A couple weeks ago we made a trip to the orchard for apples. I managed to get some apples, but the barn was not nearly as full as it usually is. An early spring warm up and a late frost took care of most of our apples around here. The little orchard that stores apples for me had none this year. I am on my own to store what I picked up.
I also picked up a gallon of cider. The sign said that they would be done pressing cider in just a few days. Cider is expensive this year, but since it is a once a year treat, I indulged. The grandchildren shared my gallon with me and thoroughly enjoyed it.
This week a senior group traveled by bus to Amish country in Ohio. One of the highlights of the trip was to be a trip to an orchard where we would receive a bag of apples. There was no trip to the orchard. Frost had wiped out their apples, too.
A practiced eye could not help but notice that the produce season had been different this year out there as well as at home. Many fields were already plowed ready for the 2013 season. Some fields had large corn husk shocks drying.
The first stop on the trip was especially interesting to me. We stopped at the Middlefield Cheese Factory. When I first moved to the farm my husband and his family were sending their milk via a tanker to this factory. At Christmas or really any time we chose, we could purchase cheese with a discount. I remembered that it was really good. The milk man would deliver the cheese on his return trip to this area. Of course, I came home with some cheese.
When I went through the small museum I noticed that the factory started up in the late 1950s. That meant that the plant was fairly new when our milk was sent there.
I had another connection to the area. When I was going to the Cleveland Clinic with my husband we met a young Amish couple from Middlefield, Ohio. The young mother shared a birthday with my granddaughter. We met them every time we went for treatment. She had stage 4 leukemia. It was found right after her baby was born. When we visited they referred to us as the Pennsylvania farmers. We exchanged addresses so we could keep in touch. My husband was devastated when he learned of Malinda's passing through one of the letters. Her mother and I kept in touch for a few years.
The guide for our trip in that area knew many Raber families, but she could not think of a Lydia - of course, Lydia would be her mother's age.
This trip was advertised as a brown bag trip. The coordinator gave us all a brown bag. Personally, I was thankful that I took a large cloth shopping bag. At each stop we received a gift. We got a small loaf of homemade bread, a jar of jelly, a bag of cheese pieces, a bag of candy and a pie pumpkin. That would not have fit into a brown bag.
Besides the gifts we had opportunities to purchase supplies from several bulk stores. I took my spice list along with me since I was familiar with this type of shopping. I managed to find all of the must-haves that I needed to fill in my stash of spices and herbs. I also found some old-fashioned candies that you do not find around here. I have my Christmas hard candy. That is a tradition for me that dates back to when I was young.
My grandmother won a can of Plantation Dainties one year. The can contained hard candies that were filled as well as some fruity flat fish. We treasured that can of hard candy and made it a tradition to purchase a can every year after that.
I bought a loaf of multi-grain bread that was absolutely delicious. At the dinner we ate in an Amish home. We had some peanut butter spread that the Amish make. We did not see any of that for sale, but I happen to have the recipe in an Amish cookbook that I purchased at one of the bed-and-breakfasts that we stayed in years ago, so I am all set.
The day was rainy, but that really did not spoil our trip. We were on and off the bus near each stop so we did not get wet. The leaves would have been prettier if the sun was out, but we all had a good time anyway. A more sociable group of people you could not have found. Everyone was considerate and came back to the bus on time.
The other thing I like about visiting the Amish stores is the availability of utensils that are not offered around here. I always find some small, useful things for my kitchen and sometimes some gifts to put away for Christmas. I found some very coarse salt that will be perfect for homemade pretzels. I already alerted the children so that we can have a pretzel-making day. One year when we were all forced to stay home on Thanksgiving because of inclement weather, we made a batch of pretzels that we baked and ate at suppertime.
Isn't it strange how things stir memories? What people remember most about the holidays are the family times. I am so thankful that my children and grandchildren are nearby so we can create memories often.
Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, Pa.