A couple of questions I’ve fielded numerous times are: why do the Amish use prepackaged foods in their recipes? Don’t they care about their health and that of their families? Is it authentic for a culture as old fashioned as the Amish to cut corners by using prepackaged foods?
I’ve talked to several Old Order Amish friends about these things, and below is brief synopsis of those conversations.
As far as the health aspect of the Amish lifestyle, Amish women tend to and harvest from huge gardens from spring through fall. Amish families often raise and kill for food their own cows, turkeys, chickens, and pigs. Those animals are raised without hormones being injected and usually without the need to administer antibiotics, so that gives the Amish another advantage over the average diet of non-Amish meat eaters.
Many Amish women feel that since they feed their family from the garden and from their own livestock and since they don’t consume fast food or restaurant food very often, the commercially canned foods or prepackaged items used in recipes aren’t going to harm them.
But Amish women are known to be excellent cooks, so why are they willing to compromise a dish they’re preparing by using prepackaged ingredients?
In great part the answer can be found in the busyness of their days. The women prepare three meals a day and clean up without the aid of electricity or a dishwasher. When I’m staying with a friend, we easily need to wash dishes six to eight times per day.
Eating out is truly a rarity. I know for my Amish friends who don’t live in town, they may only get to eat out once or twice a year, so going the “easier route” when cooking is often their only reprieve when it comes to feeding their families.
Amish women have large families, usually seven to ten children. After a young woman gets the hang of tending to her own home, she is expected to either help with the family business or have some side business to help earn money.
They have church in their homes a couple of times a year, and they must help all their immediate family members when its time to have church in their home. It takes a full week to prepare for a church service because they must clean the home and prepare for the men to remove furniture from the home so the benches can be moved in. They also have to help feed a hundred to two hundred people after the service is over. On Monday the benches will be loaded back into the wagon and the usual furniture will be put back in place.
Added to those larger aspects of the work routine, they deal with the little day-to-day issues. For example, the process of getting a horse hitched to a rig to go somewhere is often a lengthy and tiring process.
They use wringer washers for clothes and then hang the clothes out to dry. Later they gather them from the line, needing to iron a percentage of those clothes—and they’ll do so using an old-fashion flat iron. They make their own clothes, and keeping the women, teens, and young girls in clean, well tended to prayer Kapps is quite a feat.
Whew! I get tired just thinking about all they do to tend to their large families. Many non-Amish women are equally busy. We have gardens and can and/or jobs outside the home, but most of us have ways we cut a few corners to meet the needs of the day. Using prepackaged foods is one way the Amish can cut a few corners.
So if you see an Amish recipe, it will often have prepackaged foods listed in the ingredients, and when they make a cake for their family, they are likely to use a boxed cake mix some of the time. When they want whipped cream, they are likely to purchase it from the store rather than make their own. As one Amish friend said–remember, the Amish are very practical people, and buying butter or yogurt rather than making it is usually more practical than making it.
Years ago I asked: does the bishop mind? And the answer was: once something is approved (for example it’s okay for them to purchase food at a grocery store) most bishops or other church leaders aim to not micromanage what is and isn’t bought.
When you first learned that the Amish use prepackaged foods in their recipes, did that surprise you?
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