Domestic Crafts are Practiced throughout the Seasons
Amish Acres is a working farm to the extent that horses, cows, chickens, geese, and pigs inhabit the barnyards, barn, and animal sheds. The Amish neighbor cuts and bales hay three times a year using horse-drawn equipment.
Domestic demonstrations are practiced throughout the day, often reflecting the seasons. Special outbuildings, built in 1874, feature a food drying house, brick bake oven, and smoke house. These buildings long forgotten, were restored in 1969, with the knowledge and assistance of Albert Kuhns, son of the last owner of the farm.
The food drying house has long wooden slatted trays on each side that slide the entire length of the eight foot building. Fanny and Maude Kuhns recall as children they were instructed to schnitz, slice in eight segments, the apples from the orchard and place them on their skins tightly against each other so they could meet their mother's goal of drying thirteen bushels of apples at one time. A small cast iron stove in the center of the building was kept fired to speed up the drying of the fruit and vegetables--peaches, pears, corn, green beans, and more were dried in this building. Once dry the food was bagged in gunny sacks and stored in the upstairs closet on hooks awaiting use in the kitchen as the year progress following harvest season.
The bake oven was out of doors to keep the heat from inside the house in the summer. The stove pipe from the wood burning kitchen stove is intentionally routed through the upstairs rooms to provide winter heat. It is counterproductive in the summer. The bake over is a brick beehive affair. The wood fire is built inside the oven itself. When the bricks are heated to baking temperature, the remaining ashes are swept into a pit at the rear of the oven. The ensuing ashes are layered with straw into the lye kiln sitting nearby, thus producing lye from rain water leaching through the ashes. The lye was then used with lard to make soap for heavy cleaning uses.
A damper in the brick chimney is hand controlled to manage the heat in the oven. Dozens of loaves of bread, pies, cakes, and other baked goods were often made at one time. The finished items were then put into the pie safe, a cabinet with bug screen on three sides to cool.
The smoke house is the only one of the three buildings with battens covering the butt cut siding. The battens purpose is to keep the smoke inside the building while curing the meat hanging on iron hooks from horizontal poles. Fruit wood was often used, pear, apple, peach, to provide specific flavors to various meats smoked. The cured meat was bagged and hung in tie grainery above the overshoot of the barn waiting its use throughout the year.
Many demonstrations are limited to seasons. Apples are pressed into cider in a mill that has been on the property for over 125 years and was recently restored for the second time by Ivan Hochstetler and his Amish carpenters.. The belt driven press is powered by a steam engine. The cider mill served the neighborhood by custom pressing other farmer's apples. Old timers remember sitting on wagons filled with apples at dawn lined up along the road awaiting their turn at the mill. A wooden crane with barrel hoops was used to swing the filled cider barrels back onto the wagons. The Elkhart County Health Department no longer allows us to dispense samples of raw cider; therefore, the pressed juice is boiled down into apple butter in a copper kettle over an open fire.
Maple syrup is boiled in the early spring at the Beer sugar camp that was relocated to Amish Acres. Hard maple trees are tapped in the woods in the back forty, the sap is brought to the boiler in the camp where it is reduced by evaporation becoming more and more dense until perfect syrup is determined by a thermometer. The liquid gold is then bottled and sealed for sale. Visiting school groups during sugaring time often have a pancake lunch to taste the syrup.
Not dependent on the weather is the quilting in the gross daadi haus where Joy Johnson quilts Amish pattern quilts nearly daily. She has completed nearly 600 quilts in the more that thirty years she has been greeting visitors to the historic farm. Most of the quilts Joy makes are then placed in the beams of the Greeting Barn for sale. Joy is an authority on Amish quilt patterns and methods and keeps her guests enthralled with her knowledge.
The broom shop at Amish Acres is patterned after the last operating broom shop in the area. It is complete with the cutting tools and wire winding machine to produce brooms from broom corn, some of which is grown next to the shop.
Nearby in the Walnut Street House is a carpet loom made of hand hewn timber. It is fully strung and at times worked upon although finding skilled weavers is becoming more and more difficult.
The Chancy Thomas Blacksmith Shop, moved intact to Amish Acres from six miles south of the B&O tracks, is often filled with the sound of the hammer and anvil as the forge is heated to white hot with hard coal and boosted by the bellows. Horse shoeing, when required, is performed at the shop.
Fall Harvest days brings the pumpkin patch to life and wagon rides to the patch with the purpose of choosing the perfect pumpkin is one of the most popular events of the year for young and old. There's something personal about a pumpkin.