Discovering Amish culture, grace and good food

Click on the book cover to visit the Amazon page.Saloma Furlong is traveling the country, talking to groups in schools, libraries and churches about one of the most popular topics in American culture these days: the Amish and the nature of Amish reconciliation. One measure of the buzz is the fact that barnstorming evangelist Shane Claiborne talks about the Amish wherever he goes. ReadTheSpirit just published a three-part series with Shane. If you do watch his Jesus for President DVD, you will find an Amish story retold at a crucial point in Shane’s stump speech calling for a new approach to politics in America. Shane is bearded and lives in an intentional community, but he is not Amish.

Saloma Furlong is a rare and important new author, because she isn’t an outsider looking into Amish life. She comes from generations of Amish and tells her story in a memoir, Why I Left the Amish (now available in paperback and Kindle versions). With our story, today, you’ll find a delicious Amish recipe (below) that her family has prepared for centuries.

Thanks to a recent PBS documentary, The Amish, which we covered in ReadTheSpirit, Americans now know that Saloma left her family’s home as a young adult. She left partly because she wanted to pursue higher education, which was barred by Amish rules, and also because her household was unable to control a couple of abusive figures. Leaving her Amish community opened new horizons for Saloma, as well as safely removing her from the grasp of predators. Today, years later, her real-life stories of Amish life, history and culture are fascinating educational experiences. Her work is praised by Dr. Donald Kraybill, the most esteemed scholar of Amish culture in the U.S. today. Groups often invite Saloma to give talks providing an educational overview of the Amish. Sometimes, she is invited to tell her own inspiring story of reconciliation—and many are moved by her courageous and grace-filled journey to peace with her family. (You can read more about her life in her book by clicking on the cover with today’s story—and in our interview later this week.)

Also Read: Our ReadTheSpirit author interview with Saloma Furlong.
We’ve got a rich array of resources to let you dig deeper into Amish culture (below).
And, because life is short, we will start with dessert …


Photo by Oliver S, released via Wikimedia Commons.In Saloma’s home, they pronounced the name Dampfnip but her research indicates that the basic recipe her mother prepared came directly from their German ancestors and is most commonly known today as Dampfnudel. “In my academic work, I am very interested in doing research into the Amish communities as they once were in Europe,” Saloma says. “A lot of scholars have documented Amish life in America, but there is not as much historical research into the Amish in Europe and how they vanished from their homeland. Studying my own family, I have traced my genealogy back 14 generations in the U.S. Then, once, when I was visiting the University of Hamburg, I discovered the same dessert that my mother made at home. This original German recipe had survived unchanged through 14 generations in America.”

Today, home cooks have made lots of adaptations to what Saloma describes as “basically a risen bread dough that is fried in a covered pan and then there is a sauce put over it.” Wikipedia has a brief overview article on Dampfnudel. Searching around the Internet for a recipe close to her mother’s, Saloma recommends a version on Tastebook, which offers several options in a single recipe.


Millions of Americans saw a short version of Saloma Furlong’s story in the landmark broadcast of the two-hour American Experience documentary, The Amish. In our review of the film, ReadTheSpirit calls it the best documentary on the Amish we’ve ever seen.

To begin to understand Saloma’s dramatic life story, let’s start today with what she told the world on PBS …
Early in the film, she explains the strict nature of Amish living. At one point, she says:
“Men were supposed to have hats with at least so many inches of brim on the hat. They were supposed to wear vests when they were out visiting. … And the women had to wear coverings. … Dresses should be at least halfway between the knees and the ankles. They shouldn’t wear colors that were not allowed in the community. Pink or red, or any of those really bright colors, were not allowed. The Amish go over those rules, over and over again … It’s a way of maintaining the religion. And it keeps people thinking the Amish way.”

Later in the documentary, Saloma explains that she began questioning things from childhood: “I was always asking, ‘Why can we hire taxi drivers to take us to Middlefield to buy our groceries, but I’m not allowed to have a bicycle that would pedal me there to get my own groceries on my own?’ My mother would say to me, ‘Oh Saloma, you would just be so much better off, if you didn’t ask these questions.’ So there would be no answer.”

Then, in an extended sequence within the film, Saloma tells some of her story about leaving her Amish home and community. She begins by explaining how much she loved school, as a little girl: “I was in my element in school. My desk was my little domain. At home there was not even one private space. Not a drawer, not anything. School was absolutely my best time. And it opened up a whole new world and a whole new way of thinking. When I was going into eighth grade, I knew that this was going to be my last year. And I didn’t really allow myself to think about it until it was over.

“When it really hit me was the first day of the school term when my younger sisters and my younger brother started going to school. I remember going upstairs to my room, and I remember sitting on the edge of the bed and looking down at the woven rug at my feet and saying, ‘Now what? You know, I used to be able to get away from all of this.’ And I just saw my future as pretty much a long stretch of boredom. And then I heard my mother calling me, ‘Where are you? Wu bist du?

“I wanted to just yell back, ‘Where do you think I am?’

“Mom said, ‘Come on down. You need to help with the dishes.’ And so I made my bed and I went down. Picked up the towel off the counter and started drying dishes, and it was just one of those moments where I felt like: If I could change this, I would. And I couldn’t at that moment, but I did later.

“I was 20 years old when I finally decided: This is it, I need to leave. Once I was in Burlington, Vermont, I just remember the feeling I had when I woke up in my own little bed, in my own little room, that first morning. I felt like I was a whole new person. Like I could be anybody I wanted to be, and that I was no longer Amish. Not inside and not out. I got my dream job, as a waitress at Pizza Hut. And then I started dating.”

The man who later became her husband, David Furlong, then appears in the documentary and says: “She was more direct in a lot of ways. She was clearer in what she wanted to do. She was also a very good cook. And believe me that counted for something. And I think, you know, I was also experiencing her sense of freedom. And that’s kind of an attractive thing.”

Saloma adds: “I knew, sooner or later, Mom would call. And she did. She called one night to say, ‘We’re on our way to come and get you.’ She started speaking in the Amish language. She knew what she was doing. She was pulling me, right back into the world I’d left. Something changed in me, where I couldn’t say no. The Amish life is not about saying no. It’s about going along.”

David Furlong: “I got a phone call from her. It was a different person that I was talking to than I had known. She had switched off some part of herself.”

Saloma: (After returning to the Amish), “I was there for two years and eight months. And it was a very long two years and eight months. And then I realized, that no matter how hard I tried, this Amish life just doesn’t fit me. I wanted freedom. I wanted to make my own choices about education, about my spirituality, about my relationships. David and I got married a year and a half later. Though I sent them invitations, nobody from my home community came—and none of my family. The life I knew was ending. I was letting people down. Especially my mother. She wrote to me, and said, ‘Well, today you were put from the church,’ meaning you are now shunned.”

You’ll Also Want to Read: Our ReadTheSpirit interview with Saloma Furlong about her life and book.


Read our earlier coverage of this documentary to learn more about the scope and value of this feature-length film. Click on the video screen below to watch the first 10 minutes of the film, courtesy of PBS American Experience. If you don’t see a video screen in your version of this story, click here to reload it in your browser and the screen should appear. (NOTE: Saloma does not appear in the first 10 minutes, but this clip provides a fascinating introduction to the Amish and to the movie.)

Care to watch all of the film? So far, PBS has made the entire documentary available online. (Word of warning: This full version could be taken down in the future.) In spring 2012, click here to visit the American Experience website and choose the link “Watch Oline.

You’re also welcome to visit Saloma Furlong’s two websites:
SALOMA’s main website: You’ll find various helpful pages here, including Saloma Furlong’s speaking schedule and several of her favorite recipes.
SALOMA’s “About Amish” blog: On this website, Saloma Furlong occasionally posts stories and photos about her own experiences and the Amish in general.

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Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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