Esther's Farmhouse Kitchen

Friday, June 12, 2015

A small hilly road threads its way through the rich farmland of Ohio's Amish country where fertile fields show crops of corn and wheat, and lush pastures surround picturesque farms where cows and horses graze in contented harmony. Chickens cluck, freshly hung laundry flaps on a line, and a woman bends over her garden, hands deftly sowing a bed of lettuce. This is the home of  Esther, a slender middle-aged Amish woman whose wavy hair are tucked neatly under her white pleated covering and whose eyes sparkle with joy at my unannounced visit.  She lives in a hundred-year-old farmhouse, where her mother lived before her, and where babies were born, church is held, quiltings are hosted and neighborhood ice cream suppers are enjoyed under the trees.

The butler's pantry 
Though it's barely mid-morning, Esther has been up since dawn.  Her kitchen is spotless from breakfast clean-up, her laundry is washed and drying in the breeze, and, though it's early spring when I visit, most of her garden has already been planted in neat rows. Always eager for a visit with cousins, she welcomes me into her kitchen and pulls out a chair with a hearty, "Sit down!" as we reminisce about childhood years when my parents would drop me off for the day as they tended to church duties or drove a neighboring Amish woman to the Cleveland Clinic with a sick child, or when I just needed the  adventure of romping with a bustling family - so different from my own quiet life on the farm.

The kitchen window frames a view of the barnyard
It's as it always has been on my aunt's farm - nothing has changed, except for a fresh layer of paint on walls and cupboards.  The smell of kerosene lamps lingers in the air.  The clock ticks on the mantle in the living room. The floors creak with age. The windows frame views of the barn and fields beyond where horses run and a Collie dog romps with her pups. The wood-burning cook stove, where my aunt hovered for many hours as she baked pies and cookies, has now been moved to the summer kitchen downstairs and replaced with a newer gas range where Esther continues the tradition of cooking and canning for her large family, producing mouth-watering food that will tempt the faintest appetite and keep one reaching for second helpings.

The wood-burning stove has been relegated to retirement.
The butler's pantry where kitchen essentials await their use.
The mudroom holds coats and boots for farm chores.
In the summer months, Amish women do their cooking in a  'summer kitchen' in the basement where the natural coolness helps during hot days with no air conditioning or fans. Here, a fresh-water spring off of the kitchen serves as a refrigerator.

Fresh milk, where cream rises to the top, keeps company along-side leftover casseroles.

A fresh turkey marinates in preparation for Sunday lunch.

Ice skates hang in readiness for winter nights of skating on neighborhood ponds.
This summer kitchen with it's spring, adjacent root cellar, rows of canned goods and damp coolness on hot summer days carries a mystery all its own.
The beginning of spring, when shelves have more empty jars than full ones.

A family graveyard keeps watch atop the hill as chickens scratch in the back yard.

Slow living.

Since my visit with Esther in the spring, she sent two of her handwritten recipes to share with you. The first is one that belonged to her mother, and, as she says in her letter, "This recipe for relish is one my mom used. I was always so fond of it. It's delicious to eat with pork."  The second is for rolls and is one of her favorites.  She says,  "Anytime I have left-over mashed potatoes I'm tempted to make these."

Green Tomato Relish 
(This recipe is a large amount for preserving.  If you want to use it fresh, quarter the recipe)

4 quarts chopped green tomatoes
6 green peppers, chopped
6 red peppers, chopped
10 large onions, chopped
4 teaspoons salt (or more, as desired)
2 teaspoons celery seed
2 teaspoons allspice
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 1/2 cups vinegar
6 cups sugar

Mix vegetables together with 4 teaspoons salt. Let stand for 10 minutes, then drain. Mix seeds, spice, sugar and vinegar with vegetables. Heat to boiling. Remove from heat and let stand for a few minutes. Heat to boiling again. Cold pack a few minutes. For directions on cold packing: Cold Packing How-To

Potato Refrigerator Rolls

2/3 cup shortening
1 cup mashed potatoes
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup milk, scalded
1 package dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
6 - 8 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup brown sugar

Soak yeast in water. Cream shortening, potatoes and sugar.  Add eggs and beat well. Add salt and milk and mix well. Add yeast and water, stir in flour. Cover dough and let rise until double. Roll out 1/2 of dough in a 1-inch thick rectangle, sprinkle with 1/2 cup brown sugar and some cinnamon. Roll up, cut rolls 1 1/2 inches thick, place on baking sheet, let rise. Bake at 350 degrees until lightly browned. Ice while slightly warm. Rest of dough can be stored in refrigerator and used later.

Esther also uses this dough to make a Dill Braid.  She says,  "When I make a Dill Braid, I use only half of the recipe, then add a tablespoon of dill seed and some chopped onions. I divide the dough in 3 portions and braid it. This is a special treat for my family to eat warm, spread with butter, or toast it a little on the griddle.  Yummy!"


  1. What precious memories this brings back! Some of us cousins were treated to a meal there a few years ago. Better food you will not find. That Dill Braid sounds so good! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Seeing these pictures brings back many precious memories of my childhood, like the canning shelves lined with newspaper, cooling food in the spring water.

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