Monster Amish Cookies
by Stephanie Reed
My Aunt Hester was a one in a million Kentucky cook. Though she passed away in 1981, the year I was married, I can still taste her fried chicken, her Coney hot dog sauce, her Red Velvet Cake, and most especially her M&M’s cookies. We’re talking real people food here, family reunion food. So when I set out to write about Betsie Troyer, a young Amish woman in the 70s, I gifted my character with Aunt Hester’s recipes, the ones I remember from 1971, the year my novel The Bargain takes place.
Family—it’s so important to these hard-working people. When I interviewed an Amish lady who lived in Plain City, Ohio, about twenty minutes from my house, Rachel (my inspiration for Betsie) spoke of her father, her cousin, and her eight sisters who had been her world. By the time of the interview, only one sister remained with her, and together they made up two of the nine remaining Amish in Plain City, a population so obscure that I didn’t know it still existed. It was the harness business I was interested in as I researched a book about the Underground Railroad. The flash of my camera alarmed Rachel when I snapped a picture of the rolls of leather she used. Only then did I realize her heritage. In my defense, the name of the town doesn’t refer to the Plain people. It just means the terrain is flat, a plain.
My father-in-law worked those plains on his grandpa’s Plain City farm every summer, so I’m sure he knew about the Amish. I can’t ask him, though. He passed away before I started writing about Rachel. I miss him very much, and I think of him whenever I make chili for my husband, because Dad loved to make a big pot of chili when the weather turned cold.
I wondered if it was cheating to use an English M&M’s cookie recipe for Betsie until I found this authentic Amish Monster Cookie recipe—it uses M&M’s! So maybe we have more in common than it first appears: love of family and down-home recipes. I’ll find out in a couple of weeks, because I’ve been invited to an Amish barbecue. My mother-in-law’s sister lives on a beef cattle ranch in Jackson, Ohio and their Amish neighbors are coming to the party. These Amish have a bakery where they sell glazed doughnuts the size of my head (not kidding).
Amish Monster Cookies
1 C. white sugar
2 t. soda
1 1/2 C. peanut butter
1/2 C. chocolate chips
1 t. vanilla
1 C. brown sugar
1 T. Karo
1/2 C. Oleo
4 1/2 C. oatmeal
1/2 C. M & M’s
Mix everything together and bake at 350 for 12 minutes.
You can tell it’s an authentic Amish recipe—whack everything in a bowl, mix it up, and bake, just as the Amish have done for generations. Let me clarify: combine all the ingredients except the flour and oatmeal, mix well. Last, add the flour and oatmeal. Dough will be very stiff, so a standard mixer will help. Drop cookies by tablespoon onto ungreased cookie sheet and flatten with the bottom of a flat cup. Yield about four to five dozen. Karo is Karo syrup, soda is baking soda, and oleo is margarine (I use softened butter). If you need the version that makes 18-20 dozen, let me know; it calls for twelve eggs. Happy baking!
In the meantime, meet the real-life Amish inspiration for my character, Betsie Troyer. This portion of my article, “A Stitch in Time,” originally ran in The Plain City Advocate on January 31, 2006. Sadly, Rachel now lives in Missouri with her nephew, her rich store of memories a prisoner of Alzheimer’s.
With word-of-mouth and a hand-lettered sign that reads “Harness Shop, Closed Sunday”, Rachel Miller tries to rekindle business, but the once-steady stream of customers has slowed to a trickle this winter.
Snow whirls to blanket U.S. Route 42 outside her dimly-lit shop just south of Plain City, Ohio as Miller reminisces about bygone years.
“No, people don’t expect a lady harness-maker,” she agreed. Her eyes sparkle as she tells how she got her start in a trade dominated by men.
Her nephew bought the business from an Amish man 30 years ago. When he was called into the service, he urged his aunts to keep the business afloat. Miller and her three sisters agreed, but it was Rachel who “learned by doing it.”
“Oh, what have I gotten myself into?” she wondered, but there was no cause for worry.
She grew so skilled that the Hilliard man who bought the business from her nephew urged Miller to come and work for him.
“I said, ‘Well, I would have no way to get there,’” she recalled. “He said, ‘I’ll come get you and take you home.’ And he did, every day for about three years. Then he couldn’t keep up with taxes, so he sold everything to me about 25 years ago.”
Miller’s eyes cloud. She had a stroke last March, and sometimes it is hard to remember what happened only yesterday, let alone years ago, she said. She does not take kindly to her memory’s fickle betrayal. Nevertheless, she recalls the satisfying work of long ago, like milking cows at 4 a.m., or making hay. She accepts the presence of a housing subdivision where her father’s farm fields once were, though she mourns the loss of good farmland. No horses remain on the old home place – the sisters share rides when they visit a doctor. Prepared meals are brought in, and somebody cleans the house.
She stares at the bleak day, then briskly rouses the calico cat that lounges by the stove. “You’re lazy today, aren’t you, Jessica?” Miller scolded the cat fondly. Laziness isn’t a trait that Rachel Miller shares. She can’t abide the thought of no work to do.
Stephanie Reed lives in Dublin, Ohio and is the author of Across the Wide River and The Light Across the River from Kregel Publications. Her next book for Kregel will be The Bargain, in which harness-maker’s apprentice Betsie Troyer and Michael Sullivan, a shattered survivor of the Kent State Massacre, search for real peace in the summer of 1971. Stephanie is represented by Barbara Scott of WordServe Literary.