A few months ago I was invited to join a group of food writers for a tour of three inns in Ohio. Over the course of four days we explored three distinct regions of the state, made new friends, gained insights into a different way of life, and met some truly remarkable inn keepers. Each setting was unique, perfect in its own way, and provided incomparable Midwestern hospitality. My only regret was that we didn’t have more time in each location.
Our third day on the road dawned crisp and clear. After a breathtaking morning hike through the Hocking Hills State Park and lessons on the history and making of Ohio’s maple syrup, we set off for Murphin Ridge Inn. It is situated on a bluff in Adams County, the heart of Amish Country in Southeastern Ohio. The surrounding countryside is dotted with family farms, grazing sheep and cows, rolling hills, covered bridges, soaring silos, barns filled with antiques, and a plethora of other delights.
As we piled out of our cars, we were met with a breathtaking view of a huge meadow, which features two Adirondack chairs begging to be occupied. We were ushered into the two-story 1828 brick farmhouse by innkeeper Sherry McKeeney and served a delightful lunch of curried tomato soup, green salad tossed with Nettie’s Celery Seed Dressing (recipe below), and freshly baked buttermilk biscuits with local honey. It was the perfect bite to tide us over until dinner.
Our next stop was just down the road and over a covered bridge to Homestead Farms, a local dairy, poultry farm, and the home of Vernon and Miriam Yoder. Coming from California I was enchanted by everything we passed on the road. We certainly have nothing like this where I grew up and it reminded me of my trips to Indiana to visit my grandparents and cousins.
Vernon showed us the farm and explained the challenges of running a small, independently owned dairy. He explained the concept of herd sharing and helped us to understand the challenges he faces trying to maintain their way of life and religious limitations while conforming to a long list of FDA requirements that he must meet in order to sell his products to the public. I was impressed not only by his quiet manner and quick intelligence, but also by his commitment to the care and quality of his cows. Everywhere we went was spotless, maintained without the benefit of electrical cleaning equipment. This was the result of hard work by a proud man and his sons, sweeping everything by hand.
We met two calves, born just a few days before and were delighted by their sweet faces. When Vernon explained matter-of-factly that the male calf would be sent to the butcher, it upset some of the people in our group, but that is the way of life on a dairy farm. The female calves are what will bring income to the family, support his eight children, and ensure the dairy’s survival. We live in such an antiseptic society with milk in cartons and meats wrapped in plastic that we are seldom exposed to the harsh realities of rural life.
We were then warmly welcomed into the Yoder’s home by Vernon’s wife, Miriam. She was just pulling three loaves of homemade bread from the oven, filling the kitchen with mouthwatering aromas, accentuating the image of the Amish way of life. As Vernon explained how a variety of cheeses are made from his fresh milk and we sampled their cheese and glasses of fresh raw milk, Miriam was quietly making her own mozzarella.
We watched as she carefully cut the curd into cubes, boiled it, and then pulled it into the final product. We were given samples and not surprisingly, it was outstanding. Miriam’s hands, rough and red from working in the hot water yet incredibly graceful and beautiful, captivated me. She glowed with quiet pride at her cooking skills and blushed when we complimented her.
In Amish communities, the man is the leader of the home and makes all the decisions. Yet you can see the strength in all members of the family. The boys were out in the fields tending the herd while the girls assisted their mother with the cooking and cleaning. The little children were shy but obviously just as curious about us as we were about them. When addressed directly, their eldest daughter answered my questions, but it was obvious that she was unaccustomed to speaking while her father was in the room. Likewise, Miriam quietly shared information with us, mindful of Vernon speaking to the rest of the group.
In addition to the cheese and milk, Miriam cut slices of a very traditional Amish dessert, Jelly Roll Cake she had made earlier that morning (recipe below). The sponge cake was feather light and rolled around a sweet caramel filling. When sliced you see the spiral of filling. You can make any filling you like and one made with fresh raspberries or strawberries would be stunning. This is one dessert that is guaranteed to thrill every child in the crowd and Miriam graciously shared the recipe with us.
One thing that caught our attention were the clutter-free counters in the kitchen. Where we all have electric toasters, mixers, coffee makers, and other assorted appliances on every surface, there is none of that in an Amish home. Because they make everything from scratch, their common tools are whisks and wooden spoons. The women definitely have strong hands and arms from doing all the beating and washing their clothes by hand!
As we thanked them for their hospitality and headed out, Miriam came up to me and introduced herself. I was humbled by this simple polite gesture, knowing that it meant we had connected and she appreciated my respect for her and the Amish way of life.
The sun was setting as we arrived back at Murphin Ridge, turning the sky a brilliant crimson. Sherry took us on a tour, showing us the beautifully appointed private cabins, each filled with Early American and Shaker furniture. These are absolutely perfect for a special occasion, family vacation or honeymoon retreat. We were given spacious rooms in their Guest House, a two-story building designed to take advantage of the expansive views of the Appalachian foothills in the distance and their 142 acres of property.
Dinner that night was served in the private dining room, a small building attached to the main farmhouse. It is rustic and charming with a red diamond pattern stenciled on the wooden floors. Thanks to Chef Brad Robinson and Sous Chef Josh, we were treated to a five-course gourmet meal with paired libations that could easily compare to meals I have had in New York and San Francisco. Boisterous laughter echoed in the dining room as course after course arrived from the kitchen.
We started off with a celery root and pear soup poured over rye croutons and local honey granola. The sweetness of the pear was echoed by the granola, both balancing the savory celery root and rye bread. Our second course was beef carpaccio served with arugula, house made preserved lemon-infused olive oil, crispy capers and shave Parmigianino. For the third offering we had bowls of house-made pork sausage tortellini in a red chard brodo followed by our main course, braised Amish chickens (from Vernon’s farm) with minted pea puree and sauteed spring peas and oyster mushrooms. Dessert was a buttermilk panna cotta with a strawberry-rhubarb gelée and topped with gingerbread crumble. The entire meal was absolutely delectable and perfectly complemented the wines and Rockmill Witbier that accompanied each course.
The food at Murphin Ridge is exceptional. The skills of the chefs contribute of course, but just as important is their commitment to always buy the best and freshest ingredients from top local sources. Being in the middle of Amish country means that they have access to some of the best foods in the nation. There is homegrown produce from their neighbors and their own garden, raw milk, cream, cheese and butter from the Amish dairy down the road, and locally raised beef, pork and poultry. These are showcased in deceptively simple preparations, allowing the quality of the ingredients shine through.
This was the final night of our tour and it felt like a family dinner from my childhood. The generosity and humor of Sherry and Daryl kept us entertained all night and on the rare moments when we could breathe a bit, Levi interjected with incredibly timed barbs that sent us into roars of laughter. Their graciousness was balanced with a raucous sense of humor that kept us on our toes. The night was filled with jokes and stories so funny we were wiping tears from our faces. We knew we were really in trouble when Daryl broke out the brandy, bourbon and port but none of us wanted the evening to end!
We wandered over to sit around the fire pit, sharing more stories and enjoying the heat and beauty of the fire. I am a bona fide pyromaniac and can stare at a fire for hours upon end. This night was no exception and I reluctantly left the fire to get some much-needed sleep.
I woke in the morning to see the sky lightening with the dawn and felt an incredible sense of peace. I walked over to the main house as the sun broke over the treetops. It was Sunday morning and the only sounds were birds chirping and horses hooves on the pavement as the Amish neighbors drove their buggies to church services. What a delightful change from honking horns, belching buses and electric lawn mowers! Roberta the cat came running to escort me to breakfast. All was right with the world, if even for just a few minutes.
As wonderful as dinner was the night before, the breakfast we were served may have been my favorite meal of the entire trip. It wasn’t fancy or unique, but rather, was a nod to the foods my grandmother used to make me when I was little. The Ohio cheese pie served with tomato gravy – a dish I haven’t had in many, many years – nearly brought me to tears as tender memories washed over me. Sherry graciously shared the recipes with me and I hope you will make them for your family. Remember, traditions can begin with a single meal!!
I hope you have enjoyed sharing in my tours of Ohio. It is the state where my father and his parents were born and I have fallen in love with its beauty and the incredible people who live there. Please put Ohio on your list of future vacation spots and let me know when you are headed there. I have a slew of recommendations for you!!
Have a wonderful week my friends!
Murphin Ridge’s Ohio Cheese Pie
Murphin Ridge Inn, West Union, Adams County, Ohio
Yield: about 6 servings
1-1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 piecrust, homemade or store bought
3 cups shredded cheese, including some Swiss or other nutty flavored cheese
2 tbsp of one or more of the following optional ingredients: minced onion, minced fresh herbs, chopped spinach, or chopped and drained fresh tomatoes
2 tbsp butter
Hoosier Tomato Gravy, recipe follows
Preheat oven to 400°F.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, heavy cream, and a pinch of salt and pepper until smooth. Set aside.
In the piecrust, place half of the cheese, your choice of optional ingredients, and then the rest of cheese. Pour the egg mixture over the ingredients in the crust. Dot the top with the butter.
Bake for 10 minutes at 400°F, and then reduce oven to 350°F and bake for 50 minutes more. Enjoy!
Hoosier Tomato Gravy
Murphin Ridge Inn, West Union, Ohio
Yield: about 1 quart
6 tbsp butter or bacon grease (serve the bacon on the side if desired)
4 tbsp minced onion
4 tbsp flour
3 to 4 cups tomato juice
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp ground black pepper
2 tbsp heavy cream
In a medium skillet, melt the butter or bacon drippings over medium heat and add onions. Cook until onions turn transparent, about 2 to 3 minutes, stirring often. Reduce heat to low. Sprinkle the flour over the surface and whisk until smooth. Continue cooking for another 2 to 3 minutes or until the “raw” flour smell has disappeared, whisking constantly.
Stir in the tomato juice, sugar and pepper. Cook another 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream. Serve over Murphin Ridge’s Ohio Cheese Pie, omelets, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, or biscuits. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Amish Caramel Jelly Roll Cake
Merle and Barbara Mast; From “Mast Country Style Cooking” from the Mast Family
Prepared for us by Miriam Yoder, Homestead Farms, West Union, Ohio
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
4 eggs, separated
4 tbsp water
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup hot water
4 tbsp flour
4 tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla
Make the Cake: Preheat oven to 400°F. Butter a 10 x 15-inch baking sheet or line it with parchment paper; set aside. In a large bowl, whip the egg whites until stiff; set aside.
Beat the egg yolks and water together until stiff. Add the sugar, flour, baking powder and salt. Add in the beaten egg whites. Pour into prepared pan, smooth the top, and bake for 13 minutes.
While cake is still warm, flip onto a tea towel sprinkled with powdered sugar and, starting at the long edge, roll towel and cake together into a log.
Make the Filling: In a saucepan combine the brown sugar, hot water and flour. Whisk until smooth. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter and vanilla.
When cake has cooled, un-roll, spread the filling over the top of the cake leaving a 1/2-inch border around all sides. Reroll with filling on the inside, using the towel to aid with the rolling. Wrap cake in plastic and chill.
When ready to serve, unwrap, set seam side down and cut into 3/4-inch slices.
Links to my other articles on Ohio:
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Disclosure: I was invited to take part in an all-expenses paid press tour. I was not monetarily compensated nor asked to write anything. The views expressed here are entirely my own.
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