A Short Trip to Amish Country – Holmes County, Ohio


Last week, my daughter and I had a chance to re-visit one of our favorite vacation destinations – Holmes County Amish Country (Ohio).  We’ve been visiting this area for 17 years and always stay in a cottage situated on a Mennonite farm.

MelMary_Oriole03Although the cottage looks rustic, it’s very comfortable with two bedrooms and an equipped kitchen.  My favorite spot is on the porch with a good book in my hand and surrounded by the most gorgeous scenery.  I count it among the three most beautiful places I’ve ever visited along with Vermont and Switzerland.


There are lots of cornfields ….

Amish-2015 (11)

and lots of horses …

Amish-2015 (4)

and lots of cattle.

MelMar_cattle03A short drive away are small towns with shopping (good quilt shops) and restaurants.  We especially like Troyer’s Market in Millersburg.  Their homemade ice cream is amazing.

Hersch04 (2)

Of course, the most interesting and charming sights are the Amish people going about their daily chores on their perfect farms and traveling in their black horse-drawn buggies.  I respect their wish that they not be photographed.

For a peaceful, quiet place to stay, we highly recommend Mel and Mary’s in Baltic, Ohio, and the nearby shopping in Charm, Walnut Creek, Millersburg and Sugar Creek.  I hope we get to go back again next year.

Holmes County Amish Country

Mel and Mary’s Cottages

Troyer’s Country Market

Labor Day in the 1930s-40s

All the years when I was growing up, Labor Day meant a two-hour trip in the back seat of a rumbling old car (or what we called a “machine”) to the outskirts of Dayton, Ohio.  When we passed a little road sign that said “VANDALIA” and saw a big billboard, we knew the next right hand turn on a country road led back to Grandma’s house.  There were just a few other houses on the road and lovely country scenery on both sides – something foreign to us, coming from Cincinnati’s inner city.  Finally, we got back to the little cottage with the screened-in porch, the big flagpole with the stars and stripes patriotically flying, and the dirt area that served as a driveway.

Sleeping arrangements were creative – people slept on couches or big chairs or sometimes on an ironing board between two kitchen chairs.  We always seemed to sleep well, listening to the crickets chirping and feeling a breeze blowing in the open windows.

We would be awakened in the morning by Grandma starting a fire in the kitchen stove so breakfast could be prepared.  There would be a trip down to the outhouse – along a path and far from the house.  The chickens were chased out and we used the smelly hole-in-the-board toilet before walking up through the chickens and wild flowers to have our breakfast.  We all took turns pouring very small amounts of cold water into an enamelware basin and washing up the best we could.

Breakfasts were hearty – bacon, ham, eggs, toast and real creamery butter, plus Grandma’s delicious blackberry preserves.  There was a glass bottle of milk – not the evaporated variety in a can which we usually had at home – rich milk with a layer of cream at the top.  In those days, the bottle was shaken vigorously before using to distribute the cream, but since I was undeniably the favorite granddaughter (mainly because I was named after Grandma), she would pour me a little glass of pure cream right out of the top, leaving milk for the rest of the group that was more like 1%.

Grandma Lillian

After breakfast it was time to get spruced up for the big Labor Day Montgomery County Fair.  The fair was an important event back then – we wore our best dresses and had our hair curled to perfection before starting out, crowded into the car with Grandma and any assorted relatives who were there at the time.

My parents – ready for the fair

We drove to the fairgrounds and each time it was a thrill to see the ferris wheel loom in front of us as we approached the gate and drove into the huge centerfield in front of the grandstand.  In that 1930s-40s era, Dayton, Ohio, was very prosperous and the fair was considered one of the best in the area.  Everything seemed large and modern and clean.

One year it poured down rain not long after we arrived and we had to huddle in the car for what seemed like hours.  My father had gone to the horse barns to wait out the storm, but Mother, Grandma, my little sister, my cousin and I were stuck in the car, dressed in our finery, waiting to go out and see the sights.  We were told to sit quietly and not get dirty which my cousin and I did, but my sister, Shirley, got down on the floor and got herself all tousled and grimy (at least in Mother’s eyes) so that when the rain finally stopped she wasn’t allowed to go on the grounds and had to stay in the car with Mother.

Grandma set out with my cousin, Dixie, and me and we looked around the exhibits and walked gingerly through the water-soaked midway.  Grandma had bought all three of us identical yellow silk dresses with brown bows and accordion pleated skirts.  She stopped at a a dime photo booth to have pictures made of Dixie and me and later Mother got Shirley straightened up, went out on the grounds and had her picture taken, too.




I liked walking around the fairgrounds and  looking at the canned goods, baked items and various needlework exhibits.   I didn’t care for the rides at all.  My sister lived for the rides and I can remember her sitting in one of the little cars going around in circles and calling out to Mother, “Look, Mommy – I can let go and scratch!”.

What I loved was going to the grandstands and sitting by my father watching the harness races.  Just the sight of the horses and sulkies with the drivers in bright-colored caps and coats was exciting.

We started back home late in the evening,  riding along in the dark, looking forward  to passing through Lebanon because I knew that was the halfway point.  I just prayed I wouldn’t get carsick on the way home because my father was in a hurry and in no mood to stop.  He had to go to work the next day and it was our first day of school.

The fair on Labor Day was a glorious ending to summer and a new beginning to the school year.

Strawberry Picking and Strawberry Shortcake

Ever since we left our country home 10 years ago, my oldest daughter has wanted to go berry picking again.  She got her chance today when we went to Blooms and Berries Farm near our home in Loveland, Ohio (near Cincinnati).  The strawberry fields stretched out in several directions.

My daughter couldn’t wait to get in and start picking….

…and was thrilled with her first ripe beauty.

She picked about three pounds to fill the large bowl we had brought along.

I also stopped at their farm store to pick up a jar of maple syrup to bring home.

While my daughter was busy picking berries, I was sitting in the shade enjoying a nice breeze, but when we got home, my participation began.

Her favorite strawberry dish is Strawberry Shortcake, so I took out about 6 cups of berries to have for supper.


  • 6 cups strawberries
  • 6 Tblsp. granulated sugar

Wash and drain strawberries.

Remove hulls and cut larger berries in half.  Place in a bowl and cover with granulated sugar.  Let stand for 20-30 minutes at room temperature.

The Shortcake:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tblsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tblsp. granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter, cut in small cubes
  • 3/4 cup undiluted evaporated milk
  • Whipped Cream or Whipped Topping

Preheat oven to 410 degrees F

In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar.  With finger tips or a pastry blender, work in the butter until evenly distributed.  With a fork, mix in the evaporated milk until dough holds together and forms a ball.

Place dough on lightly floured board and knead for a few seconds.  Press dough into a circle about 3/4″ thick.  Cut with a 2″ floured cutter to form 10-12 shortcakes.  Place shortcakes on an ungreased cookie sheet about an inch apart and bake @ 410 degrees F for 12 minutes.  Remove to a rack to cool.

When ready to serve, stir strawberries and spoon over split shortcakes.  Top with whipped cream or topping.

Refrigerate any leftover berries.

Especially delicious with these fresh-picked, farm-grown strawberries.

Best of Show Dill Spears

Twenty-five years ago (1983), my husband, daughter and I were living on two acres of land on the Ohio/Indiana border.  Fruit trees took up about one acre and a huge vegetable garden took up the other half, barely leaving enough room for a small house.  My husband loved his mini-farm and spent every spare minute away from his normal job working in the garden.  He got excellent results and from the first asparagus in April to the remnants of the garden in the fall, I tried to use everything he hauled into the house every day.

He enjoyed walking down the rows of the garden in the early summer, pointing to each plant and telling me what kind of vegetable it was and how many plants he had.  He did this every day – a little boring, but he was so proud of his garden.

We always had a bumper crop of cucumbers and I processed them immediately to be sure we had crisp, crunchy pickles all year around.

The first year I seriously entered a county fair was in 1983 when I was brand-new to canning and preserving.  Imagine my surprise when we went to the fair and saw I had won a blue ribbon and a coveted BEST OF SHOW rosette for my Dill Pickle Spears.  That year, they had gotten creative in displaying canned goods and had them arranged on an old red wagon.  At the very top was a big, beautiful rosette and a completely empty pickle jar.  The judges told me they had liked the pickles so much that they had eaten all of them with their lunch that day.

Here’s the recipe:


  • Servings: Approx. 10 quarts
  • Print

  • 4 lbs. pickling cucumbers, cut in spears
  • Dill seeds
  • Whole peppercorns
  • 2 cups of 5% acid strength white vinegar
  • 4-1/2 cups water
  • 1/3 cup pickling salt

Place spears in sterilized hot quart jars.  Add 1 tsp. dill seed and 3 peppercorns to each jar.

Combine the vinegar, water and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Pour over the cucumbers, filling to within 1/4″ of jar top.  Seal and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

I’ve found an asparagus steamer is good for processing just a few jars. Let jars cool on a rack before storing. Allow pickles to cure for at least 2 weeks before using for best flavor.

Makes approximately 10 quarts 

This is a good website for canning and preserving foods.

As a Best of Show Winner, I had my picture taken and there was a small article in our local newspaper with the recipe.

My husband passed away 4 years ago and since the dill spears were his favorite and not mine, I don’t make them any more.  But I think of him every time I drive by a big vegetable garden and remember the first Best of Show ribbon I ever won.

Hens and Roosters

I spent the first 11 years of my life in a downtown Cincinnati apartment and had very little acquaintance with chickens, but I was always fascinated by them.  Our Grandma lived in rural Vandalia outside of Dayton, Ohio, and she had lots of chickens.  When we weren’t trying to avoid getting pecked by them or trying to chase them from the outhouse before we went in, we sometimes got to feed them.  I notice in this 1942 picture that Mother had made my little sister and me short sets for the summer.  This was very unusual because although my parents married as teenagers, my 20-something father went back to the early 1900s for his rules and he didn’t like to see his women in slacks or shorts.

We saw chickens in wooden crates in the butcher shop at the old Sixth Street market but otherwise, our only contact though the years has been at  county fairs. 

For Mother’s Day in 1994, my oldest daughter made two handpainted aprons for me which featured my favorite morning glories and a flamboyant rooster. 

After the aprons became worn, I cut out the painted portions, not being sure what I would do with them.    The remnants surfaced this past week and I made a wall hanging from one section – fusing the rooster and flowers onto a background fabric and adding borders. 

I didn’t want to put the other section back into a box for another 4 or 5 years, so I made a table cover with it, fusing and using a blanket stitch to sew it down. 

I like the bright colors and cheerfulness of the two pieces and especially like the idea that I’m able to get some more enjoyment out of this beautiful painting.

Zucchini or Yellow Squash Relish

In the 20 years that we had a country home, my husband had a huge garden where he harvested every kind of vegetable but was especially fond of growing zucchini and yellow squash.  I was overwhelmed with the quantity of produce and as a novice at country living, felt I had to use every single zucchini in the bottomless basket that he brought in every day.  I found a lot of recipes and this is one of my favorites – a sweet/sour relish that I made in large quantities and canned for the coming winter.

Now, that my husband has passed away and I’m living in a little bungalow with a small yard, I pick up my produce at the grocery store or farm markets and make a small amount of relish at a time – in this case, 1-1/2 pints.


  • Servings: 1-1/2 pints
  • Print

  • 2-1/2 cups chopped zucchini or yellow squash
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped sweet bell pepper
  • 2 Tblsp. pickling salt


  • 3/4 cup white vinegar (5% acidity)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. celery seed
  • 1/2 tsp. mustard seed
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric


  • 1/2 Tblsp. cornstarch
  • 2 Tblsp. white vinegar

In a medium sized bowl, combine the zucchini/squash, celery, onion, red pepper and pickling salt.  Cover and let set at room temperature at least 8 hours.

Drain vegetables, rinse and drain again.

In a large sauce pan, combine the BRINE mixture:  3/4 cup vinegar, sugar, celery & mustard seed, and turmeric.  Bring mixture to a boil, then add the drained vegetables.   REMOVE FROM THE HEAT AND LET STAND FOR 2 HOURS.

Return the pan to medium high heat and bring to a boil.  Add the thickening ingredients:  Cornstarch and vinegar mixed together.  Let relish simmer at medium heat for 15 minutes.

Pour relish into sterilized jars and cap.  Process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes.  I’ve found an asparagus steamer is good for processing just a few jars.  Let jars cool on a rack before storing.  Allow relish to cure for a week before using for best flavor.

This is a good web site  for information on canning and preserving foods.

Optional:  Add one-half of a medium dried red pepper to the jar after filling.  This “hot” version won a 2nd place ribbon at the Hamilton County Fair (Ohio) in 1988.

Yield:  1-1/2 pints 

Grandma’s Chocolate Pie

In the World War II days when gas was rationed, cars were kept running many times by wishful thinking, and the drive from Cincinnati to Dayton, Ohio, was a two-hour journey over country roads, our family made the trip several times a year to visit my paternal grandmother.  My little sister and I called her “Grandma-up-Dayton” and looked forward to leaving our inner city apartment behind and spending some time in rural Vandalia, just outside of Dayton.  I have a feeling our visits were unplanned most of the time with my father coming home from work on a Friday and suggesting we run up and see his mother.  I can still see Grandma standing at the door of her little house, wearing a dark dress and white apron, peering out into the twilight to see who had pulled onto her property on a secluded country road.  As we got out of the car, she would smile broadly and say, “Oh, it’s Johnny!”, acknowleging in that exclamation that it was Johnny, his wife and two little girls.

Many times as we came into the house she would say that she had just made a few chocolate pies.  She worked as a cook in a high school cafeteria during the day and came home at night to bake a few treats.

Cooking at all wasn’t easy in her small kitchen.  There was a large table, some chairs, some cabinets against the wall and a coal/wood burning kitchen stove.  Grandma must have had an ice box of some kind, but I don’t remember seeing it.  There was an outside door that led to a slope and the water pump.  On a stool by the door was an enamel washpan and towel so we could wash up in stone-cold water after making the long trek down the slope and on down the path to the outhouse.   There was a 3-foot tall metal lard can in the kitchen which I used as my chair when I was there.  There was a small window near the stove and tin cans were tossed out and onto a dump in back of the house.  No actual garbage was thrown away – scraps were given to the chickens – so the dump wasn’t really dirty.  Sometimes my little sister and I would wander around through the dump looking for different can labels and seeing brands that we didn’t get in Cincinnati.  We had to be careful – the real danger was in picking up a can with the rough sawtooth edge that the old can openers used to make.

There was various framed artwork on the kitchen wall, but the one I always loved was one in sepia tone of chubby pigs leaning on a fence with a frame that had tiny metal pigs running along the bottom.  At some point Grandma gave me the picture and I had it hanging in my dining room for a good while.  Finally, the frame came apart and the picture was damaged, but I still have it and enjoy seeing those cheerful little pig faces.

Grandma always had cream on hand to whip and add to the big slices of pie which already had a 2″ layer of meringue.  She was an excellent cook and to taste a freshly-made chocolate pie in that little country kitchen is a lasting memory.

I don’t have the recipe for Grandma’s pie but my version won a ribbon at the Ohio State Fair in 1987.


  • 9″ baked pie shell (see here for recipe)
  • Two one-oz squares of unsweetened chocolate
  • 1-1/2 cups milk, divided
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 2 Tblsp. butter
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar (for meringue)
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla (for meringue)
  • 6 Tblsp. sugar (for meringue)


Combine chocolate and ONE CUP OF MILK in 2 qt. heavy saucepan.  Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until chocolate is melted.  Stir in brown sugar.

Combine REMAINING MILK with flour in a small cup, mixing until smooth.  Gradually stir the milk/flour mixture into the chocolate mixture.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens.

Beat 3 egg yolks slightly, stir a little of the hot mixture into the yolks, blending well.  Stir yolk mixture into hot mixture.  Cook over LOW heat, stirring constantly for 2 minutes.  Cool for 5 minutes.  Turn into baked shell.  Cover with meringue and brown in 325 degree F oven for approximately 10 minutes.  Cool on wire rack.


Beat 3 egg whites with cream of tartar and vanilla until soft peaks form.  Add sugar, a small amount at a time, and continue beating until mixture forms stiff peaks but is not dry.  Spread on top of pie, sealing to edge of pastry. 

We usually just stayed overnight and headed back home the next day.  My father was always irritated that Grandma loaded up our car with food but Mother was so grateful for the canned blackberry jam, produce and boxes of candy bars bought at the school kitchen.  I remember one time Grandma sneaked in a full chocolate meringue pie for our trip back home.  Along the way, one of our tires went flat and since my father was never prepared with a spare, my mother, sister and I waited for an hour or so in the car along the side of the road for him to come back with the patched tire.  We were getting hungry and here was this beautiful pie, but we didn’t have a knife to cut it.  Then, my mother thought of the car key, wiped it off carefully and used it to slice up the pie to eat out of hand.  Nothing ever tasted better.  My oldest daughter was always intrigued by this story and wrote her own blog version of it.

I inherited my grandma’s love of cooking and baking pies is one of my favorite pasttimes.

choc pie-2

Hodgenville Ham Pudding


This is our family’s favorite way of using up leftover baked ham.  It comes from a favorite cookbook, “What’s Cooking in Kentucky”.  This is a typical 1950s era luncheon dish, probably served with a gelatin salad of some kind and a super-rich dessert.

The cookbook says that when President Dwight Eisenhower visited the birthplace of Lincoln at Hodgenville, Kentucky, the Women’s Club served lunch to the visitors.  President Eisenhower asked for a second helping of this pudding and the recipe, saying he was an amateur chef and wanted to add it to his collection.

Hodgenville Ham Pudding

  • 1-1/2 cups of buttery cracker crumbs (such as Ritz or Town house) – divided
  • 1 cup grated cheese – divided (I like cheddar)
  • 1 cup finely chopped ham – divided
  • 2 Tblsp. diced pimiento – divided
  • 2 hard boiled eggs, diced – divided
  • 1-1/2 cups white sauce (recipe follows) – divided

White Sauce

  • 2 Tblsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 1-1/2 cups milk

In medium saucepan, combine flour, salt and pepper.  Whisk in cold milk until smooth, cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture begins to bubble.  Continue stirring for 2 minutes and then remove from heat.

Butter a 9x9x2 baking dish.

In bottom of baking dish place 1/2 cup of cracker crumbs.  Moisten with 1/2 cup white sauce.  Add 1/2 cup grated cheese, 1/2 cup diced ham, 1 Tlbsp. diced pimiento, and one diced hard-boiled egg.

Add another 1/2 cup of cracker crumbs, 1/2 cup white sauce, 1/2 cup grated cheese, 1/2 cup diced ham, 1 Tblsp. diced pimiento, and one diced hard-boiled egg.

Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup of cracker crumbs on top of casserole.

Bake @ 350 degrees for approximately 25 minutes until bubbly hot and crusty.

Makes 6 servings.


This dish can be made ahead for baking later in the day.  Add 10 minutes or so more baking time to compensate for the food coming straight from the refrigerator.

The cookbook, “What’s Cooking in Kentucky” by  Irene Hayes (my version is the Revised Edition 1979) is probably the most used cookbook I own – and I have a lot of cookbooks.  The recipes are down-home, country style, contributed by women from all over Kentucky, and the timing was perfect for me when I got the book for my birthday in 1982.  We had just moved to the country and I had lots of good produce coming into the kitchen every day, sometimes with my husband carrying it in a wheelbarrow!  I notice the book is still available online and it would be a nice addition to anyone’s collection.


Primitive Santa Quilted Wall Hanging


In the early 1980s, we had just moved to a home in the country, on the Ohio/Indiana border.  It was a complete lifestyle change for me and as I was preparing for Christmas, I decided I’d like to have china that had a holiday theme.  I told my husband that’s what I wanted for an early Christmas gift and asked him to pick it out for me since I wasn’t familiar with the stores in the area yet. 

He stopped at one of his favorite stores, a small version of a discount store called Van Leunen’s.  He came home with a box containing four place settings of International China (Japan) in the Country Christmas pattern.  It was love at first sight for me.  The next day, I stopped by the store and picked up 8 more place settings to be sure I had enough for my growing family and to insure against breakage.  I never saw the pattern again anywhere until I chanced to look it up on eBay where I found it was selling for more per plate than we had paid for four place settings.  It was just perfect for our home in the country and has been used for every meal from St. Nicholas through New Year’s Day for over 25 years. 



Last year, I had the idea to make a kitchen wall hanging incorporating some of the design elements in the china and made this piece with a cow leading Santa’s sleigh. 


My oldest daughter liked it and asked me to make one for her.  Since she likes sheep so much, in this version a wooly sheep is pulling the sleigh.


To get the pattern, I took digital photos of the china, re-sized them and printed them out in black and white.  Then, I traced over the various pieces onto fusible material, ironed that onto the back of the individual fabrics and cut out the pieces.  An applique mat is really helpful in putting together the small pieces before fusing them to the background.  In each case, I used a vintage buckle as a hanger.  I enjoyed using a lot of scraps from fabric that had been purchased on our trip to Holmes County Amish country earlier this year.