Not only am I not Amish - I don't personally know a soul who is. But over the years, I have treasured the arrival of a number of Amish cookbooks. The first was written by an Amish newspaper columnist named Elizabeth Coblentz, the rest by her daughter and successor, Lovina Eicher. I treasure these books not so much because of the recipes, which are often (but not always) wonderful, but for a glimpse into an unknown world.
The books began in 2002 with "The Amish Cook: Recollections and Recipes from an Old Order Amish Family" by Elizabeth Coblentz and Kevin Williams (Ten Speed Press). Williams is an editor, the man who persuaded Coblentz, in the early 1990s, to write a column called "The Amish Cook." In 2002, after Coblentz's death, her daughter, Lovina Eicher, took up her pen. Her cookbooks include "The Amish Cook at Home" (2008), "The Amish Cook's Baking Book" (2009) and now "The Amish Cook's Anniversary Book" (2010), all still edited or co-written by Williams and published by Andrews McMeel.
The latest book has the sweet feel of a reunion. Coblentz, the original "Amish Cook," comes alive again. Her first column, from 1991, is reprinted: "This has been a rushy morning, but enjoyable," she wrote. "The kitchen has the smell of freshly baked pies ... three apple, one rhubarb, four lemon, two oatmeal, two blueberry." Coblentz, a mother of eight and grandmother of 32, wrote her columns (or "letters," as she called them) as homilies on daily life - canning applesauce, making noodles ("we used 110 eggs ... so they should have plenty of noodles for a while"), doing laundry.
Whether or not you are Amish, whether or not you are religious, you may find hope and solace in the plain writing, hard work and busy lives chronicled in these books.
Elizabeth Coblentz, with uncharacteristic hubris, called the sugar cookies here the "World's Best." Lovina tempers her mother's claim. Yet they disappear so fast in her household, she says, "Perhaps they are."
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
For the frosting:
1⁄3 cup shortening
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups confectioners' sugar, plus more if needed
1⁄2 cup milk
food coloring (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
In a large bowl, cream together the confectioners' sugar, granulated sugar, butter (or margarine), oil and vanilla until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, and beat until evenly incorporated. In another large bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking soda and cream of tartar. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture, stirring until well combined.
Form the cookie dough into walnut-size balls, and place two inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Flatten the balls using the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until the edges turn golden brown. Allow the cookies to cool for two minutes on the baking sheets before removing. Transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely. Cookies may then be frosted if desired.
Frosting: Cream the shortening and the vanilla and 1 cup of the confectioners' sugar. Gradually add the milk and the rest of the sugar, beating constantly. More sugar can be added to provide the desired thickness. Food coloring can be added if you like. Spread the frosting on the cookies, and decorate with sprinkles if you like. Let the frosting set before storing.
Yield: 4 dozen cookies.