(Good, Phyllis Pellman. The Best of Amish Cooking. Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 2004.)
When I received this book as a Christmas gift from my dear husband last year, I was thrilled. We’d only been living in the heart of Amish country for three months, but I’d already discovered two things about the Amish that I liked: 1) they love food and 2) they know how to cook it. I was a little disappointed when I flipped through the index to find no recipe for macaroni salad (the Amish version, sold in grocery stores where I live, being ten times better – creamier and with just the right amount of bite, rather than watery and sickeningly sweet – than the regular version), but then I began leafing through the pages and found recipes for things like whoopee pies, and my disappointment waned.
When I read this book, back in July, we were in the midst of the summer produce season, which is sadly beginning to draw to a close as I type this. This season, with its abundance of fresh, delicious, and cheap fruits and vegetables has done more to warm me to my new hometown than anything else during the past year. I so love living in a place where it seems every 1/8 of a mile or so, a driver on back country roads comes across a farm selling such things as corn (“just picked 2 hours ago!” – very important to those in the know), blackberries, tomatoes, melons, potatoes, etc. After one such drive, I decided, “What better time to read this book for the Soup’s On! Challenge?”
So, I picked up the book and began to read it, mouth watering by the time I’d gotten to the end of the first recipe for chicken pie (not to be confused with “chicken pot pie.” In this neck of the woods, chicken pot pie is something that involves “pot pie squares,” which are sort of a cross between a dumpling and a noodle. The “pie” has no crust at all, but is instead, topped with these. It’s delicious, but very disappointing if you don’t know, are at a restaurant, and order chicken pot pie, expecting it to have a nice, light crust on top). I read on to find myself quickly whizzing through recipes that would make use of the season’s abundant produce and fantasizing about making sticky buns. The Amish make the best sticky buns I’ve ever had. And then there was bread. I love the soft, Amish bread. Finally, reality kicked in, and I thought, “Who am I kidding? I don’t bake bread,” at least, not unless it’s a quick bread or I’m using a bread machine. I’d like to start doing so, but sticky buns are not exactly the place to start. And summer isn’t exactly the best time to learn – all that kneading and punching, and our kitchen is the hottest place in the house.
Summer is not the best time to make a cherry pie for the first time, either, which was another idea. Yes, the cherries are in season, and I can even get the sour variety marked “for pies.” However, making pies crusts is not my forte. And I could just envision the sweat from rolling out the dough (or attempting to roll out the dough, which was doing nothing but stick to the rolling pin) mingling with tears of frustration to add an interesting, salty taste to the filling. Oh yeah, and don’t forget pitting the cherries. Who wants to have to do that? Well, apparently someone does, because I can get delicious cherry pies from the Amish stand (from where I can also get sticky buns and bread) just down the road. Why waste time making inferior versions of my own?
What can’t I get at the farm stand? Chicken corn soup, another Amish “specialty” I’ve come to love since living here. I know. Soup isn’t exactly what one thinks of as a summertime “must,” either, but I’m someone who loves to cook and eat soup all year round. And the corn is at its best in the middle of the summer. So, chicken corn soup it was.
The Amish have large (I mean large) families. Having 8-10 children is not unusual. Multi-generations tend to live with each other. Thus, most of the recipes in this book are the sorts one would expect to find in books for preparing banquets. I wasn’t about to make this soup with 3-4 pounds of chicken just for the two of us, and I didn’t feel like inviting all the neighbors over, which would mean having to clean the house (a task I abhor). I adjusted the ingredients accordingly. Also, you’ll notice in the recipe that something called “rivvels” are optional. I didn’t include them, but I’m providing the recipe for those as well, in case any of you wants to make this soup and is inclined to do so. I used fresh corn (which I assume is best), and the hardest part about making this for me, was controlling my temper while cutting all that corn off the cob, when so much of it seemed to delight in jumping off the counter onto the floor. I included the eggs, even though they seemed like a bit of an odd thing to include, because I love eggs. I’m all over any excuse to eat them. They turned out to be a very nice addition. I’m sure the rivvels would be, too, but making them sounded a bit too much like making bread/pie crust. I could just see my batter never becoming “dry and crumbly” until I’d added so much flour they tasted more like a wheat field than whatever they’re meant to taste like.
Final verdict? Soup: delicious! And the corn stayed fresh-tasting throughout the week during which we enjoyed the leftovers. I might try a variation at some point, adding some diced hot pepper with the corn. I love spicy chicken soup. Cookbook: inspiring, but it isn't a good one for absolute beginning cooks. Many of the recipes assume you know your way around the kitchen and are very comfortable there.
CHICKEN CORN SOUP
3-4 lbs. stewing chicken
Salt to taste
2 quarts corn (fresh, frozen, or canned)
3-4 hard-boiled eggs (optional)
Dash of pepper
In large kettle, cover chicken pieces with water. Salt to taste. Cook until tender. Then cut meat off bones and cut into bite-sized pieces.
Return chicken to broth. Add corn and bring to a boil. Stir in rivvels or hard-cooked eggs and cook until rivvels are cooked through. Add pepper (mine was more “to taste” than “dash,” as we both love pepper) and serve.
¾ cup flour
Put flour in bowl. Break in egg and mix with a fork until dry and crumbly. Crumble slowly into the soup.
Cross-posted at Soup's On!