Pennsylvania Dutch Cuisine

William Woys Weaver is a food historian who has written extensively on Pennsylvania Dutch food and culture.  He’s written a new book called As American As Shoofly Pie: The Foodlore and Fakelore of Pennsylvania Dutch Cuisine.  From an NPR article on the subject:

A rare 1961 cookbook (University of Pennsylvania Press)

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?

I don’t know, that all sounds pretty tasty to me. As for the Pennsylvania Dutch people, only a minority were Amish:

Weaver’s Famous Lebanon Bologna advertisement (University of Pennsylvania Press)

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.

“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.”

It’s interesting how the popular view of both the Pennsylvania Dutch people and food is shaped by servings of the culture heavily flavored by the Amish.

The article has some excellent images of old cookbooks, advertisements and tourist brochures featuring romanticized Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch imagery.

Anyone for hairy dumplings?

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    1. Forest

      I look forward to reading Mr. Weaver’s new book. J have several of his other ones dealing with heirloom gardening and cooking. All were interesting reads. He is currently working to preserve and propagate a number of scarce varieties including several grown by the Native peoples of the US, that have almost vanished.

    2. Galen

      PA Dutch Cuisine

      Thank you Erik for telling us about the book. I will surely be reading it. What I find sad is that when I visit Lancaster Co., no one knows what “schnitz-un-gnepp” is (never mind how to spell it). The Kling House used to have it on it’s menu (I’m dating myself) and I was told that Dienner’s sometimes has it as a special. My grandmother no longer cooks and it was always a childhood favorite. I tried eating at The Hometown Kitchen(Quarryville), and although it’s not on their menu either, on Friday nights the special is the “Amish Wedding Dinner”. It is a must for anyone finding themselves in the Bird-n-hand/Intercourse area.
      I have attempted to cook schnitz-un-gnepp and regretfully, the dumplings were more than just hairy! I guess something like this should be left for the women. Do Amish men cook?

      1. Do Amish men cook?

        Does grilling count? I know some Amish men do that. Kitchen cooking I have not seen much if any of.

        I wonder which places are making this bona fide PA Dutch cuisine. Some of it sounds like an experience.

        1. Galen

          LOL…….um, no. Grilling doesn’t count as I AM a good griller. I don’t recall any PA Dutch recipes that require firing up the grill. Also my dumplings would fall through the grates. But thanks for your input Erik. When you visit Poland, are old recipes (your favorite dishes) hard to find at the restaurants?

          1. Galen, sorry I missed this earlier. I am not an expert on authentic Polish cooking, but what I assume to be authentic can be found pretty easily. There are also some restaurants that specialize in “peasant food” (heavy on the buckwheat, pierogies, and so forth), as well as wild game. I’m not sure that Polish cooking evolves that dramatically and the traditional foods seem to be fairly easy to find, either in restaurants or on relatives’ dinner tables, especially at holidays. That’s my impression at least.

      2. Erin Pluimer

        When I visited an Amish community in MN a few months ago I commented on the beautiful pies. I was surprised to learn that one of the Amish men in their community bakes them and brings them to the community store to be sold on Saturdays. They were wonderful!

        I would love to do a blind study with Amish baked goods and see if I could tell the difference!

        I’ll pass on the hairy dumplings but I could go for some cashew crunch or glazed donuts!

    3. Robin Miller

      My mother had a copy of that first cookbook pictured. She probably bought it at the Amish Homestead on Lincoln Highway in Lancaster County(now long gone)… though the Amish Farm & House still stand up the road a bit farther out, right up against a Target. I sure do wish I had that cookbook, also long gone!

      1. Robin it caught my eye because it actually looks more like a comic book cover than a cookbook 🙂

        1. Robin Miller

          Yes, it does now that I look at it. I always loved it as a kid, so colorful and my early interest and fascination with the Amish. Is this your copy?

          1. No the image is from U of PA Press–there are quite a few more like it featured at the article I linked to.

            1. Forest

              I have found that one and similar ones on Ebay from time to time

      2. Barbara

        I still have the first cookbook. It was in my mother’s things when she moved into assisted living.

    4. LR

      Eric, thank you for posting this. I will definitely be getting this book. My grandmother has told me that we’re descended from Pennsylvania Dutch who were not Amish. I’d like to learn more about this culture and how my ancestors lived. Maybe this book will be a good start.

    5. Liz

      1950's cuisine

      Whenever I read “Amish” recipes they look like they are straight out of one of my mother’s 1950’s-1960’s cookbooks. Lots of mayonnaise, butter, cheese, and pies. “Salads” usually have boiled eggs and iceberg lettuce and very little other vegetables. Alot like my grandmother from Quebec used to cook for the fieldhands that worked their farm.

    6. KimH

      We were always told we were descended from PA Dutch too.. Its not known if they were Anabaptist or not.. Some of our ancestors were described as Puritans or Quakers.. but you know how stories can change over time & telling.

      I dont see anything in this area in the Amish restaurants that scream Amish, merely country style cooking. I have a few Amish cookbooks but the vast majority of the recipes arent anything different than any other Fund-raising type cook book by any one group. I’d love to get some true original old time recipes not laden with sugar, milk, & cheese.