Judging by the reactions we heard when we announced our recent vacation destination, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is most known for tacky tourist traps and carb-heavy buffet restaurants. Not our normal vacation style. But our foray into the land of the “plain people” avoided tackiness and buffets.
Jim and I spent a few days in Lancaster last week.
The area interested us for several reasons. First and foremost, we wanted to check out the farming practices of not only the Amish and Mennonites, but also of some of the many vineyards that dot the countryside in southeastern and central Pennsylvania. Trying some of those vineyards’ products ranked pretty high on the priorities, as well.
I was looking forward to being among people who (I thought) canned, dried and preserved homegrown garden vegetables with as much passion as I do. Imagine my surprise when I found out that the Amish now have refrigeration. Through the miracle of propane, they have gas-operated refrigerators in their homes.
Not only that, but only about 25 percent of the Amish/Mennonite residents of the area still farm. The rest make their living through tourism or with a trade. Come dinnertime, instead of going down to their homestead’s root cellar, canning cellar or smokehouse, they go to FoodLand Supermarket, or even the local Chinese buffet restaurant.
The Lancaster Amish and Mennonites do still make lots of home-canned foods – to SELL to tourists, of course. One of the highlights of the trip for me was spotting canned apple pie filling for sale that looked exactly like what I have on my shelf at home. I had thought I made a mistake, because mine is 1/3 liquid and 2/3 apples with all the apples floating at the top. Well, that’s exactly how the Amish sell it, so I guess I wasn’t so far off after all!
Our trip ended up being more history lesson (we took several educational tours) than homespun learning and sharing, but we had a great time just the same. We tasted (and brought home!) some fantastic wine and even had the good fortune to be spend time with a couple of the winery owners, always a treat. We love talking agriculture with vintners, who as a rule know a thing or two about growing and harvesting fruit.
We particularly appreciated visiting the oldest farmers' market in the USA, the Lancaster Central Market. Everything from head cheese to "whoopie pies," in a beautiful historic building we could walk to from our Airbnb.
We even parted with $2 to buy the first tomato we’ve paid for (not grown ourselves) in more than two years. But that’s a story for another day!