Sunday, August 26, 2007

Sunday dinners and Amish food I have known

For the past two weeks, I've noticed on Sundays that we are all sick of summer food. We are done with the grill: the smoked sausage, the pork chop and the chicken breast have no place on our Sunday menus.

It is time to get back to the food of fall.

Now don't get me wrong; we do have some corn-on-the-cob still in the fridge. And tomatoes. But all of a sudden, when I think "fruit," I realize that I'm thinking honey crisp apples instead of peaches and plums. I'd like to have a toasted bagel with pumpkin butter on it for breakfast sometime soon. I want to make some chunky slow-cooker applesauce.

Last Sunday and this, I brought out two of my cool weather recipes. Last Sunday, we dined on roast beef and Yorkshire pudding with green beans. This week, I tucked another beef roast into the oven and cooked it slowly, slowly all afternoon and then made mashed potatoes and noodles, a true Hoosier Sunday dinner if ever there was one. Unless it was chicken and noodles and mashed potatoes.

I can make good noodles, but a few years ago I found out that Kroger sells dried noodles from Der Essenhaus in Middlebury, Indiana, which is a little town in LaGrange county close to the school where I used to work. If you've ever eaten the Amish cooking at Der Essenhaus, you know that it is much more reasonable to just throw in the towel as far as noodle-making is concerned and buy theirs. No fuss, no mess and good noodles. I only make noodles now when we want a fluffy dumpling, which is something I don't allow us to want very often, considering that my fluffy dumplings are made with about a pound of butter.

Thinking about Der Essenhaus in Middlebury gets me to thinking about the Blue Gate in Shipshewana, another place I used to frequent when I lived "up north." My mother and I knew the Blue Gate when it was a cramped little place with mis-matched tables and chairs and ketchup and mustard served in those tall plastic red and yellow squirt bottles. The truly excellent food was served by quiet, reserved Mennonite girls in their plain clothes and white bonnets.

The last time I was in Shipshewana was about five years ago; I went back with my friend Cato and my cousin Carol for a weekend after an absence of about eight years. I was really and truly saddened to find that the original Blue Gate was gone and a new, "improved" Blue Gate had been built in its place. The new Blue Gate was a slickly marketed place with Amish items for sale, placed artfully where they could be examined by diners and squealed over -- "So authentic!" one woman gushed, holding up a patchwork quilt that didn't strike me as being anything close to the best Amish quilting one could ever see. "Look at those tiny stitches!" ("Yes, machines do that nowadays," I thought resentfully to myself.) There were many silk ferns and lots of tacky arrangements on the walls. It looked like a restaurant full of stage props. When our waitress came up to our table, boldly meeting our eyes and calling us all "hun," I felt like I was being punked.

The food was still good, but the Blue Gate was gone forever, taking Shipshewana along with it.

Cato, Carol and I also went over to Nappannee that weekend to eat at Amish Acres, which is still a slickly marketed place, but in a more subtle sort of way. It's not quite so new and crass there; the Amish Acres gift shop has been there for a long time.

We stayed at Der Essenhaus Inn that weekend because I'd heard how nice it was. The three of us shared one room, which was hideously expensive and decorated in an appalling style reminiscent of the photo spreads of Country Living magazine in the mid-1980s. You know. Geese with bonnets on and that kind of thing. I hope they've renovated things since then. Especially if they're still charging those prices.

Anyway, fall food always reminds me of the Amish cooking I have eaten - carb-heavy and relying imprudently on lard, bacon grease and butter. Which reminds may be time to make lemon squares, which we will cut into little bitty pieces.

Oh, who am I kidding?

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