Whoopie Pies for Breakfast in Pennsylvania Dutch Country
The next time I drink a glass of milk, eat a soy burger, or bite into an ear of corn, I will think of beautiful Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. This area (also called Pennsylvania Dutch Country), known for its fertile soil and strong farming industry, generates food, feed, and fiber via livestock-raising, dairy and poultry farms, and acres of corn, soybeans, and alfalfa. A large concentration of Amish and Mennonite farmers live here and work the land.
While I was there for two days in mid-October cycling and sightseeing, I passed working farms and acres of cornfields. Prior to the trip, I was able to purchase a cycling map and download several cue sheets from the Lancaster Cycling Club, so I negotiated the area easily. Lancaster County encompasses almost 1,000 square miles. It can be touristy the closer you get to the town of Lancaster, but if you stay north of Route 30 you will find quiet roads, farm stands, busy Amish and Mennonite farmers (who will give you a smile and friendly wave) -- and be able to race the many horse-drawn black and gray buggies. The cycling was fun, mostly rolling hills with distant views of harvested fields spreading beneath navy and silver grain silos that stood tall under a bright sun and blue sky.
For two nights, I stayed in Lititz at the Cooper’s Inn B&B, which has been in the same family for six generations. My room was in the original part of the house -- built in the 1700s -- on the second floor, looking out over the horse corral, dog pen, and two barns. I enjoyed having the cats greet me, and the dogs' barking would signal a passing buggy.
I started both days' rides from the inn; my first impression of the area, besides watching the beautiful farmland scenery unfold, was the distinct aroma of cow manure. Amish farmers travel by horse and buggy, so I also had to maneuver around horse poop, which made me chuckle. But by mile 10 the air cleared as I pedaled alongside fields of corn, alfalfa, and soy beans and past Mennonite Churches.
Northern Lancaster County also has nice, smoothly paved roads -- in 50 miles I saw no potholes. I did have to cross over a few busy routes, and there wasn’t much of a shoulder, but drivers were mostly respectful. During my first ride, 35 mph wind gusts made it difficult for me to hear any approaching cars or buggies, and at one point a gust pushed me sideways. On Sanctuary Road in Mount Hope the power lines were swinging wildly. And lots of farmland meant not a lot of trees -- great views but not much to block the wind. It made for an uncomfortable ride, so although I was supposed to pedal 45 miles up through Mt. Gretna toward Cornwall, I decided to ride to town instead and have lunch and sightsee -- riding only 25 miles.
Lititz is an adorable town of stone and brick buildings settled in the 1750s by Moravians. The town center has cute shops, Linden Hall (the oldest girls boarding school in the U.S.), Wilbur Chocolate Company, the Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery (where I twisted my own pretzel), and peaceful Lititz Springs Park. Walking through the park, which has a spring-fed canal running through the center of it, I watched kids feeding bread to a duck paddling against the strong current.
I stopped by the Tomato Pie Cafe for a tasty light lunch of tomato bisque with a delicious mini-herbed scone. I didn’t want to fill up too much, because my innkeepers had made arrangements for me to have dinner with an Amish family.
When I got to Amanda L’s dairy farm on a dirt road in Brunnerville, three couples were also there. As we got acquainted, Amanda sat us down to a dinner of sweet, juicy meatloaf, cheesy egg noodles, cinnamon-topped rice custard, buttery farm-fresh peas, homemade bread, and hand-churned butter!
The meal commenced after grace was said. During dinner we learned a bit about the Amish culture. After a dessert of homemade chocolate cake with chocolate/peanut butter frosting and pumpkin custard pie, we sang Amazing Grace, which almost brought me to tears after learning from our hostess the history of the song’s author, a reformed slave trader turned minister and abolitionist.
The next morning I sat down to a hearty breakfast at the Cooper’s Inn of sliced ham, potato cakes, homemade wheat bread, bacon, a warm blueberry cudgel, and chocolate and sweet cream Whoopie Pies! The innkeeper explained to me that the Penn Dutch always have a sweet at breakfast -- but I had mine wrapped for later. I met the two other couples staying at the inn, and we traded stories. The folks from New Jersey had hired an Amish guide who took them to several farms; the couple from Arlington, Virginia, talked of their drive through the county back roads, stopping at farms to buy cheese and a handmade quilt.
After breakfast, I geared up for a ride and decided to head north from the farmland and toward Middle Creek Management Wildlife Area. The pedal out was pretty quiet, as I passed the packed parking lots of Mennonite and Methodist churches.
This ride was more forested and rural, though I passed a few pumpkin patches on my way toward Middle Creek. This 6,200-acre preserve, predominantly of oak and hickory forest, has hiking trails and a man-made lake that provides a habitat for migrating waterfowl. I spotted bird watchers, horseback riders, and photographers enjoying this area as I pedaled by.
On my way home, there was a headwind and a bit more car traffic. The best part of this route was seeing a peloton of twenty teenage Mennonite boys and girls coming toward me on bikes with wicker baskets. The young ladies wore dresses with white caps, and the boys wore pants with suspenders. I wish I’d gotten a photo of them as they yelled hello to me.
Upon my return I showered, gobbled my leftover Whoopie Pie, and headed out to find some covered bridges. I drove around Lititz and Ephrata, and found three of Lancaster County’s twenty-nine covered bridges nestled among endless farmland fields, grazing cows, and lazy creeks. This area was really scenic, and I would have liked to experience more of it aboard a bike. My ride to Middle Creek was lovely, but I preferred the acres of farms and fields to the woods. If I come back this way I’ll stick to the farmlands for the best way to experience this beautiful, green and fertile country in south-central Pennsylvania.
Tip for this adventure: Be sure to visit Lancaster Bicycle Club website for great cue sheets. The town of Lititz is a must-see; great food and shops. Have dinner with an Amish family, an experience you will never forget! I highly recomment the Cooper's Inn B&B -- great rooms, huge breakfasts, amazing view from their field, and a great location to start and end a ride, with quiet roads. The Lancaster County Visitor Center website has excellent bicycle-route information.