A Kitchen Inspired by Passion, Peppers, and Peanut Butter Pie
Rolling hills, cloud-spotted skies, and the beautiful diagonal pattern made by rows of corn, once muddled brown, now bursting with green and speckled burnt yellow tops.
I’ve taken the 2 hour drive from Columbus to Millersburg, a small village in Holmes County and the heart of Amish Country, about a dozen times now. Each time I wake early, around 5 a.m. with the same nervous excitement as I did for the first day of school every year.
There are loads of old barns along the way, so photogenic with their weathered wood and advertisements like “Mail Pouch Tobacco,” hand painted across the sides. As the drive goes on the road carves through hills, and the street signs and business signs start to tell the story of where I’m headed: “Shepherd’s Hooks For Sale,” “Buggy Shop,” and “Farm Stand Produce.”
The road winds, and my stomach starts to churn as the car hits hill after hill, one after another, the kind you would raise your hands up and say “Wheeeee!” when you were a kid. I even start to feel like a kid, as I approach my destination, the Farmers Produce Auction, and I catch myself smiling with giddy excitement. I can see the auction platform, and turn into the gravel driveway, following slowly behind a horse-drawn buggy.
The Farmers Produce Auction is a wholesale auction, started in 1995 as an outlet for local farmers (many Amish) to sell their fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Ask anyone who shops or sells at the auction about what makes them unique and they are bound to say two things: passion and quality. Much of what’s available for sale was picked that same day, 90 percent grown in Holmes or neighboring Wayne County. The farmers deliver to the auction either the night before or that morning, many staying with their product through the duration of the auction to be available to talk to buyers.
The auction floor holds rows and rows of pallets and about a half dozen rows of carts stacked with smaller amounts of fresh produce. Today, it’s all about the peppers. Colorful, Sweet Mini Peppers, spicy, Hot Banana Peppers, round, red Pimentos, and dark purple Suntan Peppers, to name a few. I end up with a mixed box of sweet and hot peppers, first of the season muscat grapes, ground cherries and fresh nectarines. My mouth waters as I imagine the delicious things I could prepare with my winnings: grilled peppers, stuffed peppers, Charred Pepper Steak Sauce. I laugh and think of the Japanese Iron Chef from the TV show, biting into a raw pepper and saying “Allez Cuisine!,” which translates roughly to “get cooking.”
I load up the car, and start the drive towards Mary and Raymond Yoder’s house, who are hosting us for lunch and a tour of their farm, which is part of Greenfield Farms. On our way to the fields, we pass the “packing house”, where Raymond shows us how they wash and pack cucumbers before following him out to the fields, where he stands outside the “pepper house” to tell us about the history and his current role in Greenfield Farms. We crowd around him, listening intently as he shares his passion and dedication to maintaining the business, and how our participation is directly supporting the future of the area. On our way back to the house, I talk to Raymond’s son, “Junior,” who is the Field Manager of Greenfield Farms. He says that he remembers picking cucumbers when he was a young boy. Reminiscing, he says: “we must’ve filled those bins a thousand times over.”
Walking into their house I’m greeted by the comforting sights, sounds, and smells of an Amish home – a baby sleeping quietly next to the kitchen, fresh baked bread coming out of the oven, clinking of 1970’s vintage milk glass plates. I sit down at the end of what surely must be the longest table I’ve ever seen (I would guess 30 feet long), lined with what Raymond says: “every chair and pew we could muster” for me and my 30 teammates who accompany me.
We observe a moment of silence before digging into a delicious meal which was prepared, it seemed effortlessly, by Mary: rolls with fresh strawberry jam, deviled eggs, an assortment of cheeses, buttered noodles, mashed potatoes with brown butter, meatloaf with homemade ketchup, pan fried chicken, all made fresh using ingredients grown or raised by fellow members of Greenfield Farms.
Following dinner, Mary brings around fresh coffee and an entire tray of freshly baked pies: peach, apple, coconut cream, and peanut butter. I carve my spoon into the peanut butter pie and pull off a bite, making sure to get equal parts custard, whipped cream, crumbly peanut butter and flaky crust. The taste is indescribably-amazingly-delicious, surely the result of cooking out of love and a lot of fresh ingredients. As I help clear the table with Mary, I ask her if she would share the secret of her peanut butter pie with me, and she confirms the local-love, along with a secret ingredient (sorry, I can’t tell!).
After finishing seconds and third helpings, we observe another moment of silence, led by Raymond, to give thanks for the food. Stomachs grumble. Everyone starts to shift in their seats, just as the baby stirring breaks the silence, and we all ease back in our seats, as full as if it were Thanksgiving Day.
I awoke the next morning feeling thankful for the opportunity to support such passionate, caring people and to be a part of the relaxed, yet purposeful energy that I have come to love about not only Holmes County but that many local farmers, growers, and producers throughout Ohio that I’ve met over the years seem to hold. While I can’t say I’ll start my own farm (no green thumbs, here!), I do hope to carry a piece of that passion with me through my own cooking, using fresh, local ingredients and a lot of love, as I enter my quest to bake the perfect peanut butter pie to serve my own family and friends. Although I can’t disclose the original recipe I can offer you a recipe for Yoder’s Peanut Butter Pie from Foodista, a close second to the perfect pie made by Mary. But do yourself a favor and make your crust from scratch. You’ll be grateful you did.
With “A Kitchen Inspired” we will share with you the current and up-and-coming ingredients, products, and cooking methods that inspire our team members, chefs and the kitchen at Whole Foods Market Dublin. Let us know if you’ve explored Amish country and the best things you’ve found at [email protected].
Founded in 1980 in Austin, Texas, Whole Foods Market (wholefoodsmarket.com, NASDAQ: WFM), is the leading natural and organic food retailer. As America’s first national certified organic grocer, Whole Foods Market was named “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store” by Health magazine. The company’s motto, “Whole Foods, Whole People, Whole Planet”™ captures its mission to ensure customer satisfaction and health, Team Member excellence and happiness, enhanced shareholder value, community support and environmental improvement.