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TOMATO TIME AND COMING ATTRACTIONS

A pale white lightning from a distant, dying thunderstorm flickered across the peaceful farm fields of eastern Indiana. It was the only light on a dark, August 23 evening when my girlfriend, Rachel, and I, visited Elizabeth Coblentz for an evening meal. Elizabeth was spending the night with her daughter Emma and son-in-law Jacob, so we were experiencing someplace a little different. Emma's house is tucked between a thatch of thick forest and acres and acres of well-manicured soybean fields. A tiny flashlight and the lightning was the only lantern showing us the way back to our car, parked in the driveway by their barn.

Emma and Jacob's farm-house is full of life, with three toddlers under age three. Plastic building blocks and toys were scattered across the wooden floor, a reminder of a time when all children played with simpler things. Most of all, the children here play with each other. Entertainment is easy here. Most of the evening, Elizabeth's oldest daughter, Susan, sat in a rocker by a lantern reading "Family Life" an Amish-published home magazine. The kerosene lamps provide a cozy glow for a nighttime visit.

I visit Elizabeth more often since her husband died. I think the family spirits are lifted by our visits. I am also visiting more often so I can take your emails to Elizabeth and to keep work moving on her first nationally released cookbook, which is due in stores by the summer of 2001. Lots of work lies ahead between now and the book's January 1 due date. But tonight the topic was tomato juice.

Tomato juice is not my favorite. I like ketchup, my grandma's spaghetti sauce, and a slice of tomato on a sandwich, but I usually draw the line at drinking tomatoes. Not so on this night, Emma offered Rachel and I a glass of her homemade tomato juice.

"Would you like some?" Emma asked.

"Um... I'm not a big tomato fan," I protested.

"Oh, just try a little," Elizabeth, who was sitting next to us at the table, chimed in.

I glanced uneasily at Rachel.

"Uh... okay, how about just a little," I said.

Emma bustled about in her kitchen, preparing a scrumptious spread of homemade zucchini casserole, fresh cheese slices, tenderly cooked potatoes, and farm-fresh meats. I couldn't wait to eat. But first, Emma returns with two giant glasses of homemade tomato juice and sets one glass each down in front of Rachel and I.

"Emma, I said a SMALL glass, not a vat."

Not wanting to be impolite, I took a drink. The first sip was a tasty garden blend of fresh tomatoes and other homegrown veggies. It was tangy and homemade - very delicious. But too much of any beverage begins to weigh on me, so I drank only about half. Rachel did better than I. She slowly sipped her tomato juice until it was gone. Motivated by Rachel, I drank about three-fourths of the glass and said:

"This is really good, but I am getting full, I'll just put the glass on the counter."

"No, you drink all of it! The vitamins will do you good." Elizabeth said, grabbing her glass and chugging the juice as if to make the point that drinking the rest of it wouldn't kill me. I grumbled to Elizabeth that she was being a show-off, but not wanting to be out tomato-juiced by an Amish woman, I forced the rest of the juice down.

In other family news from the Coblentz farm, Emma's husband, Jacob, seemed stronger and in good spirits after suffering some still unknown passing out spells. His health worries me, but in reality there's little that can be done. You can't force them to seek treatment in the world of modern medicine, something they consider a court of last resort.

Rachel and I headed back to our lives in the modern world. The warm, orange glow of Emma's kerosene lamps quickly disappeared into the darkness of my rear-view mirror - the taste of tomatoes still strong.

In other news: welcome this week to The Daily Reporter in Derby, Kansas. They have become the eighth newspaper to add The Amish Cook in recent weeks. If you want your local paper to carry the weekly Amish Cook column, please contact them.

Coming within the next week will be a new array of hand-made wood items in The Amish Cook Shoppe, just in time for holiday gifts. Also, to tide everyone over until the real cookbook next year, there will be a 40-page "Amish Cook Christmas mini-cookbook" available in the Shoppe.

Until next time,

Kevin Williams
Oasis Newsfeatures Editor