There are several ways to drive to Florida. I am not referring to specific routes, but to the driving pace. There are those travelers who revel in telling everyone they made it in 26 or 24 hours, stopping only for gas and necessities. They also boast how much money they saved on lodging. Chances are these speed demons also pack sandwiches and sodas in the front seat to not interrupt the road race with something as menial as a good hot bowl of soup and a barbecue.
Other snowbirds are almost as proud to report they made it with only one overnight, while the average is probably two nights on the road, three days driving.
In past years I have set such records, but no more. Now I prefer to take time to smell the flowers, and even though they are no longer blooming in gardens in Holmes County and other Ohio Amish settlements, somehow the area is mental and physical therapy before challenging heavy traffic on four-lane highways. It s never too far out of the way to drive up and down the two-lane roads to absorb the culture that is a million miles from our world.
There I slow down to a horse-and-buggy pace and take all the time required to talk to the men and women in stores and restaurants. The Amish enjoy talking with the English, as we are called. I may not even remember our conversation, but I never forget how calming the plain people are.
I delight in driving by farm homes where the laundry is flapping in the wind on the clothesline and in seeing the look-alike dresses, shirts, and trousers and know they were made by loving hands by the women in the house from the same patterns.
Theirs has always been a lifestyle to admire and honor. Undoubtedly such public admiration has only increased since the Amish expressed forgiveness after the unbelievable schoolhouse tragedy in Pennsylvania in October. Passing the one-room schools in Ohio on this last visit brought back the horror of the murdered children. Several years ago, I visited one of the schools and have often thought of the experience that was as old-fashioned and warm as a hand-tied quilt.
But the afternoon last week was not designed for sadness. It was to rekindle a long-standing love for the Amish people.
I don t know any better place to get started than in a restaurant in the heart of it all.
Once you get to Wooster, after taking the Ohio turnpike to the Norwalk exit, you have almost arrived and in a few miles there will be farms on the rolling hills. I am never certain which way to go from Wooster, but this time I headed for Millersburg. When a sign pointed to Charm off State Rt. 83, it was a quick decision.
Charm has always been a favorite. It doesn t have many shops compared to Berlin, Sugar Creek, Kidron, and other towns, but I have graduated from shopping, thankfully. Now, my best shopping is done in a place like Grandma s Homestead Restaurant in Charm, where good farm food is served by fresh scrubbed young women in long dresses and starched white dust caps.
It was Monday; hence the Monday special of pork and sauerkraut with real mashed potatoes for $7.99 with a choice of one side. Choosing the side dishes from the long list is part of the enjoyment of Amish restaurants. My choice was corn pudding and I could have made a meal on it alone. Large kernel corn was baked in a half inch layer of creamy custard. Elsie was as attentive with my pot of chamomile tea as she was with the rest of the service. There was enough extra pork and potatoes for a doggie box to take to Digby, who was waiting patiently in the car and was totally fascinated by the horses and buggies passing by.
For dessert, there was a slight consideration for a Buggy Stomp, ice cream with a choice of three extras mixed in, such as almonds, pineapple, and peanut butter chips. But once again it had to be pie. From a list that included coconut cream, blackberry, pecan, german chocolate, and dutch apple, Elsie said she would order the pumpkin if she were me. I followed her lead, knowing Digby and I would be spending Thanksgiving on the road, perhaps without the traditional dessert. Don t feel bad for us. The day before, a bountiful pre-Thanksgiving dinner was prepared by Mary Ellen Say at the Say home at Long Beach on Lake Erie, our first overnight stay. You have to hand it to me to know who to visit when.
Grandma s Homestead owners Ann DeHaas and daughter Lee Ann Miller are featured on Channel 4 in Columbus, Channel 5 in Cleveland, and Channel 9 in Cincinnati demonstrating Amish cooking. They also have written a cookbook. There is no doubt in my mind that they will share the corn pudding recipe.
After Amish country, it was easy to get on I-77 and head for Parkersburg, W.Va., our second stop on the journey to Florida. I told you it would be a leisurely drive. Stay tuned.
Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor.