I sometimes forget that, even in Indiana, most people don’t actually grow up on farms exposed to compost heaps, escaping cows, stubborn goats, birthing hogs and the occasional animal castration – a useful skill my father thought my sister and I should know when we started dating. So I’ve long since grown accustomed to being greeted by “Stinky Boy” – the male goat who awaits visitors to Troyer’s Country Store and Bakery from his pen adjacent to the gravel parking lot.
I recently discovered, however, that that is a new experience for my city-dwelling friend Candy and my Virginia-bound grandbabies, Adrian and Novalee. Apparently, shopping at an Amish grocery store, going to steam engine shows or visiting the semi-annual Amish school system consignment auction (subjects for future columns) isn’t something many city folk do on a Saturday morning.
Fortunately for me, that’s not the case. Surrounded by my Amish neighbors, I sometimes take for granted that I can run down the road nearly anytime and pick up some farm fresh eggs, homemade noodles, a handmade harness and the occasional pony too. I guess Walmart isn’t the answer to everything and that’s a good thing. So, sharing these experiences with my family and friends is high on the list, hence our recent field trips to Troyer’s.
Located on State Road 3 near the Rush County/Decatur County line, Troyer’s is an experience well worth the trip, especially around the upcoming fall holidays when the air grows crisp and baking something wonderful in the oven is a great way to spend an afternoon. The long driveway to Troyer’s off State Road 3 runs past a small paddock and outbuildings and ends at a large wooden barn next to the house. Trust me, it doesn’t look like the typical entrance to a grocery store, but there’s a large sign with posted hours so pull in and keep going.
The store itself stands at the end of the road just northwest of the house and it often has fresh-picked in-season produce piled high in the bins out front along with notices for collie pups and feed for sale. You can park in front of the store if you like, but take my advice and park on the south side next to the
pasture which “Stinky Boy” calls home instead. Often he will come over to greet you, planting his cloven hooves on the fence and reaching far over for you to pet him. Trust me, he’s a cutie with his floppy ears and big yellow devil eyes.
By the way, cute as he is, never, ever, ever pet “Stinky Boy.” There’s a reason he’s earned that nickname from us and you’ll only be sorry if you do. I love snuggling with goats – they’re like big silly dogs – but male bucks have a few bad habits which I won’t go into here. So admire him from afar, along with the chickens just west of his pen, and blow him a kiss instead. You won’t hurt his feelings. And Google “why do male goats stink” and you’ll thank me for suggesting you not pet him.
Stepping inside, one immediately notices the lack of light compared to the big modern box stores most of us frequent for food. Overhead there are lights, but they’re fed by gas lines and usually aren’t turned on when the day is bright and sunny. There are small grocery carts for use along with hand baskets too, and you should grab one or the other. Even if you’ve just come to look, odds are you’ll end up leaving with something tasty. So grab a basket now and be prepared.
My friend Candy had to do just that – go back and grab a basket – in between wandering slowly up and down each aisle while whispering, “Isn’t this place a treasure.” It was the bulk spices that got her. Troyer’s is the best kept chef’s secret this side of Greensburg. Nearly every imaginable spice and staple are available in a variety of bulk sizes and at reasonable prices too. Candy was taken with the dehydrated celery and quickly grabbed a bag while I studied the bean soup mixes which no doubt taste yummy, but are also just so darn pretty to look at too. You could easily put together some interesting cooking-themed gift baskets from items off the shelves at Troyer’s and you won’t break the bank in the process.
Other aisles drip with tempting goodies, including honey, vanilla peaches, jams and jellies, pie fillings, pickled eggs, baby corn, a variety of popcorns, salts, oils and toppings, and assorted sugars, flours, nuts, sprinkles and everything one could possibly need to bake up a buffet load of tasty treats. Seriously, the variety of baking staples at Troyer’s puts Walmart to shame.
On a separate trip with my grandbabies, I stood in the candy aisle contemplating the jellied candies shaped like fried eggs and thought how fun they would be to give out at Halloween if we ever had trick or treaters stop by which we don’t since we live in the middle of nowhere. Adrian and Novalee each selected hefty-sized bags of candy – sweet tarts for Adrian and gum balls for Novalee – and I selected a bag of candied orange slices too. Life is short and candy with the grandbabies is good, plus dentists need customers too and I really like the orange slices.
Once you get past the intriguing novelty of so many bulk seasonings and spices – including beautiful pink Himalayan salt – you will no doubt follow your nose to the back of the store where the baked goods are ready to be taken home and immediately devoured. Loaves of fresh-baked bread from white to wheat to cinnamon-laced goodness are usually available early in the day, but thin out quickly, along with other treats that often go fast such as cookies, cakes, pies and pumpkin rolls filled with creamy vanilla icing. If visiting on a Friday or Saturday morning, it’s best to get there in the a.m. if at all possible. Plus, the smell makes it worth waking up early – just bring your own coffee.
Troyer’s recently expanded to add a full service deli counter in the back and while it’s not necessarily filled with mayonnaise-based picnic fare like the ones at Walmart, it does include a great many cured meats and wonderful cheeses. My daughter, Jackie, is particularly smitten with the pepper jack cheese – as am I – but, frankly, we love them all. When it comes to cheese, I know no prejudice.
The store has an intriguing sewing section with bolts of fabric in the dark solid colors most preferred by Troyer’s Amish shoppers and there are Amish clothing staples too, including black socks and stocking caps. Candy was pleased to find old-fashioned metal snaps, along with jewel colored threads and lace on the bolt. Zippers, however, are nowhere to be found, but buttons are available in limited varieties.
Scented soaps are available with my husband, the hunter, preferring the “fresh earth” scent. Leave it to a man to want to take a shower and come out smelling like dirt. I prefer the lavender myself, but then, I’m not out hunting supper when the nights grow long and deer season finally opens.
Candy was also pleasantly surprised to discover that, in addition to cash, Troyer’s also takes credit and debit cards which can be a little disconcerting when the young lady ringing you up is wearing a bonnet but won’t wear zippers.
As for Amish grocery stores, Troyer’s isn’t alone, though there aren’t many in our immediate neck of the woods. Country Creations and Deli a few miles south of Versailles on U.S. 421 features many of the same products and baked goods, and several more such stores can be found in nearby Ohio and in Shipshewana and Middlebury further away in northern Indiana. The towns of Grabill and Berne near Fort Wayne are also home to several such markets so if you’re out and about in any of those areas, you may want to look for them as well.
As for me, I will continue to frequent Troyer’s on a regular basis. The food is good and fresh, and I love the novelty of the store. Plus, it says a lot about a place when you can commune with smelly livestock in the parking lot. I like that. Ours is a country of cookie cutter experiences – similar stores, similar neighborhoods, similar landscapes, and I like the outliers. Different is good, so get out and get around, make a memory and find something out of the ordinary like Troyer’s.
But just remember, don’t pet the goat.
Troyer’s Country Store and Bakery,
10599 S State Road 3
Milroy, IN 46156
Open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed on Sunday.
Country Creations and Deli
6851 S. US 421
Versailles, Indiana 47042
Next Week – I visit the underground world of City Market’s catacombs in downtown Indianapolis.
Reprinted with permission from the Greensburg Daily News and Indiana Media Group