Love from the Amish Riviera

In Pinecraft, Florida, visiting is a way of life. And you never arrive empty-handed.

Posted in , Jul 1, 2013

Sherry Gore with a platter of her tropical chicken salad

Ice-cream shops, antique stores, cozy bungalows, folks staking out prime spots on the white sand...a typical beach town, right? Except the sunbathers wear black hats, slacks and suspenders, and long-sleeved button-down shirts, or below-the-knee dresses and white bonnets.

This isn’t Miami Beach. It’s the Amish Paradise.

Also known as Pinecraft, Florida, it’s an eight-block-wide village of more than 3,000 Amish Mennonites and has been my home for most of the last 15 years.

Every winter, when work is slow on their farms, thousands from the Plain communities of Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania migrate south on buses and join us. You can tell where each family hails from by the different pleats and bows and strings on their clothing.

They arrive in stockings and stiff black shoes but they leave wearing flip-flops.

There’s a feeling in the air here, as if God is standing on every doorstep. We’re a community of believers, but it’s more than that. You can see God in action here. My family certainly has.

I came to Pinecraft when I was 33, with three young children to raise on my own. I earned a living cooking and cleaning houses. My family joined the Sunnyside Mennonite Church and embraced the Beachy Amish faith (named after Bishop Moses Beachy).

Our traditions are more relaxed than those of the Pennsylvania Dutch. We use electricity. Some of us drive cars, while others get around on three-wheeled bikes instead of horses and buggies.

One tradition, however, is especially strong here: visiting. We get together on the front lawn, on the beach, even in the middle of the road. Visits have the right of way—if you’re in a car trying to pass through, you’ll have to wait.

The biggest gatherings, the church fundraisers and benefit suppers in the park, draw people from outside the community. Hungry crowds line up and drop whatever money they can donate into an ice-cream bucket and enjoy Amish fare with a Florida twist, using ingredients like avocado, mango and lime.

“Amish Henry” and his wife, Sarah, famous for the cowboy stew they cook in a giant cast-iron kettle and stir with a boat paddle, gave me a warm welcome to my first supper in the park.

“There’s no such thing as a stranger, only friends we haven’t met yet,” Amish Henry said, spooning a heaping portion onto my plate.

At age 14, my oldest daughter, Jacinda, was diagnosed with eosinophilic gastroenteropathy, a rare and severe allergic reaction to all kinds of food. She couldn’t even eat her favorite fried chicken from Yoder’s Restaurant or take more than a few swallows of water.

A friend’s cousin came all the way from Mexico to help me around the house, and my younger daughter, Shannon, later worked as a hostess at Yoder’s for extra money, but it was a struggle to support my family. Lord, how are we going to get through this? I asked in my prayers every night.

Jacinda’s treatment was expensive. She needed a special feeding tube and regular trips to a hospital in Cincinnati.

“How about a fund-raiser at the church?” Amish Henry suggested. The entire neighborhood came out. The money was just a drop in the (ice-cream) bucket, but seeing everyone gathered to help my family....I knew their love would sustain us.

My friend’s cousin gave me a cookbook from her village in Mexico. I had planned to send her home with Florida oranges and key-lime-and-coconut candies. Is there a Pinecraft cookbook? I wondered. I couldn’t find one.

That gave me an idea. Pinecraft had given my family so much. What if I shared our community with others? A cookbook would warm the hearts and bellies of people all over.

I got a bunch of index cards and walked through the village, visiting. “Write down a family recipe and turn in the card at Overholt’s Produce,” I said. I hoped for a few dozen. I received more than 300!

I shouldn’t have been surprised. Pinecraft isn’t like any other beach town. It’s a family of families. In more ways than one.

Shannon married a Mennonite boy she met working at Yoder’s, and Amish Henry and Sarah made their cowboy stew for all 700 wedding guests. Whenever I need help caring for Jacinda, I know my Pinecraft community is there.

That’s how things work around here. Come visit and see for yourself!

Try Sherry's Tropical Chicken Salad recipe for yourself!

Download your FREE ebook, A Prayer for Every Need, by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale

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