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Subject: Elizabeth Coblentz, Amish columnist

of a suspected aortic aneurysm
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Date Posted: September 21, 2002 11:01:08 EDT

Elizabeth Coblentz, whose syndicated column "The Amish Cook" fascinated readers across the country with observations of life in her Old Order Amish community in Indiana, has died. She was 66.

Coblentz died Tuesday after collapsing at a book signing in Blue Springs, Mo. She was believed to have suffered an aortic aneurysm.

Her weekly column began in 1991 and appeared in about 100 papers, mainly in the Midwest. Penned by the light of a kerosene lantern in a house without electricity or running water, the column offered recipes for hearty, unusual dishes, such as Amish meatloaf, sauerkraut bread and dandelion jelly.

She began writing the column by chance when a 19-year-old college student in Ohio conceived the idea of a cooking column with old-fashioned appeal that would introduce Amish traditions to a broad audience.

Kevin Williams, the college student who went on to found Oasis Newsfeatures in Middletown, Ohio, had become interested in the Amish while working on a magazine story about the influx of Amish in Michigan. He began randomly knocking on doors in the Old Order Amish community near Fort Wayne, Ind., to find someone willing to write the column. He was greeted suspiciously by most of the women he approached until he met Coblentz, who had been writing for the Budget, an Amish newspaper, since she was 16.

Williams found that working with Coblentz posed unique challenges. Because she hand-wrote her columns, Williams was the one who typed them up and then e-mailed them to clients. Because she had no telephone and certainly no computer, he sometimes relayed editing questions by sending her flowers and enclosing his query ("How much sugar in that cream pie recipe?") on the card.

He edited lightly, preserving as much of the column's homespun flavor as possible.

Occasionally other editors would make adjustments for urban readers, altering instructions calling for steps such as slaughtering a hog for a recipe requiring pork.

Readers sought her advice not only about cooking but about a variety of domestic challenges, such as how to rid the garden of Mexican bean beetles (grow marigolds) and bud-chewing deer (sprinkle mothballs in the flower beds).

The column also offered vignettes about Coblentz's daily life of milking cows, baking, cleaning, ironing and sewing for her family of eight children and 36 grandchildren.

In a folksy tone, she wrote about events such as her daughters' weddings and deaths in the family. A few years ago, when she reported the death of her husband of 42 years, Ben, she received more than 2,000 sympathy cards and 1,500 e-mails.

She lived on a 100-acre homestead in northeastern Indiana, where she obtained water from a hand pump installed in a closet off the kitchen, and kept food cold in an outdoor icehouse.

She did not permit herself to be photographed, citing biblical prohibitions against "graven images." An occasional pizza delivery was one of her few bows to modernity. "I don't much miss modern conveniences," she once told an interviewer. "Our children are our television."

At an appearance in Quincy, Ill., just before she died, more than 400 women lined up, "waiting for her like a rock star," Williams said.

"She thought she was unworthy of attention," he added, "but she really had a following."

In November, Ten Speed Press of Berkeley will publish her book, "The Amish Cook: Recipes and Recollections From an Old Order Amish Family." Two earlier cookbooks, "The Amish Cook Cookbook" and "An Amish Christmas," are out of print.

Coblentz will be buried Monday in a simple Amish ceremony, her body carried by horse and buggy to a graveyard near her home.

Her column will be continued by one of her daughters.

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