When thinking of the Amish, the picture that comes to mind is a group of people who live a simple, slow paced life. This life is sustained by living off the fruits of the land, far away from urban pollution. Most would imagine them eating a steady diet of organically grown, healthy foods prepared on a wood fired stove, just like great grandma and grandpa did it.
Instead, imagine standing in your kitchen preparing for tonight’s family dinner. It is the dead of winter, long after that last tomato ripened on the vine, or the last potato has decided to sprout and go soft in the root cellar. Now, picture that your refrigerator is oddly missing along with the microwave oven, and that cozy wood fired stove has two settings, hot and cold!
Sure, you may have canned potatoes, canned corn, canned green beans, and pickled sundries. However, instead of buying meat in the store, you have canned meat too. This specialty was in most cases prepared with spices containing MSG (like Liquid Smoke) to make it flavorful long after it was placed into that jar on a 100 degree summer day over that same wood fired beast. Not the healthiest (or most appetizing) option! Many canning spices cause problems with the digestive system, especially in people with food sensitivities. They are also high in sodium, which can cause bloating and water weight gain. With this in mind, you open several canning jars of food, fire up the wood stove, and try to make a meal.
It is very hard for Amish mothers to prepare healthy but flavorful midwinter meals for a large family using these canned supplies. I can tell you this from first-hand experience, after spending time in over 100 Amish homes. Many of them resort to deep-frying foods because it is a less temperature sensitive cooking process. This is important because of the difficulty they face when maintaining an exact woodstove temperature. It is anything but healthy to eat deep-fried foods, and foods prepared in store bought gravy mixes several days a week.
Many Amish families have started to identify this problem and address it by spending more time reading product labels to avoid corn sweeteners (fructose) and synthetic flavor enhancers (MSG et al). They have also begun to avoid excessive consumption of high carb pastas and gravy mixes. It isn’t easy though. Living and eating the way our great grandparents did loses its romance somewhere between January and March. During these months, it becomes a genuine struggle to eat healthy for large Amish families. I give most of the Amish mothers a tremendous amount of credit. They work several times harder in a day than a non-Amish homemaker to keep everyone warm, well fed, and in clean clothes. I stand in awe of the challenges that they face and have seldom heard complaints.
Take time today to be thankful for that refrigerator, temperature controlled oven, and the ease with which you access fresh foods all winter long at the local grocery store. Don't ever take it for granted. It may not even hurt to consider and plan for the possibility that those luxuries may not always be there. Study some simple and healthy food storage techniques. Occasionally try cooking over a fire just to know that you could do it in a pinch.
What would you do?
For a peek inside the kitchen of an Old Order Amish grandmother, check out The Amish Cook: Recollections and Recipes from an Old Order Amish Family. This memoir gives humorous and touching insight on the life of an Amish farm family, and the recipes that coincide with each season! This book is a genuine gem and the proceeds from using a link from our blog are donated directly to the local Amish health care fund which helps them pay for medical procedures they need and would not otherwise afford. For that reason alone, we ask you to consider sharing this with friends.
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