Friday, March 8, 2013

An Amish Pantry

  Among the things the Amish are known for, one of them is their food. While most Amish woman are good cooks, I have met a few where you simply weren't tempted to eat a lot at their house. An Amish recipe book will have way more dessert recipes than main course, because most of the main course foods are prepared from memory, nothing fancy or complicated. Much like anyone's Grandmother would have cooked eighty years ago.

  Another reason was probably because fresh foods were so seasonal that you simply worked with what you had. Basements walls were lined with shelves filled with hundreds upon hundreds of jars filled with canned vegetables, fruits, and meats.

   Another important part of an Amish home is the pantry. For us it was a 10' by 8' room. If you'll travel back to my teenage years and stand here beside me I'll open the door and we can take a look inside.

   On our right is a huge chest type freezer, painted a sea foam green because our community doesn't allow anything white. It isn't a freezer for us though since we converted it to a refrigerator. A local Amish man had made a big stainless steel pan that was fitted into the bottom. Coils of Freon filled copper pipe were placed all the way up the sides of the pan and then it was filled with water. An ice compressor was run several times a week to keep plenty of ice there. Daddy had built shelves inside it and our food was kept nice and cold. We kept gallon jars of milk in the icy water. And anytime we were cooking something that needed to be cooled quickly all we had to do was float it in the water for a little bit. Next to the freezer is a cupboard. Inside it you can see an assortment of two pound packages of Jell-O , a gallon jar of popcorn, several cans of pineapples, bags filled with clear-jel and cornstarch and boxes of canning lids. Above the freezer is a window we keep open year round. During the summer it keeps the pantry cooler than the rest of the house, and during the winter makes it cold enough that you almost want to wear a coat if you have to spend more than a minute inside.

   Now let's shift our focus to the rest of the room. Shelves seem to fill it right up. Three are built in an "L" shape and then the two top ones make a complete "U". On the floor under the shelves it appears as if a host of five gallon pails were all vying for a place to be and a few couldn't quite fit all the way under the shelf. Each one is filled and plays an important part of our everyday life. We purchase flour in a hundred pound bag and pour it in five gallon pails to store it. Fifty pound bags of brown and white sugar were also poured into pails. Another pail holds cornmeal that we made last fall, there is a pail filled with oatmeal, while the one next to it is full of salt. The last three pails hold molasses, corn syrup, and lard.

  In front of us the bottom shelf holds a small pail filled with potatoes from our bin in the basement, a basket with a few onions, and our shiny stainless steel milking pail. To the left is a twenty five pound box filled with raisins, a gallon jar of molasses filled from the pail to make using it for recipes easier. A box holding neatly folded plastic bags to use for homemade bread and cakes, and a cheese press.

  The shelf above it holds our baked goods, several kinds of pie, a cake, and half a dozen loaves of bread, the small part of the "L" holds the loaf of bread we started eating, platters of homemade butter and two little dishes of jam.

    The next shelf has gallon jars filled with homemade granola and grapenuts, big bags full of graham cracker crumbs and containers filled with homemade cake mix and pancake mix. More gallon jars are filled with maple syrup. The next shelf holds big bags filled with noodles, containers filled with tea we had gathered and dried last summer, and several cases of saltines.

   The top shelf holds our huge mixing bowls, canners, and the biggest cooking pots. And I'll let you in on a secret. The very back corner of the top shelf is where I hide the food I prepare for Sunday evening when LV comes calling, so that my brothers won't find it.
    Okay, back to the present. I really miss having a well stocked pantry like that. Our house now doesn't give me that option, but someday I hope to be able to enjoy that again.


  1. Sounds just like a bulk food store ~ I can picture everything you just said, including those huge pkgs. of Jell-o. I always thought that was funny because I probably haven't eaten that much Jell-o in my lifetime but I always see those at the bulk food store. That must be a good "get-together" food. I sure would like to have a pantry like that as well, but we also don't have the room for it either.

    I always wondered about all the bread. How do you keep it from going stale when you make a bunch at a time? One last question, I don't remember if I asked you this - when we were in Jamesport last summer, in the fridge at the store, they sold "Deodorized Lard" - any idea what that is? I asked one of the Amish girls that worked there and she didn't know.

    What a very fun post, I love this.

  2. I love it when you talk about your life growing up. Thanks.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this, Mary Ann. It's like taking a look back into Grandma's pantry. Since I am seventy, that was a long time ago and many of those living in the country were living much like the Amish as far as day to day life.

  4. I loved having pantry when I was a child. It always smelled so good, and Grandma kept so many goodies in there!

  5. I don't have a nice pantry room off my kitchen like your house did when you were growing up, BUT I do have a room in our basement stocked similarly to your childhood home pantry.
    Whenever it's time to restock my kitchen cupboards, I just walk downstairs to "grocery shop".

  6. Great post Mary Ann and would you described our pantry to a 'T'? (freezer just a regular freezer here though!)
    No 2 lb jello bags and only 1 case of sardines...
    I also have herbs for sachets, cat food, litter, a first aid 'kit' that rivals a hospital and...well, you get the idea!
    We live on an island where the only access is by ferry which runs only a handful of times a day. Comes 1900 hours, 'curfew'!
    Not for everyone of course but so peaceful!
    Today is International Women's Day so Happy Day to you!

  7. It is a shame that most of us rely on convienence foods now more than pantry staples....

  8. I loved this post! Although I didn't grow up Amish, I remember Grandma having a similarly stocked pantry. Mine isn't quite so big, but close. Thank you for this glimpse into your childhood.

  9. Thanks for the 'tour'. I'm now stocking up in our basement. I try and keep 25 lbs of sugar, 15 lbs flour both white & whole wheat, 8 lbs coffee, boxes of pasta, cans of tuna & veggies, various juices, plus condiments, syrups and peanut butter. I'm now making all my breads and jellies. There's nothing like going to the basement when I need 'shop' for groceries.

  10. One of the best things we did when we moved into this house was to turn a tiny half-bathroom off the kitchen into a pantry. Yes, it almost seems heretical to remove a bathroom, but the location was so odd that I've always wondered whether it started life as a pantry. It had no door, and was located just off the little entrance from the kitchen to the basement. So the only way to get privacy was to latch the door to the kitchen and the door to the basement (possibly locking someone in the basement). We hired a plumber to remove the toilet and sink; my husband patched the flooring and put in shelves. It's nowhere near 10x8, but it's a big improvement over just having the kitchen cabinets.

  11. I just found your sweet blog...and so far I just love it! Can't wait to read more! God bless!

  12. Wonderful post, Mary Ann! I have a question.What kind of tea did you gather and dry?

  13. I loved reading about your childhood pantry. My mom had a big closet with folding doors in her kitchen with all the staples. The freezer, bulky foods, and her home canned goods were kept in the basement.

    I have no room in my kitchen for food storage - just spices and condiments, but I'm grateful for the spaces in our basement where I keep a stock of all kinds of things. My husband even converted our old coal bin into a shelved space for storage. It's a challenge to climb in there to get stuff out! Having all our food in the basement makes for a lot of trips up and down the stairs when I'm cooking.

  14. I love pantries and hearing about them. Seeing pictures, etc. The house we lived in when I was infant to age 5 had one and my grandmother and great-grandmother had walk-in pantries. At new house Momma had a lot of kitchen cabinets for her pantry. This house I now live in had what they called pantry cabinet. It was nice but not a pantry to me. There was a small office the original owner right off the kitchen-family room area. We added a family room and that area became eating area and there are two recliners by fireplace and small TV. But off that is this office that I turned into pantry when we added one to the house. I really need to clean it out, organize it better. I usually keep 30 or so lbs of flour and sugar on hand. I buy it at the club stores like Costco/Sam's/BJ's. When I go to Amish Country 5-6 hours away I buy jello, yeast, spices, etc. Though one store here added a room that sells some bulk bags of jello, spices. etc.


Thank you so much for taking time to comment. I love hearing your thoughts.