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Beeville, Texas - Part III

If there is a center of the Amish settlement outside of Beeville, it would be Borntrager's Combination Shop.  As the name implies, the store sells a bit of everything from homemade creams and salves to saddles.  The store is owned and operated by Truman Borntrager, the settlement's bishop, and a carriage-maker by trade.  The store does sell buggies and carriages, but largely for non-Amish customers.  If I were going to visit the settlement, I'd do it on a Friday when Borntrager's sells homemade baked goods and homemade ice cream.  Yum.  Several varieties of cookies, pies, breads, and confections are sold on Fridays.  A limited amount of produce is sold throughout the week, either from Truman's own orchards or from the nearby Rio Grande Valley.

On another note, children in this settlement attend a small school with about 15 Amish scholars attending.  One of Truman's daughters is the teacher. 

The isolation of the community is probably both its biggest selling point and also its largest impediment to growth. For Amish wearyof sky-high land prices and gawking tourists,Beeville offers a refreshing respite.  You won't see any tour buses rumbled down the roads.  And the climate is a refreshing Mediterranean type, on the same latitude as northern African or the Holy Land, so it is almost always pleasant.  A handful of Amish come down during the winter months and stay in one of several guest cabins in the settlement.   But for Amish seeking the companionship of many other Amish there simply isn't much to offer.  One has to be prepared for long bus rides to other settlements to the north, which can be two days away.

The Amish settlement is actually located about 12 miles southeast of Beeville.  A buggy ride to Wal-Mart in town takes about two hours, and most of the Amish won't hire drivers to take them.  Beeville offers the basic amenities and chain-stores of a town with about 10,000 residents, but the larger cities of San Antonio and McAllen are hours away. 

There is a barren beauty to the land, but living there requires a certain hardscrabble self-sufficiency.  I met Amish in this settlement that make their own yogurt, their own cheese, raise their own meat and most of their fruits and veggies are locally grown.  Some neat wildlife can be found in the area including javelinas (a wild pig), coyotes, and a variety of birds.  The above photo is a road-runner which Rachel and I saw sitting on a fencepost.  Of course, we'll have a whole chapter on Beeville in our upcoming "Amish travel cookbook" scheduled for release in 2012.  I collected some really neat recipes from the settlement!

Editor's Adventures video subscribers will receive a "mini-documentary" video in a few days.  There are going to be a couple of "surprise stops" on the video tour, and then one of the next main ones will be a visit to Alymer, Ontario in January. Brrrrr...

Amish in Minnesota

Well, while I was visiting the Old Order Amish in Texas a small Minnesota newspaper launched a three-part series this week about the Amish in their area.  I think the article is pretty well done.  The series explores the Amish settlements around Becker County, Minnesota, which is about an hour east of Fargo, North Dakota. I think the article is pretty well done. Of course, if it had been me writing it I would have asked all sorts of other questionsSmile but I don't think the reporter did a bad job.  So if you want you read the article, click here.  This Amish settlement definitely sounds less conservative and a little more open than the group in Texas, but that is what makes the church so interesting is all of the variations.


Easy Sweet Potato Bake

Just in time for Thanksgiving, I found this recipe in the Amish Cook archives from 1993.  Looks easy and delicious!


2 large cans (40 ounces each) sweet potatoes, drained
1  1 /2 sticks margarine, melted
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 eggs
1 cup milk
12-ounce can evaporated milk
1 /2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 cup pecans,broken
1 cup corn flakes, finely crushed

In a large mixing bowl, mash sweet potatoes.  Thoroughly beat in one stick of margarine, white sugar, and cinnamon.  Separately beat eggs and milks, add to sweet potato mixture and beat well.  Turn into a 9 X 13 inch baking dish.  Note: mixture will be soupy but will firm up during baking.  Bake in a 400 degree oven 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, melt together brown sugar and remaining margarine.  Mix with nuts and corn flakes then spread on top of potato mixture and continue baking at 40 degrees for another 10 minutes.

Beeville, Texas - Part II

I'll be talking about my Texas trip over the days ahead.  I just think it's easier to share it in small bite-sized readable bits than typing one long post.

A little background:  the Amish settlement around Beeville took root in 1999 when Truman Borntrager, an Amish man from Tennessee, began scouting for property in the area.  He had become familiar with the region when traveling to the South Texas border region to procure produce for resale.  Each time he passed through, though, he found himself enamored with the South Texas climate and soil.  So Borntrager - a variation of the more common Amish surname, Bontranger - found some inexpensive scrubland and bought hundreds of acres of it and brought along several of his sons and, later, a brother.  All said there are only 9 families in the district, so it is tiny.  All of the families are related in one way or another, either a son, daughter, or sibling of Truman Borntrager, a serious, but genial man with a long gray beard and traditional clothing. The closest other Amish settlements are a full day's drive away in Oklahoma, unless you count an Old Order Amish family that lives near Gonzales, Texas.  The Gonzales family are the only remaining one from what was a larger community.  An earlier attempt to start a permanent Amish settlement near the town of Shiner, Texas didn't last, although at one time they had close to 20 families there.  It's just difficult to begin a community that is so geographically isolated from others.  The Old Order Amish have repeatedly attempted to start settlements in Texas, with little success.  The Beeville settlement is one of the most enduring ones.  There are some "Amish-Mennonite" settlements, well-established, near the towns of Kemp, Lott, and in Seminole County in the far west.

Beeville is about a 2 hour drive from the border with Mexico, and some of the Amish residents go down there to buy produce and seek medical care.  Rachel and I flew into Brownsville, right on the Mexican border.  We encountered this truck (the one in the above photo) in one of the nature preserves we were hiking in along the banks of the Rio Grande. I really wanted to cross into Matamoros, Mexico just for lunch and so I could say that I had been to Mexico before, but because of the drug cartel violence safety is a concern right now, so Rachel wouldn't hear of it.

Everything about Texas is large and I think the above photo of the horse pulling the wagon at sunset illustrates the vastness of the scrubby plain that the Borntragers are trying to forge a settlement on.

Tomorrow, I'll talk more about the settlement, their food, their faith, and in a day or two, their future.

Amish Turkey Loaf

Okay, save this for your leftovers next week!Smile  About 10 days from now most us will be swimming in turkey leftovers, perfect for cold sandwiches and the like.  But this is a simple recipe for a homemade turkey loaf out of the Amish Cook archives.  Enjoy!

Amish Turkey Loaf

3 cups diced turkey
8 slices bread
1/2 cup diced celery
1 onion, chopped
1 egg, beaten
1/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning

Preheat oven to 350.  In a large mixing bowl, mix all the ingredients together and place in greased loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 55 minutes. Serve with gravy.

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