I just returned from an excellent trip to Pennsylvania, with visits to Lancaster County, Mifflin County, Dauphin County and Lebanon County.  I had planned to post regularly over the past week, which since I stay in Amish homes I usually do via the 3G internet access on my Kindle. Unfortunately the device froze on Saturday and, whatever I tried, wouldn’t restart.  The people at Amazon were highly helpful, as I’ve noticed them to be in the past, and sent out a replacement (free of charge) which was waiting when I arrived back to NC last night.  Another reason I’m a fan of the company (is it just me, or have other Amazon users had similar experiences with their customer service?).

Now that I’m back, a few stories you might enjoy from the trip:

Super cured  I was hit like a mule kick by some sort of bug mid-morning Sunday.  The kind that brings chills and fever and sudden fatigue.  After letting me sleep for a couple of hours, my Amish hosts took to administering care to their “English Patient”.

The first treatment given was something called “super tonic”.  I was told of five ingredients–onion, garlic, hot pepper, horseradish, and a fifth which has slipped my mind.  I flinched and asked for tea, but they brought me a diluted version of the tonic anyway.  Even that less than 50-50 water mixture has enough pop to make you cough.  I got it all down though while sitting in the recliner next to the wood stove.

The second remedy was a tea I’ll call “Muddy Mountain Dew”.  The name has nothing to do with its rather neutral flavor, but with its color, a flourescent green a couple notches darker than the soda. Of the ingredients listed I remember only echinacea and stinging nettles.  I put down two big mugs of this over the course of the day.

The problem with being this kind of sick in an Amish home, by the way, is the food, or rather the not-eating-of-it.  On falling ill my appetite instantly evaporated, and over the next 24 hours I was able to put down but one slice of buttered toast and half a bowl of tomato soup.  Wasted food opportunity!

The good news is that the next day I was back to full health.  Cured by super tonic, Mountain Dew tea, or a bug simply running its course?  Maybe a bit of all three.

Big Valley Tech  I was happy to be recovered, for Monday I was due to take a Lancaster Amish friend along on a trip to Big Valley in Mifflin County.  While visiting a pair of Nebraska Amish sawmill owners in the Valley I found further evidence that members of this group are not as conservative as you’d think.

There are multiple groups within the Nebraska family due to division, much of which I believe has happened in recent years (I hadn’t found anyone yet who knows that story well enough to tell).  While Nebraska Amish may remain very conservative in certain areas such as their clothing and buggy design, in business-related areas some are permitting a good measure of technology (including rubber-tired payloaders and perhaps most surprisingly, some cell phone usage).

After telling another Lancaster friend about this, I was pointed to this video of a Nebraska Amish auctioneer, which in the context of my visit (and in recent discussions over photos of Nebraska Amish) I found especially interesting:

Sap season  On Saturday pre-sickness we collected sap from maple trees scattered along my friend’s property, and from some neighbor trees they are allowed to tap.  To gather the sap we used an old but reliable family horse to haul a milk sputnik and plastic drum where the sap would be collected.

Having never done this I hadn’t realized how much flows from a single tree in season.  The buckets were nearly overflowing, with some of the sap frozen in large chunks.  The three little boys along happily broke off chunks of the sap ice to crunch on.  It has a very slight sweetness when it first hits your tongue but is close to frozen ice otherwise.

The sap first boiled down in a large wood-fired boiler outside, basically a square-shaped container with a place to stoke a fire beneath and a pipe to draw off the smoke.  It’s then finished inside on the house stove.  The 40 gallons we collected Saturday gave 1 gallon of syrup.  Monday was apparently a record haul with 70 gallons coming in.  In season the sap needs to be collected every other day.