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Simple Foods, Deliciously Prepared- PA.Dutch Style

Guest Author - Sandy Moyer

Here's a bit of history and basic information to help explain the Pennsylvania Dutch style of cooking. Pennsylvania Dutch recipes often leave much to the imagination. Most have been passed down from one generation to the next by word of mouth or in handwritten notes which were passed from mother to daughter. Each cook had her own interpretation of pinches, handfuls and heaping cups, enough sugar to sweeten, and flour to stiffen.
The Pennsylvania Dutch are not really "Dutch", as they are not from the Netherlands. Immigrants to the area in the 18th and 19th centuries were primarily Germans and German speaking Swiss. Pennsylvania Dutch country includes Berks County, Lancaster County, and areas of York, Lebanon and Lehigh Counties. The German word for German is "Deutsch". When Pennsylvania pioneers called themselves "Pennsylvania "Deutschmen", they meant that they were "Pennsylvania Germans", which somehow evolved into "Pennsylvania Dutch".

Public interest in the Amish and the Mennonites, spurred by the tourist industry and the media, have given many people the impression that all Pennsylvania Germans are "Plain People". Actually, the the Amish and related Mennonite sects make up only about 10 percent of Pennsylvania Germans.

Early settlers were mostly farm folk who lived off the land. Economy was a necessity, and that led to the creation of tasty dishes using only foods which were found locally. Vegetables grown on the fertile farmland were preserved for year round use. Some vegetables were dried and others were preserved in a salt brine, a method used today by many gardeners and home-canners to turn cabbage into sauerkraut. Creative farm women made luscious fruit pies, custards, and rich creamy desserts from bumper crops of fruit and berries and a plentiful supply of milk, cream, butter and eggs. All these things led to the creation of the Pennsylvania Dutch style of cooking.

Dough balls such as dumplings, rivels and assorted homemade noodles were used in countless recipes. such as Chicken Pot Pie. This delicious main dish is still a local favorite today. Pot Pie are squares of dough dropped into a pot of boiling broth, and cooked with meat, usually chicken. Potatoes, celery, onion and sometimes carrots are also added. Turkey, beef, and ham are also used to make Pot Pie.

Salads are slso plain and simple ... usually salad greens, topped with slices of hard-boiled eggs and a cooked, sweet and sour, bacon dressing. This cooked salad dressing is also used on dandelion salad. Real "Dutchmen" still head for the fields in early spring to pick dandelion leaves, while they're still sweet and tender. The same dressing is used throughout the year on endive, garden lettuce and other leafy greens.

According to folklore, a well-laden feast should include a first course of "seven sweets and seven sours". A few restaurants in Pennsylvania Dutch country serve home-style meals and continue this tradition. An array of sweet or spiced fruits, spreads, and preserves is served along with tangy salads such as coleslaw, pepper cabbage, and pickled foods.

Many things are pickled around here! Red beets are pickled and eggs are then pickled in the red beet juice. Chow chow is a medley of vegetables, pickled and preserved in a sweet and sour dressing. Yellow string beans are pickled. Peaches are sometimes pickled.

Even meat is pickled...as in pickled souse or pickled pig's feet. I've never tried these oddities myself, but I can remember my grandfather, long ago, coming home from early morning trips to market every Friday morning, with these special treats in his basket. Though he encouraged me to try some, I was never quite brave enough, but my Mother would often sit at the kitchen table and join him. The two of them would share a pickled snack, leaving none until market day next week. Tripe, souse, pig's feet and other pickled delicacies, made from less than desirable animal parts, are still sold in local farmers markets today. I'm sure there are still some vintage Dutchmen around who go to market every week to buy them from their favorite butcher.

Scrapple, a popular local breakfast meat, as legend has it, got that name because it was originally made with the scraps from the butcher shop floor. Bits and pieces of various pig parts were ground up, blended with a filler such as corn meal, cooked and formed into a loaf. Scrapple, which is made from USDA inspected meat today, is cut into slices about 1/2" thick, then fried. It's sometimes eaten with ketchup, syrup, or apple butter on top and served with eggs for breakfast.

A variety of smoked meats, such as home-cured hams, slabs of bacon, smoked sausage and smoked dried beef have been enjoyed by generations of the Pennsylvania Dutch. The most popular lunch meats sold around here in both supermarkets and farmer's markets are Lebanon bologna and Sweet Lebanon Bologna, two versions of smoked beef bologna. Lebanon bologna sandwiches, can now be enjoyed in a wider area, after many years of being strictly a local favorite.

No Pennsylvania Dutch meal would be complete without delectable desserts. Family gatherings often have a variety of end-of-the-meal treats. There's fruit desserts, creamy puddings, cakes, pies, pies and more pies. See A Sampling of Pennsylvania Dutch Pie Recipes.

Pennsylvania Dutch home cooking is a tradition of "wonderful good" food made from simple ingredients. It's deliciously prepared today, just as it was in years gone by... using fine old recipes, passed from generation to generation.


For more about Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, check out these cookbooks...

Pennsylvania Dutch Cook Book
The recipes in this book provide the tastes of Pennsylvania German culture and Pennsylvania Dutch cooking traditions. With over 350 recipes, it's an excellent introduction to every aspect of Pennsylvania Dutch cookery from appetizers to desserts.

Amish-Country Cookbook
This must have cookbook features a large variety of Amish recipes for every course of every meal, for any occasion. The recipes are easy to prepare using simple ingredients.
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Chicken Pot Pie - Chicken & Dumplings
A Sampling of Pennsylvania Dutch Pie Recipes
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Content copyright © 2013 by Sandy Moyer. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Sandy Moyer. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Allyson Elizabeth DŽAngelo for details.

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