Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking

Pennsylvania dutch cooking is a culinary delight. Try these recipes for Shoofly Pie and Schnitz un Knepp and a bit of history.

For any traveler fortunate enough to be passing through, or stopping in Lancaster Country, Pennsylvania, the culinary experience will be delightful. From a main course of Schnitz un Knepp to a dessert of Shoofly Pie, it will be a meal not soon forgotten.

The folks that originally started populating this area in the 1680s were Mennonites, Seventh Day Baptists, Moravians, Amish, and a few other groups. They were soon joined by Reformed and Lutherans. These Germanic groups brought with them the recipe secrets that make Pennsylvania Dutch cooking so well-known.

The term "PA Dutch" is not an accurate one since these groups are not from Holland. They are Germanic in heritage. There are a few theories about how this came about. One of those theories is that the German way to say "German" is "Deutsch." If these people referred to themselves as "Pennsylvania Deutsch," what he meant was Pennsylvania German. It is easy to see how it would eventually start sounding like the word "dutch."

Another possibility is that nearly all German immigrants arriving in Pennsylvania came from ports in places like Amsterdam and Rotterdam, both being in Holland.

There is a legend that George Washington enjoyed PA Dutch food and that his cook for the brutal winter at Valley Forge was a PA Dutchman. If the legend is indeed true, it's easy to see why our first president so enjoyed this kind of eating.

Foods he might have enjoyed could be Sauerkraut, Apple Dumplings, Chicken Corn Soup, Fastnachtkuche (raised doughnuts), Pannhaas (scrapple), and Boovashenkel (translated to "Boys' Legs").

One PA Dutch dish that is well known is called Shoofly Pie. It's like a molasses cake in a pie shell. Have a slice with coffee for the most tasty experience.

The recipe (one of many!) for this wonderful pie is as follows: Prepare a pie shell. For the bottom part, first combine 3/4 cup dark corn syrup, 1/4 cup King's molasses, and 1 cup boiling water. Stir in 1 teaspoon baking soda. In a separate small dish, beat 1 egg and stir a little of the molasses mixture into the egg, then add it to the mixing bowl with the molasses mixture. Set aside and prepare the top part in the following way:

Mix together 1 cup flour, 2 tablespoons shortening, and 2/3 cup brown sugar until it is the texture of coarse crumbs. Stir one cup of the crumbs into the molasses mixture and pour into unbaked pie shell. Sprinkle remaining crumbs on top. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes or until crust is lightly browned and the filling is puffy.

To try a beloved main dish from this delightful area of the country, try some Schnitz un Knepp. The translation is "Apples and Dumplings." You will need to start with 2 pounds of ham. A ham end or ham hock works well. Cook this in enough water to cover for about two hours. Add 2 cups of dried apples (that's the schnitz) that have been soaked in water overnight. Add them right in the water they soaked in. Also add 2 1/2 tablespoons of brown sugar. Make sure there's still enough water to cover.

Now it's time to make the knepp (the dumplings). Mix 2 cups flour, 4 tablespoons baking powder, 1 egg, 2 tablespoons butter, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 cup milk to make dumplings. Drop by spoonfuls into the fast-boiling mixture. Cover pan tightly and steam for 15-20 minutes. Serve by placing ham in the center of your serving plate, the schnitz circling the ham, and the knepp around the edge.

Another well-known treat from this area is the Funnel Cake. You will start by beating 3 eggs and adding 1/4 cup sugar and 2 cups of milk. Mix 2 cups of flour, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 2 teaspoons of baking powder and add it to the milk mixture. Mix, and adding more flour a little bit at a time until smooth and not too thick. It will take 1 to 2 more cups of flour.

Make your funnel with an opening of at least half an inch and large enough to hold about a cup of the batter. Holding the bottom shut, add a cup of batter. Let the batter come through the funnel opening and swirl batter in a pattern design in vegetable oil that has been heated to 375 degrees for deep frying. You'll want your cake to be about 7 inches in diameter. Use extreme caution any time when working with hot oil like this!

When the bottom of the cake is browned, turn it with tongs. When the other side is also done, use the tongs to remove from oil and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle generously with powdered sugar and eat when cooled enough so fingers won't get burned.

Many fine traditions have been brought to America by these Germanic groups starting over 300 years ago, but none so fine as the wonderful food that has become so popular.

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