Saturday, August 2, 2014

The End of Fresh Fruit Pies? Ohio's Amish Country Pies Reviewed

Each summer I return to Ohio's Amish country for a visit and a taste of country cooking. This typically includes fresh fruit pies. I'm sad to say, it seems even in the heart of America, real fresh fruit pies may be a thing of the past.

Julian's Fresh Apple Pie
During my trip I ate at numerous restaurants and attended gatherings of friends and family. It was hard to find a pie made of real, fresh fruit. Most were made of fillings previously cooked and canned, bagged or frozen. I'm not sure why this is the case when fruit is readily available this time of the year and makes for a far superior pie. As you know if you read this blog regularly, I easily make fresh berry and fruit pies each season.

Dutch Valley Restaurant
This restaurant is an area classic and is very very busy because of its long reputation. I've dined here several times during recent stays at the Carlisle Inn. The chicken is great whether you get broasted or pan friend. Beyond that, a number of dishes are lacking. The green beans are undoubtedly canned as they have the telltale 'tin' taste. The mashed potatoes and stuffing are good and reliable choices. The buffet/salad bar are great if you have big eaters in your party. The pie, often sought after because of its Amish reputation, has sadly not been very good in recent times.

On my visit in 2013 I found the crusts pasty and white, rather than flaky and browned. They certainly did not look or taste homemade. Worse yet the fruit pie filling was obviously coming from processed fruit in the bag/can. I ordered blackberry pie last year and there was not a berry in it. Rather there were only bits and pieces, and a large amount of paste that accounted for the filling. It was more like jam in a pie crust. I had the same experience with other fruit pies.

This summer (July 2014) I talked with the staff and was pleased to see them differentiating "fresh" fruit pies from their standard line. So I ordered "Fresh Peach." I anticipated that a cook would have peeled and stoned the peaches, placed them a crust coated with a little sugar and starch, topped the pie with a crust and baked it. Instead I received a pie that was more like what you might expect with fresh strawberry. These were uncooked (I would say, previously frozen and thawed) peaches that had been mixed with a generous (and I mean huge)  amount of peach flavored gelatin. In fact, in the store they sell the "Peach Redi-Pak" so you can make these at home yourself (although why you would want to, I don't know.) It's not that the pie tasted bad, but simply that it really isn't a fresh peach pie they way you might make it at home, or expect it to be made in a Amish home kitchen.

Dutch Valley "Fresh Peach" and I use the term loosely!
The cream pies are your best bet if you want dessert, but even then I would not recommend them. Go to the city of Charm and eat at the homestead restaurant right across from Keim Lumber for better pie.

Grandma's Homestead Restaurant
This was the favorite restaurant in Amish Country of my Uncle Roy and Aunt Rose, who dined here regularly as they lived in the area. Word did get around of the excellent food and the popularity has not done this restaurant any favors. Volume has somewhat decreased service levels. With that said, during my recent visit they still had the best meatloaf I've ever tasted in a restaurant. I'm not sure what they put it it, but it certainly is very good. They offer a small buffet at lunchtime to handle the crowd, and it had both meatloaf and chicken leg/thigh quarters. On subsequent visits I found the meatloaf had been replaced with pork, which was also good. The mashed potatoes are homemade and the Amish noodles are not to be missed, especially when served over the potatoes in Amish country style. If you are put off by the inconsistency of service, I would suggest you consider dining elsewhere but do come here midday for the pie.

Grandma's Homestead Classic: Dark Chocolate Pecan Pie
On my 2013 visit, I chose the coconut cream (being torn between it and the peanut butter cream.) My mother's signature pie was coconut cream and I make it regularly to this day. The coconut cream pie at Grandma's was as good as my mother's, which says a lot. It had whipped topping instead of meringue, but that is common in restaurants where it is hard to keep meringue quality for very long. On my next visit (summer 2014) I had the signature pie, which is a dark chocolate with pecan pie topping. This pie was exceptionally good, and not as sweet as you might imagine. It really was a great combination of flavors and should be on your list of desserts.  With all of that said, Grandma's retiring and the restaurant is for sale.


  1. I haven't been back in a year or so but Das Essenhaus in Middlebury, Indiana, is renowned for its family style dinners and freshly baked pies. I hope they haven't changed in the 40 or so years I have been going. It's on the way to ohio!

  2. Dana West;s comments sent to me on Facebook: " I echo your sentiments; it is getting hard to find good traditionally-made pie in Holmes County, OH (without all that yucky gel)! On your next trip, I would recommend the desserts at Chalet in the Valley in Charm (fancy desserts / more than just pie). The best pie I've eaten is still made at Beachy's Restaurant in Sugarcreek (cream or fruit pies). And the rhubarb pie at Dee's restaurant right here in New Philadelphia is very good."