Thursday, April 27, 2006

Simple Gifts

Abandoned Schoolhouse, Holmes County, Ohio

I have been a bit overwhelmed by the idea of writing lately, having spent so much time finishing my manuscript for IN THE PANTRY and keying photographs, etc. Now it is in the hands of my editor and the fun begins with the editing process and design. It will be fun to watch it come to life, so to speak.

My husband, two boys and myself have been on a trip since Wednesday, April 20. It has been our first since last summer and, as usual, we like to drive. I'm calling it our "Appalachian Spring Odyssey". Of course where we live in New England is technically "Appalachia" but spring is slow to come up there, especially in our cold hilly pockets. Down here we have watched the diverse palette of green change as we made our way across Pennsylvania, into eastern and southeastern Ohio, down into central and southern Kentucky, with a dip into northern Tennessee to see my uncle, then out into eastern Kentucky and down into the Smoky Mountains where we stopped in Asheville. Tonight we've landed in Virginia and plan to see one of my dear friends and her family in West Virginia (the panhandle) tomorrow night--we have known each other for almost 40 years having met as four year olds in kindergarten in 1967 in Akron, Ohio. On Saturday night we will be in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania at a favorite small hotel we like off the beaten track (right next to an Amish farm and run by Mennonites), Sunday we will be in upstate New York and Monday afternoon--MAY DAY--we will be home!

I do like to travel but I don't make a very good nomad--perhaps it is the exhaustion of point-to-point driving each day but there has been some consistency (like our favorite brand of hotel, for the most part) and the ever-changing scenery makes it all worthwhile.

Amish Pantry at Yoder Farm

We met an Amish family in southeastern Ohio who are selling their farm--they are "old order" Amish and do not wear pastel colors and their homes are built very much like the traditional style Amish dwelling (white with a whiff of plain Georgian) in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. It was amazing to see their place: 100 acres of rolling farm land with a house and some barns--all for $180,000. They pay less than $1000 in property taxes. The house, and meeting the family--and husband and wife about my age--and their twelve children (the newest born two weeks ago), was an experience in itself. As it had been a warm early spring everyone was in bare muddy feet. The house smelled of cookstove and foods that had been sitting in the pantry and I was reminded of the many descriptions of early American kitchens--even those into the nineteenth-century--that smelled of all kinds of things. This, afterall, is a working farmhouse kitchen with no bunches of herbs or baskets hanging about. The only adornment on any wall was a simple calendar.

I even managed to see three Amish pantries--one was actually the summer kitchen of a preserved Amish farmhouse (now operated as a museum home--Yoder's Amish Home in Holmes County, Ohio) where canning was done and where now baked goods are sold, prepared by an Amish woman in the adjacent kitchen. It was an authentic space, complete with a Hoosier cabinet selling preserves. The other pantries were recently built and full of different kinds of food, all comingling into the kind of odors that pantries used to have before foodstuffs were refrigerated. They were not photogenic by any stretch because of the large plastic tubs of ingredients that they buy in bulk or used to store dried goods. But it was a treat to see them and they, as well as the vast storerooms of canned goods in the cellar, are clearly the pride of the Amish farmwife.

Hoosier at Yoder Farm

Several days later we had a chance to tour around Pleasant Hill, Kentucky, one of the largest and best preserved Shaker communities in the country (the only Shakers left are in Sabbathday Lake, Maine and there are only four). It was a beautiful sunny and cool April Sunday and few others were there. We were able to tour the great stone dwellinghouse and other structures at our leisure and even had a delicious lunch in the Shaker tavern. Several days later we would explore three farm sites (two just land, one with a surprisingly tidy and efficient "double wide"--or "double WAHDE" as they say down south) south of there in a hilly county populated by Amish, Mennonites, and just plain country folk. It was incredibly beautiful and hilly country and within ninety minutes of Lexington and about forty-five minutes from a major north-south highway. So I suppose it might work for part of our year (if I were to homeschool our children for the time we were there). It is much like our area of New England but the soil is less rocky, there is more open farmland, the area is unspoiled by any major changes, and the winters are short--really only January and February. And oddly, it is on the very western edge of the Eastern time zone that skirts its way through Kentucky.

Yesterday we drove through the Smoky Mountains and landed in Asheville, North Carolina for the night where we saw Biltmore Estate. My husband and I had been there twice before--this time we wowed and delighted our two boys, one of whom turned six yesterday. They both loved their tour of the nation's largest private home as did we (and I have to add that they have been incredibly good on this trip considering the amount of driving and activity we've had). We also took a special "behind the scenes" tour which included the two-story butler's pantry. The house is so vast that you could get your exercise just walking across it every day or up and down the many stairs. Their servants must have been in incredible shape!

The house, despite its grandeur (if you've never been, rent "BEING THERE" with Peter Sellers, one of my favorite movies), is not really a cozy place. But what a lifestyle for the Vanderbilts and others "back in the day" of the charmed and gilded age for the privileged few at the turn of the last century. Visiting all of these homes--some simple, some grand--has had me thinking about our own. It is great to tour our magnificent country (especially by car) but it is even better to drive back in the driveway of home. A woman home economist who, at the turn of the last century traveled and lectured widely encouraging the housewife in all women had this to say:

"I tell you what. Nothing gives me the marvelous satisfaction of feeling my own kitchen floor under my two feet!" The description says that she then "emphasized the remark by bringing one foot and then the other foot down emphatically.” [from "Come On Out Into the Kitchen,” by Emma Gary Wallace, AMERICAN COOKERY, June-July 1935, Vol. XL, No. 1]

That is exactly how I feel. So take me home, country roads.


Jamie said...

Ooh, yes, I've been to Pleasant Hill. What an amazing place. I still remember their salsify gratin, too. :-)

I have so much respect for the Amish and Mennonites and all those sorts of traditional communities. I grew up around a lot of Mennonites, and my opinion is that Georgia needs more of them! Interestingly, I just found out that there are a few in Montezuma, Ga., and that one family runs a sparkling-clean, top-notch meat processing facility.

Bill Gnade said...

The forsythia photo is perfect!

Blessings, C.