Today’s post is by my friend, Sherry Gore. Sherry is the author of Simply Delicious Amish Cooking, a charming book that highlights recipes, pictures, and stories from the Amish and Mennonite community in Pinecraft, Florida.
How I love autumn! The snap in the air, enjoying a mug of apple hot apple cider while wrapped in a cozy blanket, and seeing fall decorations all around town bring a smile to my face. Also, pumpkins are coming up everywhere, especially in the kitchen. Pumpkin pies, pumpkin pancakes, and pumpkin breads are some of my favorites. Good food brings back great memories. I remember as a child going on class field trips to the pumpkin patch and zigzagging through the hay-lined aisles of hundreds of pumpkins, inspecting each one in the quest for the perfect orange prize. Then later, cutting the top off and digging into the slimy goo and separating the seeds to bake was so much fun. In reality my brother, sisters, and I didn’t like how the roasted seeds tasted – it was the novelty that made it special.
Pumpkin season holds a tender place in my heart for another reason. It was late October years ago when I opened the local newspaper one morning and read the article header “Country Eggs and Goat’s Milk For Sale.” Pictured was a woman wearing a cape dress and a head covering. The feature article was about a Mennonite family, Mel and Martha Stutzman, who lived a simple, quiet life on a farm. To help supplement their income (and as a way to meet new folks), they sold the country staples from the screened-in front porch of their modest farmhouse.
The timing couldn’t have been any better that particular day. As much as I like country eggs and goat’s milk, they weren’t the primary reason I was drawn to the article. I had spent the previous thirty days praying that God would specifically show me where I could find a Mennonite church close enough to attend with my family on a regular basis. Only one month before I drove a hundred miles to Sarasota to attend such a church after discovering Amish and Mennonites were Anabaptist, the same Christian affiliation I felt drawn to after becoming a born-again Christian three years before.
After we drove the hundred miles to Sarasota, we arrived on a Sunday morning with plenty of time to spare before services began, but I was disappointed the church wasn’t what I was looking for. I wasn’t sure what to do next, but knew I wasn’t about to turn around and head home after coming all that way. I prayed, and without getting out of the car, I decided to go back out onto the road we came in on and follow some of the people that were traveling on bicycles. They led us to what I would later learn was the Pinecraft Amish Church. Filled with discovery, revelation, a little bit of cringing at my children’s behavior, new-found friendships, and a contented heart, I found the events that played out over the next several hours would change my life forever.
While wrapping up our visit in the churchyard with the womenfolk, one Amish woman said she thought I would fit right in at Sunnyside, the local Beachy Amish Mennonite Church. The others nodded their heads in agreement. But I reminded them it was a hundred mile drive, which was not something I could do on a regular basis. Then another woman mentioned there was a sister church (an outreach) in the county where I lived. It had a much smaller congregation than Sunnyside, but I’d likely find it well suited to fit my needs.
I didn’t think at the time to ask them where the church was. I figured I could find it in the yellow pages once we returned home. I was sorely disappointed to find out I was wrong — there was no listing. So I began praying. Every day for the next thirty days, I earnestly asked God to lead me to that church — it was where we belonged. My heart was telling me we did. Then on that fateful Wednesday, I opened the newspaper and saw the photograph of Martha Stutzman. It wasn’t long before I loaded my children into the car and headed toward their town with hopes of meeting the Stutzmans in person. The fifty-mile drive was picturesque. The highway was bordered by vast acreage of cow pasture. On the way we passed several churches whose front properties had been transformed into made-made pumpkin patches — the same kind I visited as a child. It made for a delightful ride.
The day ended better than I thought possible. We met Mel Stutzman at his farm and eagerly accepted his invitation to meet at their home on Sunday and follow them to church. The rest is history, you might say. Fifteen years later I’m a longtime member of Sunnyside Beachy Amish Mennonite Church. Many events took place in my life before that, which ultimately led me to the foot of the cross, and to Mel and Martha’s doorstep. Some were terribly painful; others still make me smile when recalling the memories. Each of these experiences contributed largely to the person I am today. I have had plenty of adventures since joining the Plain Church. I’m chronicling my experiences in the book I’m currently working on for my publisher, Zondervan. This blog post is but a snippet of my experiences. My upcoming memoir The Plain Choice tells the whole story. It releases spring 2015.
In the meantime, here’s another reason I’m so fond of fall: Pumpkin Cupcakes from scratch with homemade cream cheese frosting. I made these yesterday for good friends who stopped by for a visit — Bishop Bill Yoder of Sunnyside and his wife Ruth. We don’t know what the rest of autumn holds, but these cupcakes can only make it sweeter.
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup milk
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups cake flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of cloves
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
Cream together shortening, sugars, eggs and pumpkin. Sift together flour, baking powder and soda and spices. Add alternately with milk to pumpkin mixture. Pour into 3 greased 8′ layer cake pans. Bake at 350* for 30 minutes. Or, using a 1/4 cup measuring cup, fill two greased (24 count) muffin tins. Bake at 350* for 20 minutes. Let cool before frosting.
Cream Cheese Frosting
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter
2 cups powdered sugar
Beat cream cheese and butter together. Gradually add in the powdered sugar, beating together until creamy and smooth.
**Notes from the Woodsmall Test Kitchen: We substituted 1 stick of butter for the 1/2 c. shortening and 1 tsp. cinnamon for the 1/8 tsp. nutmeg. We also added 1 tsp. vanilla extract to the cream cheese frosting.**
If you would like to enter for a chance to win a copy of Sherry’s book, Simply Delicious Amish Cooking, leave a comment at the bottom of this post on my website.
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The winner of the blog post titled “Oatmeal and Honey Soap Recipe and Book Giveaway” is Tina Harris. Congratulations, Tina, you have won an autographed copy of The Dawn of Christmas and a bar of home made soap!