This was a tour that had been planned by a local senior center. I learned about it through the "Amish in Wisconsin" group on Facebook. It didn't go as I had expected or as it was planned/advertised but I did enjoy my day and made a connection or two along the way.
We were supposed to depart at 9a but they didn't gas up their bus the night before, so the maintenance guy had to do that before we could board and go. Once on the road, they were depending on GPS but unfortunately the road/bridge was under repair in Horicon and they didn't have a map to plan a new route.
Eventually, one couple on the bus helped to navigate the drive in the correct direction. About halfway there, we learned that the bakery where we were to meet our guide was unexpectedly closed. (Yep, that's right, our guide wasn't on the bus but instead was meeting us there!) An audible was called so we ended up at the A&E Groceries store, which was also adjacent to where we'd be having lunch.
A&E Groceries (aka A&E Bulk Foods) was similar to other Amish general stores I've been to. They sell a mix of packaged items as well as homemade items like candies, jellies/jams and baked goods. Many are called "bulk" stores because they buy some items in very large bulk quantities and then repackage to sell in smaller baggie sized amounts. Much of what they would use in their cooking/baking is sold this way in these types of stores.
While some things are a very good price (flour, sugar, salt and other seasonings), others are not such a good deal (candies like M&M's or Brach's starlight mints immediately come to mind).
There was a limited amount of Amish handmade items for sale including children's clothing and woven rugs. Unfortunately for one guy in our group, there were no straw hats as that was the one thing he was hoping to buy during the outing.
Next on the schedule was lunch inside an Amish farmhouse. This was the highlight of the day for me. Not only was the meal outstanding, but the ladies were very nice and more than willing to answer questions. As with most Amish families, the family home had been built onto as the family grew. The grandmother lived in the small house through which we entered. There was a doorway into the next house's living room. This was the larger home, where the family of ten lived.
Our meal was prepared by three generations of the family's ladies and was outstanding. We had ham, fried chicken legs, mashed potatoes & gravy, stuffing, purple cabbage slaw, corn, homemade bread with butter & jam . . . and desserts . . . lots of homemade desserts. There was a chocolate cake with a marshmallow inner layer plus pies . . . banana cream and pecan. YUMMY good.
We dined in a rather large open area in what appeared to be the kitchen. There was an old wood stove and sink, as well as several long tables with wooden benches. This would be where our group of 20 would be served family style. Serving dishes would start at one end of the table, and be passed on person-to-person helping themselves.
After our meal, I peeked into the "summer kitchen" were we learned was where our meal had actually been prepared. With large open windows, this second cooking area is separated from the rest of the house by a closed door. This would prevent the heat from the kitchen making the rest of the house hot. In the winter, of course, this heat would be necessary to provide warmth to the family.
The house did not have electricity nor did they have indoor plumbing. In the area where we had lunch there was a propane Coleman lantern hanging which was used for evening light. I also noticed a Coleman propane camp stove in the summer kitchen which I presume was used for cooking.
We also met a wonderful young Amish gentleman (he was 27) who had lunch with us and then joined us for the next part of our journey in the bus. There was a lot of discussion about where to go next, but then our group leaders realized we were running out of time. I had hoped for a bakery since our first stop was nixed but alas, the group leaders felt that Mishler's General Store near Dalton would be better.
I was disappointed since Mishler's is pretty similar to what we had already done plus it would be our last stop due to running out of time. Soooo . . . no home baked goods to bring home. I did buy a couple of jars of "Grandma Mary's Jams" at A&E plus some cashew crunch (think peanut brittle but with cashews). The jams were a great price (around $4 for a large (16 oz) jar . . . the same size as what I've paid $6-$7 for in other more touristy Amish communities like Shipshewanna, IN and Cashton, WI).
Having the young Amish man with us was really nice. He answered our questions and provided first hand insight on what it meant to be Amish and how they lived their day-to-day lives. He took us by his seven acre farm and home which he bought from an "English" family a few years ago. (Non-Amish are referred to as "English.") He also shared a lot about his personal trade a woodworker. His company makes the bedroom furniture that is sold in the Milwaukee area at Penny Mustard (formerly PM Bedroom Gallery).
It is my hope to return to the Markesan/Dalton/Kingston Amish communities before the snow flies. They are just starting their fall harvest and the trees are still more green than red or yellow. All in all, a pretty good day!
PLEASE NOTE: Amish family farms and homes are not open to the public. This tour was arranged in advance with the local community. This family was kind enough to invite our group into their home to experience an Amish meal. While the "English" are welcomed into many of their stores and places of business, we should not infringe upon their privacy at their farms or homes.