The first “Take A Bite” food festival was held in the Amana Colonies April 14-17 and was a great success.
This four-day event included demonstrations, classes, and some good eating. There was a vintner’s dinner, a brewer’s dinner and several communal dinners that were all sold out.
The Amana communal dining of days gone by is always of interest to me. Die Heimat Country Inn was one of the many communal kitchens in the Amana Colonies. Until 1932, 30-40 Amana folks ate together in local kitchens where the food was prepared by a kitchen boss and her staff. Private homes did not have kitchens at that time. Folks gathered three times a day to eat; 6:00 am, noon, and 6:00 pm. They also were sent out to their work site with food for a morning break and an afternoon break. Their eating together was not a social time, as I would have imagined. They had 15 minutes to eat and then get back to work.
The communal dinners are served today as a way to re-enact the style of eating together and to use menus and recipes from the past. Marc and I went to the communal dinner at the High Amana Arts Guild with our friend Harold Pitz. Harold is a wealth of information about the history of the Amana Colonies, so it was a pleasure to sit with him at the communal dinner table and learn more about past traditions.
The evening began with a time of socializing from 5:00-6:00 upstairs where local art is on display and for sale. Upon arrival we were offered Amana fruit wine to sip as we enjoyed the current art exhibit of early Amana Colonies signs and advertisements.
At 6:00 we all made our way to the tables set in the main room of the Arts Guild. We were assigned seats at the long tables set for nine. Eight of us sat on chairs on each side of the table and the 9th person sat at the head of the table on an authentic wooden Amana church bench that was placed along the outside wall of the room.
In an attempt to replicate the atmosphere of communal days, only oil and kerosene lamps were used on each table, although a lot of natural light flowed into the windows on a spring evening. As the evening darkened, we got the feel for how it may have been to eat by kerosene lantern.
Places were set with dinnerware from the collection at the Arts Guild. Each place was set with an old plate and a knife and fork only. Spoons were in a glass in the center of the table and only used if needed. Self-serve glasses of drinking water were available on the counter at one end of the room. In communal Amana napkins weren’t used, but we found one “hidden” under our plates.
One server attended each of the 10-12 tables. They were dressed in old-time clothes; dark dresses and aprons and hair severely pulled back. The servers brought our first course of lettuce salad with a sour cream dressing and a bowl of cucumber salad. We ate that with bread and butter and “schmierkase” or cheese spread.
The main course was a very tender prime roast beef with a horseradish dressing on the side, potatoes, and creamed carrots, all served family style. The meal finished off with delicious rice balls in lemon sauce and coffee. The evening represented a lot of work by many people, who were acknowledged at the end of the evening for all their efforts.
After the meal there was a short presentation by Jon Childers, a local historian. He showed slides and talked about the Amana Christmas pyramid tradition. This is a German tradition that waned for a time in the Amanas, but later became popular again. Today, several local people build various patterns of the decorative pyramids and display them around Christmas time.
I appreciate that the Amana Colonies continues to practice and share old-time traditions such as communal dinners. Since all the dinners for the “Take A Bite” weekend were sold out, I am expecting even more options for tasting good food at the festival next year. Don’t miss it!