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The idea of having dinner in an Amish family’s home has rattled around in my noggin for quite some time. I am a native Akronite and have been to Amish Country dozens of times. I have been to the cheese factories, stayed overnight at the bed and breakfasts and shopped at the furniture stores. I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on the Amish Country experience. But I had never dined with an Amish family in their home.
When the opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance. I heard from Shelley Millage at Amish Heartland Tours, who arranges for these kinds of experiences: a group of friends from Portsmouth, Ohio, had made a reservation and they had room for two more. We would be joining this group at the home of Dan and Ellen Miller* on Friday evening.
Having dinner with an Amish family is one of the most authentic experiences you can have when visiting as a tourist. You are being invited to eat a meal that came from the family’s farm, that they cooked, at their table with them. I’m sure that every family is different, but Dan and Ellen were right there with us, enjoying the fruits of their labor.
For most of the evening, Dan sat with us as Ellen brought out the food. We all talked like good acquaintances, learning about each other’s families, how many children or grandchildren we have (the Millers have 57 grandkids).
The experience is just as enlightening for the guests as it is the hosts. The Millers have been hosting for eight years and have met people from around the world. If you think that this type of thing is exploiting the Amish, it’s not. This is their ticket to travel around the world without leaving their home.
I should make one thing clear: dinner with an Amish family is not about the food. It’s about the human connection you make. But the food is amazing. Ellen wheeled out a cart of food, which was passed around. Mashed potatoes, broasted chicken, roast beef, gravy, noodles and, as Ellen called them “the lowly green beans.” Like most people, I have had all of these foods before in my life. But these tastes were original, not too complex, not trying too hard. I’ll leave it at that.
The food was passed several times, like at a family reunion. We finished the meal with cherry and banana cream pie, and you were encouraged to try both, if you were so inclined, which I was. Coffee was poured, which Dan declined, saying, “I prefer latex paint thinner.” All of us smiled politely at this comment, not sure what to make of it, until Dan followed up by saying, “Water. Latex paint thinner is water.” (He never passed on an opportunity to crack a joke.)
By this point, the sun was setting, and Ellen lit a couple of gas lamps, which created a gentle hiss, and we were invited to chat in the sitting room. No television. No iPads. Just conversation.
*Names are changed by request to respect the privacy of our Amish hosts.
Four things to remember when dining at an Amish family’s home
- Don’t be fashionably late. This isn’t a dinner reservation at a chain restaurant. Leave more time than you think you will need. More than likely, you will be traveling on gravel roads—some of which are poorly marked—to get there.
- Come with questions. The fun part of this experience is learning about your hosts, just as they will learn about you. Don’t be shy.
- Skip on lunch that day. There was more food going around than we could have ever finished. Come hungry and take seconds.
- Book early. During peak season, these kinds of experiences often fly off the calendar quickly. Plan your visit at least a couple of months in advance. Check in with Amish Heartland Tours, www.amishheartlandtours.com, for the next availabilities.