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Manna from Amana.

Manna From Amana

Visitors often ask Henry Schiffat the Museum of Amana History where the beards, the horse-drawn carriages, and the broad-cloth are. The 84-year-old historian responds with a laugh: "You're thinking of Amish. We're Amana."

Indeed, seven villages nestledin a rich Iowa river valley are the only places you'll find the Amana Society. What brings thousands of visitors here daily is not a glimpse of a strange culture, nor is it to find that the largest National Historic Landmark is really some theme park or shopping mall with 400 century-plus buildings. No, Amana means sharing: its food, wine, crafts, and woolens. It is sharing history and tradition. Once you stop at the Museum to have Henry put the society's 140 years into perspective, there is no way you will equate your time here with a simple shopping spree.

The society settled in remoteIowa to realize its members' dream of a utopian religious communal system. Later, isolation turned to accommodation when salesmen and farm families discovered the delicious food in Amana's communal kitchens. The villae smokehouses found a demand for summer sausage, smoked chops, and hams. Wine made from sweet grapes and anything at hand was sold at the back doors of many an Amana home. In their little homes, Amanans earned extra cash by producing furniture, clothes, or any sundries imaginable. Yards crammed with fruit trees and gardens yielded food not only for the group, but also for visitors eager for old-world preserves and jellies.

Fifty years ago Amanans createda corporation to oversee some of the businesses; other members continued their businesses privately. Tradition adapted to visitors. Where communal kitchens once existed, modern Amana has crack family-style restaurants that serve both German specialties and the traditional menu in huge quantity. The meat markets churn out their fantastic smoked chops, summer sausage, and Amana brats--twice the normal size. Wine is made in 14 cellars from old recipes and historic varieties: dandelion, wild elderberry, rhubarb, and more. Some of the original businesses, such as the state's largest corporate farm, the woolen mills, and Amana Furniture, still operate; general stores provide space for artists and craftsmen.

Amana is a mixture. Gloriousold homes may have late-model cars sitting in the driveway. Like many Iowans, some Amana folks escape to the Sunbelt in the winter; they eagerly await their championship golf course, to be opened in 1988. Inside those old homes you'll find quilting parties, Bible readings, or women baking honey cookies with a liberal does of whiskey thrown in for a typically Germanic twist of irreverence.

Amana's are country people,and that means attention to seasonal traditions. Each spring, children fanning out over the eastern Iowa meadows pluck dandelion blossoms and lug their sacks back to be weighed, their dollars counted out by cellar masters. Later, it is the crushing of rhubarb and then the search for wild elderberries, or it's haymaking and spring calves.

And it's people. Walk aroundin these tiny villages and meet the people who make things: Les Ackerman, whose wines have won awards, or Henry Heldt, who works with wood at Amana Furniture. The spirit of Amana is summed up in Emilie Jeck, who rises each morning to manage the High Amana General Store just as her father did before her, amassing between them nearly a century of service. Pillsbury came here to take photos for promotional materials, presumably because of the photogenic character of the marvelous old place, but also perhaps to trap a little of that Amana pride--a quality not lost on Emilie's younger brother, George Foerstner, who founded Amana Refrigeration.

Long after the wine has beensipped, the food consumed, the purchases absorbed into your household, the memory of the people will linger. No, these are not Amish. They're Amana.
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Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Amana Society
Author:Mueller, William
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jul 1, 1987
Words:623
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