We were almost late.
Karleen, from Visit Shipshewana, picked me up at Blue Gate Garden Inn for dinner with the Amish. She’d arrived right on time, but our drive to The Carriage House in Topeka was filled with distractions.
It was early evening when we drove past a school with an old-fashioned merry-go-round, the kind I spent countless hours spinning in the ‘70s.
It had been a hot, humid day, and haze and clouds blurred the sun and gave tree-lined lanes a sense of mystery. We stopped to take photos.
My dinner with the Amish at The Carriage House was hosted by Visit Shipshewana, but all opinions are my own and not influenced at all by mashed potatoes or horsies.
A little further down the road, a farmer tilled his field with a horse-drawn plow. We pulled over to watch him work.
Two carriages clip-clopped past. I took video, careful not to point my lens inside the carriages so I wouldn’t capture the people inside.
TLTip: Amish people do not want their photographs taken. If you do want to take photos of them, make sure no faces are included in the image. And always ask.
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We resumed our journey, and I noticed well-kept sheds with RV doors on the side of the road.
Amish phone booths, Karleen explained.
We passed one as we turned into a driveway. A Clydesdale munched on grass and I jumped out to say hello before we drove past a two-story farmhouse and a row of evergreens.
A tour bus took up most of the space in the gravel lot, and although dinner was about to start, there were horses, and I can never not stop to say hi to horses.
Across from the house sat a rectangular one-story building. We entered, and it was packed; every seat but two was filled and we took our places.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. This was to be my first Amish wedding feast. I knew there would be an inordinate amount of food because I’d checked the menu for The Carriage House ahead of time. What they feed one person is enough to feed a family of four.
Quilts lined the walls of the cavernous space. There had to have been a hundred people there, seated in folding chairs at long rows of white-clothed tables.
I later learned they were from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We were all there to learn more about a way of life that’s entirely different from anything any of us experience.
And to eat a lot of food.
The Carriage House is run by a mother and son team. Elaine and Seth serve authentic Amish dinners in the former carriage house. The farmhouse we passed was Elaine’s. The Clydesdale was Seth’s. We were in their home.
The evening began with a crash course on Amish weddings. Seth asked how many people we thought attended these affairs. People guessed. 400? 500?
Not even close.
1,000 to 1,200 people attend a typical–typical–Amish wedding. One of the young ladies who served us said she was attending thirteen this year.
Amish weddings are well-oiled machines, which should come as no surprise to anyone who knows the work ethic of their culture.
Everyone doesn’t attend at once, however. They appear in waves. About 500 or so attend the wedding ceremony, which begins at 9am with the wedding happening at 11:30am.
Seth, a thin man wearing standard Amish attire, explained how dozens of cooks would prepare the meals. Cooking at a wedding is done by women and it’s considered an honor. Their husbands will often help, willingly, because of the promise of extra mashed potatoes.
If you haven’t had Amish mashed potatoes, stop whatever you’re doing and get some. Find a recipe. Go to Shipshewana. You’ll thank me, I promise.
Seth, who married in 2014 (“still a newlywed”), displayed his wife’s wedding dress. Like the rest of her clothing, a bride’s wedding dress is simple, and she’ll make it herself.
He told us about how Amish see marriage. “Marriage is a triangle: God, Bride, Groom.”
There are no notes during the sermon, which is in German or Pennsylvania Dutch. “God leads what his people need,” Seth explained.
Their faith is what drives them, but later I overheard him say that being “Amish is not a religion. It’s a way of life.”
Before the young ladies served dinner, Seth treated us to a small portion of the German Wedding song. The full version takes twenty minutes and is sung at every Amish wedding.
Dinner – oh, that dinner. Course after course of hearty, wholesome food. Baskets of soft wheat bread sat every few feet, alternating with pitchers of ice water and coffee and crocks of Amish peanut butter, a distinctively sweet spread enhanced with marshmallow cream, corn syrup, and butter.
A trio of young women served us family-style. First the salad, with Elaine’s signature dressing made with Miracle Whip–it must be Miracle Whip–and her special champagne vinegar. The Amish don’t consume alcohol; this vinegar is made with champagne grapes.
Meatloaf, roasted pork with barbecue sauce, green beans, noodles, stuffing, and mashed potatoes made the rounds. It was like Thanksgiving dinner without the turkey.
Every bite was delicious, especially those creamy, rich mashed potatoes.
And then there was cake and two kinds of pie: banana cream and my husband’s favorite, cherry. I brought him back a piece. Mistake, because now I really need to up my pie game.
Now, imagine serving all of that to a thousand people. The sheer quantity of ingredients is mind-boggling. Seth said they’ve got a wedding cookbook. Those mashed potatoes? That recipe calls for 400 pounds of spuds and 20 bars of cream cheese.
Cooking all that food requires two head cooks, who are essentially project managers. The wedding cake is decorated with flowers, and there are bowls of cookies, which are shared with guests who help the new couple move.
And what about clean-up? Well, they swear by the three Ps: paper, plastic, pitch.
Weddings usually take place on Thursdays. Clean up is Friday, and the couple moves on Saturday.
The Carriage House has expanded over the years. Seth used to have to escort diners to the main house if they needed to use the facilities. Now, there are men’s and women’s bathrooms. The kitchen is commercial grade. In fact, they’re one of the few licensed Amish kitchens in the area.
Those quilts that line the walls? Elaine made them. All of them. “This is how I relax,” she said. She loves the feel of cotton. The designs range from historic patterns to modern. They’re all different sizes, including pot holders.
All of them are for sale. They also sell that champagne vinegar that makes her salad dressing so good, as well as apple butter, peanut butter, baskets, horseshoes, and birdhouses roofed with buggy license plates.
After dinner, Karleen and I visited the horses again before sitting down with Elaine. She explained how she and her son made a good combination. At the end of the day, “He goes home to his wife. I go home to my husband.”
There aren’t a lot of things I say are “must-dos,” because I believe everyone defines their musts differently. However, if you’re visiting Shipshewana and LaGrange County, you’re most likely there because of the intrigue and allure of the Amish community.
Dinner with the Amish, especially at The Carriage House, is an experience you won’t want to miss.
And when you go, say hi to the horsies and save some of those mashed potatoes for me.
What to know about Dinner with the Amish
Are you ready for an evening of delicious food? Here’s what you need to know about dining at The Carriage House.
Q: Can anyone book a dinner at the Carriage House in Shipshewana?
A: Yes, the Carriage House is open to the public. You’ll need to make a reservation by calling 260-768-8199 ext 2128.
Q: What’s included in the Amish wedding feast menu?
A: The feast is a hearty selection of Amish favorites, which may include chicken, meatloaf, roasted pork, green beans, stuffing, noodles, and mashed potatoes. And don’t miss their special Amish peanut butter and Elaine’s signature salad dressing!
Q: Is there any interaction with the Amish hosts?
A: Absolutely! Elaine and Seth are your hosts for the evening, providing insights into Amish weddings and culture. They are open to questions and make the evening both educational and delightful.
Q: Can I buy some of those incredible quilts?
A: You bet! Elaine’s handmade quilts are for sale, along with other Amish-made products like apple butter, peanut butter, baskets, and birdhouses.
Q: Is the Carriage House suitable for children?
A: The Carriage House provides a family-friendly experience, and children are welcome. The evening is filled with stories, food, and a welcoming atmosphere that can be enjoyed by guests of all ages.
Q: What should I wear to dinner at the Carriage House?
A: While there’s no strict dress code, guests typically dress in casual to smart-casual attire. Comfort is key, especially with all that food to enjoy.
Q: How do I get to the Carriage House, and is there parking?
A: The Carriage House is located at 5280 S 500 W, Topeka, IN 46571, near Shipshewana. There’s a gravel parking lot available, with space for cars and even tour buses.
Q: Can I accommodate special dietary needs?
A: It’s best to check directly with the Carriage House regarding any specific dietary requirements.
Q: Can I take photos during the dinner?
A: You are welcome to take photos of the scenery and the food, but please be respectful of the Amish tradition by not capturing photos of people without permission.
Q: What are Amish phone booths?
A: Amish do not have phones in their homes. To communicate with others, they use phones that are in sheds. They’re often outfitted with RV doors because many of them work in the plethora of RV factories in the area.
Show Me Shipshewana
Are you ready to plan a visit to Shipshewana? Then you’ll need Show Me Shipshewana: a Guide to Indiana Amish Country.
Show Me Shipshewana: a Guide to Indiana Amish Country invites you to step away from the frenzied pace of day-to-day life. You’re invited to relax. To eat (a lot). To enjoy connecting with your loved ones, with nature, and with yourself.
Show Me Shipshewana is more than a travel book; it’s a companion that invites you to experience the third largest Amish community in the world and create memories that will last a lifetime.
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