The simple pleasures of Amish in-home dining

By on September 27, 2017

Samuel and Ruth Lapp’s farm spreads out for 25 acres from White Oak Road in Paradise. It’s picture perfect and what tourists come to Lancaster County to see. Earlier this spring, when the family’s two-acres of strawberries ripened, it was all-hands-on-deck as the crop was picked and all of it sold at farmers’ markets, produce auctions and at the stand by the farm driveway.

It’s will be all-hands on deck too when Ruth starts hosting in-home Amish meals for families, groups, reunions, and tourists in her basement dining room that accommodates 45 guests who become friends around large dining tables.

Large restaurants — many featuring smorgasbords with Pennsylvania Dutch specialties —are popular for tourists including, the largest, Shady Maple in East Earl, and others like Miller’s, Good ‘N Plenty, and Bird-In-Hand, closer to the main visitor activities. There are smaller restaurants too with traditional PA Dutch food menus and even a few Amish owned and run restaurants.

But for those who want to learn more about local culture by visiting a working farm and enjoy a meal cooked by an Amish housewife, it’s available but not easy to find.

For years, Amish families hosted small groups to lunches or dinners preparing the same foods they cook for their large families. It was a practice that flew under the radar as the meals were in private homes, not restaurants, and not licensed by the state, county, or town. Mostly, Amish neighbors were supportive and English neighbors turned their heads.

The experience, from all accounts, was a pleasant one and benefited all. Tourist groups, many from B&Bs, or reunions of local families celebrating a special event, enjoyed the hearty and simple fare prepared by their hosts. And, for the Amish family, it was a source of income to supplement the farm operation and to help pay off the mortgage for expensive land.

In recent years, townships who have learned about these in-home Amish dinners — sometimes because local restaurants resented the competition or a neighbor complained — have stepped in and asked the families to stop or to comply with township ordinances, undergo inspections and receive certification.

In preparing this story, I spoke to a number of Amish families, some of whom have hosted dinners (getting confirmation is not easy) and wanted to stay under the radar. I have respected their wishes.

But gracious Amish housewives passed me from family to family until I met Sam and Ruth Lapp of 5341 White Oak Road, Paradise, who will be certified by the township of Bart, to host groups of up to 45 guests for lunches and dinners in their farm home.

The farm is a diversified operation with produce sold wholesale at farmers’ markets and the Leola Produce Auction. Chandler strawberries kept the parents and children busy this year in both planting and harvesting. The family also grows onions, peppers, tomatoes, green beans, and pumpkins as well as raising Labradoodle and Cavachon puppies to sell.

A native of New Holland, Ruth (Stoltzfus) Lapp’s family is known in the catering business with brother Mahon famous for barbecue. A second brother, Melvin, owns Meadow Creek Welding and the Meadow Creek Barbecue Supply on West Main Street.

To many, Amish food is synonymous with Pennsylvania Dutch comfort food which translates to simply prepared, hearty and filling. Amish families may grow or raise much of the food they eat, including vegetables and fruit from the garden; livestock and chickens from the farm; milk, butter and ice cream from their cows.

While the main courses and vegetables may be similar in many homes, Amish wives usually excel on putting their own touch on deserts, including cakes, pies and pudding.

The Lapp family will do modest advertising for the in-home dinners and will rely heavily on word-of-mouth recommendations from guests, and help from tour guides or companies like Amish Neighbor Tours in Strasburg, run by Jeff and Ritz Heft. Ruth will respond to In-Home reservation inquiries left on her message phone, 610-593-1206 x0, in a timely fashion..

The farm home has a walk-in basement with a large kitchen, dining area, and handicap accessible restroom facilities. With the help of daughters Elizabeth, Rosanna, and Laura, Ruth will begin to prepare for a 5 p.m. dinner at noon. She usually follows a traditional family menu and recipes but works, as needed, with guests who have special dietary needs. Although her meal is not entirely gluten free, there are many course in the meal that are.

For her guests, Ruth is set to prepare two meats —usually pot roast with gravy, plus baked chicken, or chicken pot pie. Mashed potatoes and home-made noodles provide the starch. The accompanying vegetables will be from Ruth’s garden. Home baked bread is served with fruit preserves made from the farm harvest. In the spring, Ruth will make a special strawberry rhubarb drink she is famous for.

Deserts include cakes, pies, and ice cream, and no one will leave hungry.

“The meal is way more than I would cook for my family,” she said with a smile, “but Lancaster County tradition says you never leave the table hungry, and the meal will live up to that adage.”

Today, in many restaurants, it isn’t so much what you eat but how it is prepared and what sauces the chef uses in cooking and serving. Amish families, traditionally, enjoy the taste of simply prepared foods, Ruth explains, and that’s what she cooks.

Before the dinner ends, the Lapps will share their Christian faith with guests singing several hymns including “How Great Thou Art” and “Amazing Grace.”

The cost of the meal at the Lapp Farm will be $18 per person, competitive for multi-course meals at local restaurants. Similar meals are available at a few locally-owned Amish restaurants, including Fisher’s at the Harvest Drive Family Inn in Gordonville, and Katie’s Kitchen in Ronks.

These restaurants’ menus mirror many of the meals that the proprietors cook for their families, including meatloaf, ham, chicken croquettes, hot roast beef, pork and sauerkraut, and chicken corn soup. Katie’s advertises a traditional Amish wedding dinner of chicken, filling, and all the trimmings on Tuesdays.

As more Amish families like Sam and Ruth Lapp work with their townships to be certified, the options for enjoying the simple but hearty fare of an Amish in-home dinner will only increase in Lancaster County, and be advertised in tourist publications and available through county tour companies.

Art Petrosemolo is a freelance feature writer and photographer who recently retired to this area from New Jersey. He welcomes reader feedback at artpetrosemolo@comcast.net.

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