Saturday, July 21, 2007

Amish Aisles

(Food column from Wednesday, July 18.)

Amish Aisles
Country Pantry a foodie's oasis in rural Kentucky
My parents, visitors from Chicago, seem to know the food landscape of western Kentucky better than I do. They know the owner of their favorite barbecue place on a first-name and nickname basis. They know that their favorite bakery isn’t open Thursdays or Sundays. And they know just the place to get 10-grain cereal for $1.19 per pound.

During their last visit, they introduced me to the Amish-owned bulk food store called the Country Pantry.

I was expecting a rather drab store — maybe a modified room attached to someone’s home — with perhaps a dozen different healthful items akin to the 10-grain cereal. I did not expect a building packed with thousands of diverse goods rivaling the selection of a metropolitan market.

As I scanned the shelves, I found long-lost friends like Asian vegetable chips, dried shitakes, whole flaxseed and wasabi peas. There were also intriguing curiosities like Turkish apricots, Lebanese bologna, purple sticky rice, gummy penguins, cow-shaped sprinkles and fair-trade vanilla.On Saturday I talked with Mary Miller, 26, in the third aisle of the store. Miller is the granddaughter of the Guthrie Road building’s owner and niece to two aunts who own the inventory.

I told her how enamored I was with the selection, especially the ethnic finds. My personal favorite — crunchy dried carrot, sweet potato, squash, taro and green bean chips — let me relive some tasty snacking from my time living in Taiwan. Since moving back to the states, I’ve only found them at one specialty store outside Chicago. But there, standing in a corrugated metal building in rural Kentucky, I found my exotic treat for half the price.

Miller said the Country Pantry has sold the veggie chips at least since 2002, when she started working there. And she told me I’m not the only one who is excited to find them.“The customers buy a lot of them, they say they can’t find them other places,” Miller said.

Customers request new items every week. Recently, many customers have been crazy over quinoa, a round yellowish grain high in protein. Miller said people also asked for organic cheese, but they haven’t been buying much.I was a little surprised how few of the store’s items are Amish-made, and that even fewer are produced by local Amish.While they do sell country fare like shoofly pie mix, fresh churned butter, and pickled everything, Miller said they want to avoid turning their Amish lifestyle into a commercial brand.“We try to stay away from the Amish-made label,” Miller said, “Because I don’t want people to buy it because it’s Amish. I want them to buy it because they want it.”

So far that principle seems to be working. The store’s selection draws people from Christian County, Clarksville, Nashville and if you count my mom and dad, Chicago.

My husband, Joe, and I found several things we wanted, and narrowed our purchases down to a bag of veggie chips, a cast iron skillet and a cookbook by a globe-trotting Mennonite couple who served as missionaries in Bangladesh. I’m looking forward to trying the recipes for Thai Chicken Salad, Tandoori Cauliflower and Quick Praline Sticky Buns.

QuickInfo: Country Pantry Located at 9115 Guthrie Road. To get there, take Pembroke Road south to 848 East. Turn south on 181. The store is on the right. The store is open Monday through Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 pm. Phone: (270) 483-0555

Emily Parrino is a New Era copy editor. She can be reached at 887-3298 or eparrino@kentuckynewera.com.

3 comments:

G. Uechi said...

Is it Lebanese bologna or Lebanon bologna from Lebanon, PA?

Tina Nahid said...

Hi Emily,
What are the ingredients in those veggie chips? All the ingredients listed.

Those sound great!

Tina

Emily said...

Guy-- hmmm. Now that you mention it, I bet they don't eat much bologna in Lebanon. My guess is you're right. Do people from Lebanon, Penn., call themselves Lebanese?

Tina-- The veggie chips have soybean oil and salt in them as well. They are tasty :)