There is probably only one element of Amish life that would appeal to Homer Simpson: the donuts. I grew up in Western New York State, and every time I return to the region to visit my parents, I get Amish donut fever. Unlike Homer Simpson, I have never sold my soul to the devil for donuts. I’ve never had to, because in Cattaraugus County, New York, about sixty miles south of my hometown of Buffalo, I can get the best maple glazed donuts in the world for 75 cents.
The problem is that getting to New York’s largest community of Old Order Amish involves a long detour, even when I’m approaching Buffalo from my current residence in N. Virginia. On a road trip to Buffalo in July, I nagged my wife about stopping for Amish donuts to the point of exhaustion, but when you’re driving eight hours with two toddlers in the backseat, adding time onto the trip is a tough sell, and I wasn’t able to close the deal.
After being denied the donuts this summer, I was hell bent on getting some on my next trip to the area over the Christmas break. These donuts are so sublime that, the night before we were due to get them, I had a nightmare, in which I arrived at the bake shop only to discover that there were: you guessed it, no more donuts.
There are several Amish families in the towns of Leon, Conewango, and Randolph which offer excellent donuts and other baked goods. But there is one woman, Sarah Miller, at 12624 Seager Hill Rd (Rt. 62) in Conewango Valley, whose donuts are truly worthy of Michelin stars. On Fridays and Saturdays in the winter, and Monday-Saturday in the summer, she sells an array of pies, breads, cookies and glazed and maple glazed donuts of the highest quality at ludicrously low prices.
Just as we were about fifteen miles from my little forbidden donut retreat this past Saturday, my wife made a foolish, last-ditch attempt to get me to forgo the donut detour.
“You don’t understand,” I pleaded. “I need those donuts!”
My wife said that I was “incredibly selfish” and I didn’t bother to argue. As we walked into the Miller’s drafty, dark kitchen I looked around and saw cookies, cakes, pies, fudge. Pretty much everything but donuts.
“Please tell me you have the maple-glazed donuts,” I said, to Yuri Miller, Sarah’s impressively gray-bearded, pencil-wielding husband and cashier.
“We sure do,” he said, pulling out a tray of a dozen of the massive, beautiful creatures from the back pantry.
I bought three of them, along with a loaf of pumpkin bread and the damage was just $4.25. I was worried that after all the donut fantasizing, they wouldn’t be as good as I remembered them but as soon as I bit into my maple glazed slice of heaven, my fears were immediately laid to rest. The donuts are as big as a baby’s head, but are as light and airy as a feather. The maple syrupy goodness is shear bliss. I asked Sarah what the secret to her insanely good donuts was.
“I really don’t want to tell you my secrets,” she said, “because if everyone knew how to make these, they wouldn’t be special.”
The Amish are obviously known for their austere lifestyle, but for me, a visit to the Amish of Cattaraugus County is all about decadence and indulgence. Aside from the donuts and baked goods, I also always stop at Malinda’s Candy Shop at 12656 Youngs Road in Conewango Valley. Malinda sells bags of incredible homemade chocolates- peanut butter bars, clusters, fudge and the like, all for about $3 a bag. Every few months, she pays someone to drive her into Buffalo to buy chocolate and then whips up the sweet concoctions in her tiny little kitchen, adjacent to her shop.
Cattaraugus County is well worth a visit even if you don’t have a sweet tooth. New York State has just started to promote the area’s “Amish Trail” as a tourist destination, but I’ve been visiting the area for years and have never seen a single tour bus. It’s a pretty area of rolling hills and muddy gravel roads with more horses and buggies than cars. The lively, historic ski town of Ellicottville is about twenty minutes north of the Amish Trail and is a great base to explore the area.
Because there are few tourists in the area, you’ll find that the Amish won’t shy away from talking to you, unless you try to take their photo. Aside from the sweets, you’ll also find handmade toys, dolls, rugs, quilts and furniture.
On my last visit to the region, after we left the Miller’s bake shop, my wife popped in a video for my toddlers in their matching backseat video consoles and it dawned on me that, to the Millers, we probably seemed like aliens from another planet. I gave one of the three donuts to my wife, who grudgingly conceded how dreamy it was. Maybe not worth selling one’s soul for, but certainly worth a 50 mile detour.