A Simple Life

As much as I and some of my readers enjoyed the log mansions and other spectacular eye-candy architectural books I’ve featured,  I was struck by the fact that what seemed to touch most people’s imaginations most deeply was the idea of having a truly simple (though very nice) small cabin in the woods.   (And when I think about how much I hate housework, the idea of the small dream home becomes more and more appealing.)   So when I came across this loving tribute to a distinctive and distinctly small architectural icon,  I just knew I would have to blog about it.

The One Room Schoolhouse by Paul Rocheleau is a detailed and richly illustrated history of the one-room school house in the United States, with sections focusing on the Birth (1600–1775), Evolution (1776–1889), Golden Age (1890–1940) and on the fight to preserve these unique buildings and updates on various one room schoolhouses in the present era.    The book is filled with large full color photographs and the immaculately restored, museum quality interiors inspire a nostalgia for a simpler era when columbine was known only as wild flower and metal detectors were something that only miners and prospectors used.     Recommended.

Awhile back a friend who lives in Pennsylvania mentioned he was making "Whoopie Pies", which  he explained are an Amish thing– a kind of homemade junk food with two big chocolate cookies sandwiching a marshmallow cream filling.    I have to confess that even after reading Elizabeth Coblentz and Kevin Williams’  The Amish Cook,  I still don’t know all that much about the Amish,  though I know a bit more than I did before.   

The story of how this book came to be is a book in itself.   Williams, an enterprising newspaper editor ventured into the Amish communities of Indiana looking for an Amish homemaker to write a regular newspaper cooking column.    He received many rejections from Amish women who greatly value their privacy before  eventually collaborating with Coblentz on a successfully syndicated newspaper column  titled The Amish Cook.   While editing a column written by a woman who has neither a phone nor a typewriter, much less a computer and an Internet connection was a unique challenge for Williams, he and Coblentz developed a system whereby she sends him her hand-written columns by Fedex and he types, edits and publishes them.  

The book combines some history and background about the Amish communities in the United States  (primarily in Pennsylvania and Indiana) with recipes for the heavy, German-influenced "Pennsylvania Dutch" cooking.  While the recipes are said to reflect what Amish families actually eat,  all of them have been adapted for the modern kitchen.  

Originally from Switzerland, the Amish follow a religion based on submission, pacificism, obedience (to God) and humility and  reject most trappings of the modern world.   Amish homes do not have electricity of telephones and the Amish do not own or drive cars,  although they may occasionally ride in a car driven by another.

Some of the recipes did sound quite good, though some seemed quite strange.   The author’s favorite breakfast food appears to be what she calls "coffee soup",  which is made by crumbling a piece of toast into a bowl and then adding coffee with milk and sugar.    To be perfectly honest the thought of pouring my coffee over my toast gags me a bit, and I was appalled by this particular recipe.    Recommended with some reservations as a cookbook.  Highly Recommended as an introduction to the Amish.