Pennsylvania Dutch Culture
Have you ever noticed the phrase “Famous Dutch Taste” on the front of our products’ packaging and wondered what it meant? Well, it refers to the Pennsylvania Dutch heritage of south central and south eastern Pennsylvania. Unless you live in Lancaster or the surrounding counties, you might be unfamiliar with the history and traditions of this unique region.
One common misconception is that the term “Pennsylvania Dutch” is related to Holland when, in fact, it is derived from the German word “Deutsch,” meaning “German.” Sometime between the 1600s and the 1800s, immigrants from German-speaking regions of Europe came to America, many of them seeking religious freedom. Among these people were two distinct groups: the “Fancy Dutch” or Lutherans, and the “Plain Dutch” of Anabaptist denominations including Mennonite, Amish, Dunker, and Brethren. The culture of present-day Pennsylvania Dutch Country inherits lasting traditions from both groups.
Take a scenic drive through Pennsylvania Dutch Country and you’ll notice many signs of this centuries-old heritage. Watch for plenty of farmland and be on the lookout for a horse and buggy. Or see if you can spot a hex sign painting on the side of a barn; these are a form of folk art practiced by the “Fancy Dutch.” (Look familiar? Take a closer look at Martin’s bread and roll packaging!) And you’re sure to spot a number of Amish markets and smorgasbord or family-style dining restaurants.
Pennsylvania Dutch Cuisine
PA Dutch food is all about home cooking. It epitomizes “comfort food” here in the Keystone State with its hearty soups, hand-made pies, and fresh-from-the-farm produce (the original “farm to table”). PA Dutch cuisine is a mix of the old and the new: it adopts the traditional cooking methods of its homeland while using the ingredients available in the “new world.” The food is wholesome, not-too-fancy, and perfected through generations.
Take a look at some traditional PA Dutch dishes and try some out for yourself!
- Apple Butter – A thick fruit spread spiced with cinnamon and cloves.
- Chicken Corn Soup – A heartier version of chicken noodle soup made with fresh picked corn, egg noodles, and rivvels (small dumplings).
- Chicken Pot Pie – Unlike other recipes, PA Dutch pot pie does not have a crust. It is a thick stew with wide, flat noodles and chunks of chicken, potatoes, and various vegetables.
- Chicken and Waffles – Unlike the Southern version, which includes fried chicken and maple syrup, the PA Dutch version is a savory one of plain waffles topped with stewed chicken and gravy.
- Fastnachts – Raised doughnuts traditionally eaten on Shrove Tuesday.
- Ham Balls – A form of meatballs made with ground ham and pork. Try the recipe below!
- Lebanon Bologna – A type of cured and smoked sausage, similar to salami, developed in Lebanon County, PA.
- Pork and Sauerkraut – A customary German meal that is often enjoyed on New Year’s.
- Potato Filling – A cross between mashed potatoes and stuffing, typically served as a casserole.
- Red Beet Eggs – Pickled eggs made with beet juice, vinegar, sugar, and salt.
- Schnitz un Knepp – A ham or pork dish with dried apples and dumplings.
- Scrapple or “Pannhaas” – A breakfast staple made from pork trimmings and cornmeal, typically served fried.
- Shoofly Pie – A sweet molasses pie with a crumb topping.
- Spaetzle – Egg-based pasta that is a cross between noodles and dumplings.
Want to learn more? Take a trip to PA Dutch Country to learn more about the plain people or to enjoy a family-style dining experience. Then head over to Chambersburg, PA to tour Martin’s visitor center.
More PA Dutch-Style Comfort Food:
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