The morning was fascinating. The Amish came to Ethridge, Tennessee, after World War II and built a community of modest simple white homes – all extremely similar as to not make any one home stand out against another. Children are only educated through the 8th grade so they can learn to read, write and cypher. They do not go on to high school because that knowledge is not valuable in the Amish world and it might afford too many temptations from the outside world. They speak German in their homes, but English when conversing with, well, the English. There is no running water or electricity in their homes.
But food crosses all divides, bridges all gaps and is universally understood. At almost every home, something delicious is for sale.
Mommy overbought. First sorghum. We stopped at a home where sorghum was in full production, with children feeding stalks of cane into a grinder. The juice was fed through an underground pipe to a wood-fired griddle where it bubbled and reduced. The jars were still warm to the touch.
Then fried pies, which we got to see an Amish woman frying in an ancient cast iron skillet. Peach, blackberry and coconut cream. And the homemade peanut butter cups and peanut brittle, a buttery crackle of history. The peanuts in the skin harvested from a field next to the house.
Bread. Dense yeast rolls and a feathery cinnamon raisin loaf. And jars of homemade vegetable soup and squash pickles, rarely found in the South outside Amish country. And butter as yellow as the sun.
It is now a week later and I can deliver to you a comprehensive quality control report on my purchases. All fried pies consumed with great gusto. Cinnamon bread used for both cinnamon sugar toast and French Toast, both with the homemade butter. Ethereal. Peanut brittle almost gone along with the peanuts. Peanut butter cups, ditto. Yeast rolls in the freezer but only because there’s just so much bread one can consume in a week. Squash pickles about half gone. Vegetable soup in the pantry awaiting a day when it’s cold to the bone and soup just seems like the best idea. Sorghum awaiting baking day. There will be cookies.
By the way, you need to get on Scott Smith’s tour list. He’s known as Jimmy the Cricket for reasons too complicated to go into but his tours are the best. You will always end up in places the public rarely sees (as in pulling into an Amish woman’s side yard to pick up the homemade peanut brittle she made just for us). And that is because Scott Smith knows absolutely every living soul on Earth and they all love him so much they invite his friends into their homes and world. Check out Jimmy the Cricket Tours. You can thank me later.