Amish Food Preservation.

I was recently watching this program on satellite TV. It was about the Amish. Lovely people. Did you know they are all pacifists? Truly admirable.

Anyways, they are apparently very sociable too. In fact, in the summertime they often throw a big picnic.

This got me to thinking. Picnics involve food. And the Amish don’t embrace technology beyond the 19th Century. So how do they keep it fresh?

Yes, I know all about the ice box. My parents were old enough to have still used them. And they told me all kinds of colorful stories about it. But they don’t make ice boxes anymore. And there surely is no iceman to come around nowadays, in any event.

So how do they keep their Potato Salad fresh? They sell Amish Potato Salad at all the local grocery stores where I live. So I know anecdotally they make it. How do they keep it from spoiling?


Gas-powered refrigerators.

Amish don’t really reject technology, but the connection and dependence on those outside their community. Electricity isn’t a problem, but the electrical grid is. Same with the telephone network.

Here’s a hint. Amish potato salad sold in grocery stores is not made by Amish people.

Old order Amish would just eat the potato salad and stop cooking so much. The Amish come in different… we’ll say divisions. Different divisions of Amish allow different things. The absolutely most conservative might not have a refrigerator and they still do cold preservation with cellars and cutting blocks of ice in the winter. Most these days though do allow gas-powered refrigerators. The Amish also do the same types of preservations that everyone did before Kelvinators. Canning, salting, pickling, smoking, drying, springhouses and cellar storage. There’s also the reality that they are farmers and so much of their food is simply eaten fresh. You preserve your chicken by killing it that morning. It is really only in urban areas where refrigeration is more of a necessity than a luxury.

As stated, strict stereotypical Amish are not the norm. Many have technology, but it is communal, not in any individual home. Or they can contract with non-Amish.

Ice chests are probably not forbidden. And the individual ingredients of potato salad don’t need refrigeration. Store-bought mayonnaise does not need refrigeration. Potatoes can be stored, especially in a cellar.

That’s a little like saying “there are no buggy whip makers anymore”… and yet, the Amish have horse-drawn buggies…

In actual fact, an icebox is just a box with good insulation. There’s no reason they couldn’t be made these days and Amish that use them might even make them themselves.

There’s no bar on the Amish either harvesting ice for themselves, setting up an ice-harvesting/storing business to service other Amish, or just buying commercially made ice at the local Wal-mart or Costco.

I understand that a good place to get low-cost canning supplies is in Amish communities, leading me to believe that the Amish do a lot of canning.

You can’t can traditional potato salad with mayonnaise, but you can certainly can the potatoes in it and then mix it up when you need it. I know you can buy commercially-prepared German Potato Salad; I’m not sure if this can be safely canned by the home cook.

Potatoes are not a normally canned/preserved food. Potatoes would be kept in a root cellar and brought up at the time of prep for a salad. In the summer when you are gathering and harvesting you preserve what you can and eat the rest. Also the Amish probably sell produce and spend the proceeds exactly like we do. I assume they could by an ice-chest and ice. People worry too much about food spoilage. If it fully cooked and eaten in a timely manner it shouldn’t be a problem. Personally, I am not eating any potato salad at a picnic. I am kinda freaky about what I eat, but that’s another story.

Some Amish communities have large walk-in fridges (powered by a generator) where everyone shares shelf space.

There’s also the hand-cranked microwave oven, but it really doesn’t end up saving that much time.

I am lucky enough to know several different orders of the Amish.

The most conservative, being the Schwartzentruber, preserve food by canning, smoking, ice houses, or just letting the food sit out on the porch.

The “medium” Amish, use ice houses, canning, smoking, or, if needed a gas powered refrigerator, usually a reefer unit from a truck put on one of their ice houses.

The most liberal Amish generally do whatever they want. They actually live in houses fully connected to the grid, but the circuit breakers are all turned off. If they need to plug in a freezer, they turn that breaker on.

The same way all humanity kept food “fresh”–edible, in the OP sense, and usually tasty–before the 19th century.

Seasonal food, normal knowledge of keeping times, dry or wet pickling, smoking…

Although Eskimo picnics might involve months-long buried sea fauna, which I believe even they don’t think is a particularly tasty thing.


I suppose this is entirely possible, as to the power generation for the magnetron, and for the spinning platter and the lighting inside if you want extra crank exercise. It would make a great steampunk contraption.

Was in an Amish store a couple of months back. They had a large “ice box” that they built themselves. I was pretty impressed with it and they were kind enough to give me the nickle tour. The walls were made out of diamond plate metal and foam board insulation. For doors, they used double pane sliding windows. They have block ice delivered daily and stack it on top and the sides of the shelving. The ice is separated from the food by a thin metal wall. It was quite ingenious in my opinion. This particular group shuns electricity and other modern conveniences, but they did have a battery powered calculator to figure out your total.
When I asked about it, (I was as polite as possible and they were very nice and seemed to encourage questions), they said the elders approved the battery calculator because math mistakes were cutting in on profits.

I am always amazed at how well they can function without things that many of us take for granted and couldn’t live with out.

Uh, aren’t they dependent on those outside the community for gas?

If that’s all it is, then why not just wire up the house and use a generator?

I was in an Amish furniture store in Colorado a few years ago complete with a horse and buggy outside for the operator and gas lights inside. I really liked some of the furniture but didn’t have a way to get it back home so I asked the operator if they did shipping. He said, sure “Just go to our website!”.

Amish people aren’t really against technology as noted. They can generally use telephones, computers and power tools for work. The idea is to maintain a tight community that is generally semi-isolated from the “English” world. Don’t even get me started on the rumspringa. Amish teens get kicked out of their community for a few years and can be hellions.

It’s their religion, they get to draw the lines.

There is a close by Amish market that I frequent. They have a deli and so run a gas generator for the freezer/fridge (they make their own bacon - sliced to your specifications, so good). I had assumed that the lights were run off of the generator but was surprised to see that they were gaslights. They lit them them once when I went in and there were no other customers. This store has a giant propane tank though I suppose that some families around here (Western Pennsylvania) have their own natural gas supply.

I was going to say, why wouldn’t you just make the potato salad when you need it? Potatoes are one of those foods that keep for a long time when properly stored, and the rest of the ingredients would be fresh and on-hand.

Heck, my grandparents didn’t even get electricity until some time in the 80s, and they did fine just eating in season, preserving/canning/curing the rest for longer term storage.

I don’t get the part about dependent on others. When I visited my daughter, son-in-law, and grandkids in southern Michigan, there were lots of Amish around. There were also van services that would take them wherever they needed to go. The Amish couldn’t drive the vans, but they were perfectly comfortable riding in them. For local travel, they used their own horse and buggies. But if they had business in one of the cities — well, Interstate 90 isn’t too friendly to horses.

Actually, the potato salad is less likely to make you sick than other ingredients, particularly if it’s made with store-bought mayonnaise. Mayo is pretty acidic, so it functions as somewhat of a preservative. If you’re worried about a picnic food making you sick, stay away from any meat that hasn’t been stored at the appropriate temperature.

Plenty of folks can potatoes; I’ve done it myself. Stored properly, potatoes will keep maybe 4 months. Canned potatoes have a shelf life of at least a year. Plus canned potatoes take a lot less time to prepare.