Foodways

No More Fakelore: Revealing The Real Pennsylvania Dutch Cuisine

  • Tourist establishments like the Dutch Haven restaurant in Ronks, Pa., marketed "Dutch" culture with windmills, even though the roots of Pennsylvania Dutch culture lie in Germany and Switzerland.
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    Tourist establishments like the Dutch Haven restaurant in Ronks, Pa., marketed "Dutch" culture with windmills, even though the roots of Pennsylvania Dutch culture lie in Germany and Switzerland.
    Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Press
  • The Amish are just one part of Pennsylvania Dutch culture, but decades of tourism marketing, as shown in this 1950s brochure, have made Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch synonymous in the minds of many.
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    The Amish are just one part of Pennsylvania Dutch culture, but decades of tourism marketing, as shown in this 1950s brochure, have made Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch synonymous in the minds of many.
    Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Press
  • The Apfel & Wenrich die-cut cookbook in the shape of an Amish girl. Lancaster, Pa., 1933.
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    The Apfel & Wenrich die-cut cookbook in the shape of an Amish girl. Lancaster, Pa., 1933.
    Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Press
  • Cabbage was, and still is, essential to Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine. This 1878 card caricatures a prosperous "Dutchman" with his meerschaum pipe and drumhead cabbage.
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    Cabbage was, and still is, essential to Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine. This 1878 card caricatures a prosperous "Dutchman" with his meerschaum pipe and drumhead cabbage.
    Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Press
  • In the 1930s, "groundhog lodges" like the Grundsau Lodge in Allentown, Pa., were created to preserve the Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch dialect and traditional foods. The lodges met on Feb. 2, continuing the old German tradition of predicting weather based on the groundhog's first appearance in spring.
    Hide caption
    In the 1930s, "groundhog lodges" like the Grundsau Lodge in Allentown, Pa., were created to preserve the Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch dialect and traditional foods. The lodges met on Feb. 2, continuing the old German tradition of predicting weather based on the groundhog's first appearance in spring.
    Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Press
  • No self-respecting Pennsylvania Dutch family would have eaten near a hot and smoky cooking hearth; the kitchen was in a separate room. This romanticized view of an Amish family meal is from Ann Hark's 1943 children's book, The Story of the Pennsylvania Dutch.
    Hide caption
    No self-respecting Pennsylvania Dutch family would have eaten near a hot and smoky cooking hearth; the kitchen was in a separate room. This romanticized view of an Amish family meal is from Ann Hark's 1943 children's book, The Story of the Pennsylvania Dutch.
    Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Press
  • Here's the Punxsutawney groundhog, busy prognosticating the weather back in 1911.
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    Here's the Punxsutawney groundhog, busy prognosticating the weather back in 1911.
    Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Press
  • Farmer's almanacs were widely read. This 1943 edition portrays an idealized Amish couple on the farm, a sunnier version of American Gothic.
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    Farmer's almanacs were widely read. This 1943 edition portrays an idealized Amish couple on the farm, a sunnier version of American Gothic.
    Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Press
  • Amishness is deployed as a marketing tool for bologna in Lebanon, Pa. Neither hex sign designs nor the "Dutchified" English dialect in this advertisement is Amish, or Pennsylvania Dutch.
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    Amishness is deployed as a marketing tool for bologna in Lebanon, Pa. Neither hex sign designs nor the "Dutchified" English dialect in this advertisement is Amish, or Pennsylvania Dutch.
    Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Press
  • Weekend trips from the city to eat chicken and waffles and other "country" fare have been popular for many decades, as this 1937 menu cover for the German Village in Lancaster, Pa., reflects.
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    Weekend trips from the city to eat chicken and waffles and other "country" fare have been popular for many decades, as this 1937 menu cover for the German Village in Lancaster, Pa., reflects.
    Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Press
  • Cover of a now-scarce 1961 Amish Dutch cookbook, written by Ruth Redcay and published by Ben Herman of Kutztown, Pa.
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    Cover of a now-scarce 1961 Amish Dutch cookbook, written by Ruth Redcay and published by Ben Herman of Kutztown, Pa.
    Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Press
  • Edna Eby Heller, a native of Lancaster, Pa., helped popularize 20th century Pennsylvania Dutch dishes like chicken and corn soup in five cookbooks. Here, the cover of a 1974 edition of her Dutch Cookbook.
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    Edna Eby Heller, a native of Lancaster, Pa., helped popularize 20th century Pennsylvania Dutch dishes like chicken and corn soup in five cookbooks. Here, the cover of a 1974 edition of her Dutch Cookbook.
    Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Press

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News flash: Whoopie pies are not indigenous Pennsylvania Dutch food, no matter what the tourist traps say. Nor are the seafood bisque, chili, roast beef and other dishes crowding the steam tables at tourist restaurants in Lancaster County, Pa.

Instead, how about some gumbis, a casserole of shredded cabbage, meat, dried fruit and onions? Or some gribble, bits of toasted pasta akin to couscous? Or some schnitz-un-gnepp: stewed dried apples, ham hocks and dumplings?

Fifty-three-hundred pounds of drumhead cabbage on its way to sauerkraut near Roaring Spring in Morrisons Cove, Blair County, Pa., Oct. 17, 1912. i i

hide captionFifty-three-hundred pounds of drumhead cabbage on its way to sauerkraut near Roaring Spring in Morrisons Cove, Blair County, Pa., Oct. 17, 1912.

Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Press
Fifty-three-hundred pounds of drumhead cabbage on its way to sauerkraut near Roaring Spring in Morrisons Cove, Blair County, Pa., Oct. 17, 1912.

Fifty-three-hundred pounds of drumhead cabbage on its way to sauerkraut near Roaring Spring in Morrisons Cove, Blair County, Pa., Oct. 17, 1912.

Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Press

All are iconic Pennsylvania Dutch fare, according to William Woys Weaver, author of a new tome on Pennsylvania Dutch food, As American As Shoofly Pie.

The book's subtitle, The Foodlore and Fakelore of Pennsylvania Dutch Cuisine, suggests that Weaver, who grew up with a grandfather who spoke to him only in the dialect Pennsilfaanisch Deitsch, is not taking a wholly reverent look at his native cuisine.

Indeed, Weaver seems to have had a ripping good time unmasking the fake Pennsylvania Dutch tourist culture, with its hex signs (bogus) and windmiills (faux) and buffets designed to fill up busloads of tourists on a budget.

Funnel cakes, considered by many to be echt Pennsylvania Dutch, were a rare holiday treat until they were popularized as a fundraiser at the Kutztown Folk Festival in the 1950s, Weaver says.

Well, so much for tradition.

At the same time, Weaver has taken seriously his mission to rediscover the foods of his ancestors, interviewing hundreds of people over 30 years. A food historian, he directs the new Keystone Center for the Study of Regional Foods and Food Tourism.

Pennsylvania Dutch, he notes, isn't a synonym for Amish. Instead, it's the culture of people who came from Germany and Switzerland in the 17th and 18th centuries and settled in southeastern and south central Pennsylvania.

Some were Lutherans, some Anabaptists, some Mennonites. Some were rich enough to eat hasenpfeffer, rabbit braised in wine. Some were "buckwheat Dutch," so poor they rarely ate meat and got by on "hairy" dumplings, made with shredded potatoes that stuck out when the dumplings were boiled.

A typical Buckwheat Dutch two-room log house circa 1896. i i

hide captionA typical Buckwheat Dutch two-room log house circa 1896.

Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Press
A typical Buckwheat Dutch two-room log house circa 1896.

A typical Buckwheat Dutch two-room log house circa 1896.

Courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Press

"Because they were poor, they had to be creative," Weaver says. "They were eating ramps. They were eating wild asparagus. They were eating huckleberries. Of course, the Victorians wanted everything in white sauce and looked down their noses at [that food]. But we can see it as something very close to the land."

That authenticity, Weaver says, is something that can be used to create a "new Dutch cuisine." He's talking to chefs in Pennsylvania about incorporating traditional Pennsylvania Dutch dishes into their menus. "There's good stuff out there," he says. "It just needs to be uncovered."

The recipes in the book should help; they include familiar-sounding fare like Punxsutawney spice cookies, and surprises like peach and new potato stew.

Then there are the one-pot dishes, like that gumbis. It was a frugal meal that could be cooked on a hearth or a stove. It wasn't rare for rural families to eat it without plates or silverware, Weaver says, by dipping chunks of bread in the communal pot.

"They're sort of fun for people who want to sit around and pick at things out of the pot," Weaver says. "We even have a word for eating that way. We call it schlappichdunkes — messy gravy."

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