By Adrienne McGee Sterrett
It’s not often you can sum up a place in one word, but that’s the word for Log Home Traditions.
Mervin and Beverly Shirk work very hard to be sure you feel nothing but relaxation when you make a visit.
And hunger. Hunger is important.
The Shirks operate Log Home Traditions, between Elida and Delphos on state Route 309, out of their home that Mervin built from several log cabins that date to the 1800s. They serve from-scratch meals to diners hungry for both great food and reminiscing.
“When people come here, there is an atmosphere of relaxation,” Mervin said. “There’s just a sense of satisfaction … just to see them enjoying the meal and just the atmosphere.”
He explained they visited a similar business several times before taking the leap themselves.
“Every time we walked in there, I was like, ‘Mom, I’m home,’” he said.
The Shirks, both 54, have been serving meals at their home for seven years. Mervin, who is originally from West Liberty, came to Lima for college. That alone was a leap, as his father was the first man in his Mennonite family to get an off-the-farm job.
“They’re all farmers. They’re all at home,” he said.
He and Beverly met here — she started baking for him, and he was done in — and Mervin worked as a mechanic at an auto dealer. They prepared baked goods for farmers markets and Old Thyme Pantry and meals for monthly service meetings, with both enjoying kitchen work. When the economy took a downward turn, Mervin left his job.
“We prayed a lot about it because it was a leap of faith,” he said. “We just felt the doors open.”
Beverly had concerns but wanted to follow God’s leading.
“I said we had a good marriage, and I wanted to keep it,” she said, wondering what it would be like to be together all the time. But the concerns ended up disappearing, as they’ve both settled in easily to the different routine.
Not to say it hasn’t had its scary moments. They printed brochures for their dinners and handed them out all summer at farmers markets. There was not a single phone call.
“We just sat down and prayed about it,” Mervin said. “We had two phone calls that day.”
“It was a sign,” Beverly said.
The calls came from customers of Old Thyme Pantry, in Elida. The right people had to discover them. Since then, the business has succeeded mainly through word of mouth.
Another learning experience was how busy they like to be. They tried doing meals twice a day — offering lunch and dinner to two different parties on the same day — but it left no time for them to relax. Simply doing the dishes afterward is a big task.
“It took the fun out,” Beverly said. Once they understood that they were the ones in control of how full their reservation book is, the joy returned.
“It’s fun as long as he continues to enjoy doing bread,” Beverly said, nodding in the direction of their son, Paul, who they have hired. He was not still for one moment — and he couldn’t be, as one bread batch makes 18 loaves. He bakes six kinds of bread, both to serve at meals and to sell.
What does Paul enjoy about being the bread baker?
“I like eating it,” he said, laughing. But it’s the challenge of it, getting the timing right so everything rises how it should, and loaves are ready to go in the oven when loaves are ready to come out.
Paul doesn’t help serve at meals; his role is in the kitchen, behind the scenes. While the kitchen is around the corner, he still feels connected.
“Just hearing people and listening to their conversations, it’s so much fun,” Paul said.
“They said they love watching us as a family to work together,” she said, realizing that the modern family’s dynamic can be quite different than theirs.
Lives are busy, schedules are full, people are scattered. But a Log Home Traditions meal invites people to slow down, gather around the same table and relax and share.
“The one thing that you do have here is you have a reason for families to come together,” Mervin said.
“I have a sign out there that says ‘enter a stranger, leave a friend,’” Beverly said. “We have met so many nice people. … There’s still a lot of good people out there.”
Nothing makes them happier than hearing their granddaughters’ career goals.
“When they get older, they want to work for Log Home Traditions,” Mervin said.
A glimpse at a recent week’s pie work:
Old Thyme Pantry — 83 9-inch pies and 43 6-inch pies
Moulton Country Store — 30 or so
The Mennonite schoolhouse benefit auction was happening, so they made 47 pies for that.
The usual schedule:
Fridays or Mondays — bread and cinnamon roll frostings
Tuesdays — stir up pie crust and whatever else might need done
Wednesdays — roll out pie crust, bake pecan and old fashioned cream pies
Thursdays — bake pies and cinnamon rolls
Friday mornings — bake cream pies for sale at shops
3 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups pumpkin
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
2 cups milk (She uses 2/3 of a cup evaporated milk then fills to 2 cup mark with regular milk)
2 unbaked 9-inch pie shells of your choice
Preheat oven to 425 F.
Put eggs in blender. Spin for a moment. Add rest of ingredients and mix to combine. Pour into pie crusts.
Bake for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 F and bake 40 to 45 minutes.
1 20-ounce can crushed pineapple
Water, about 1/3 of the empty pineapple can; and 1/4 cup water, divided
1 cup sugar
4 tablespoons cook type Clear Jel or cornstarch (Note: Clear Jel will result in a better-looking pie, as cornstarch will result in a cloudy filling. But cornstarch works just the same.)
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon butter
Unbaked 9-inch pie shell of your choice, plus dough for top crust
Preheat oven to 350 F.
In a small bowl, mix the sugar, Clear Jel and salt. Add 1/4 cup of water and stir until thickened. Set aside.
Pour the pineapple and its juice into a saucepan with the can measure of water. Heat on the stovetop to a low boil. Add sugar mixture. Stir constantly until thick. Add butter.
Pour into crust and add top crust, pinching the edges to seal. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until golden brown.
OLD-FASHIONED CREAM PIE
2 cups whipping cream
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup sugar
Cinnamon, to taste
Unbaked 9-inch pie shell of your choice
Preheat oven to 425 F.
Warm the whipping cream to lukewarm, either in a microwave or on the stovetop.
Mix the flour, sugar and salt well. Pour the cream into the dry ingredients, and whisk together until incorporated. Pour filling into the pie shell. Sprinkle about a pinch of cinnamon on top. Bake for about 9 minutes.
Turn down oven to 350 F and continue to bake about 25 to 35 minutes or until set.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The filling is simply mixed together, not whipped. This pie is done when cracks appear in the filling along the outside edge and the middle is set, not jiggly.
LOG HOME TRADITIONS
6700 Elida Road, Lima
• A minimum of eight guests are required for meals. Lunch is served Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Dinner is served Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Suggested donation per plate is $15 for lunch and $22 for dinner. Meals are served family style, and the person making the reservation sets the menu. Visit loghometraditions.com for menu items.
• The Shirk family Christmas is celebrated the third weekend of January, so Christmas decor stays up quite a while. The reservation book can be full during holidays, so be prepared to be flexible when making plans.
• Dessert special orders are due on Tuesdays, or shop at Old Thyme Pantry, Elida, for items ready to be picked up Fridays and Saturdays.