Real Amish Recipes May 16, 2008Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
Tags: Amish recipes, Mennonite recipes, Pennsylvania Dutch cooking
Silence Dogood here. The best-known “Amish” recipe, for Amish friendship bread, isn’t really Amish at all—at least, as far as I can tell. (See my earlier posts, “Amish friendship ‘bread’” and “Amish friendship bread gone wild,” for more on that.) Certainly, it’s not in any of the Amish cookbooks I own. But that doesn’t mean that the Amish don’t have a rich culinary tradition with lots of specialty recipes. I’m going to give you a few today that I think you’ll want to try.
This part of Pennsylvania is Amish country. The stores in the nearby town of Kutztown all have railings where the Amish can tie their horse-drawn buggies, and our friend Ben and I have often admired a glossy horse, waiting patiently at the rail, while on our way to do our own shopping. Both Amish farmers and their older spiritual cousins, the Mennonites, have stands at the Kutztown Farmers’ Market where our friend Ben and I shop faithfully every Friday or Saturday. (One sells homemade baked goods, pickles, and farm-fresh butter; another cheeses, jellies, home-baked breads, and meats; a third fresh fruits, veggies, cider, and pantry staples; a fourth veggies from their greenhouse and gardens, hanging baskets, veggie transplants, and bedding plants. One elderly couple specializes in root crops, homemade sauerkraut, and cut flowers.)
How did these German and Swiss-German groups, the Amish, Mennonites, Moravians, and others, collectively known as “Pennsylvania Dutch” (for “Deitsch,” or “German,” in their dialect), end up here in Pennsylvania anyway? Well, the founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, was keen to welcome these hardworking, responsible, and often-persecuted religious groups, with their reputation for integrity and skill, to his fledgling colony. And in turn, they were delighted to come to the rich Pennsylvania farmland and enjoy religious toleration after decades of persecution. They created a rich culture, both “Plain” (Amish, Mennonites, and other groups who chose to live apart from mainstream society) and “Fancy” (Pennsylvania Germans of other religious persuasions who saw no need to separate themselves from the mainstream). As a result, this area has a colorful cultural legacy, including everything from the famous “hex signs” that still adorn area barns to fabulous quilts to a distinctive regional culinary tradition.
If you’d like to explore Amish or Pennsylvania Dutch foodways for yourself, here are five great books to get you started: William Woys Weaver’s beautifully researched and photographed Pennsylvania Dutch Country Cooking (Abbeville Press, 1993); Wanda E. Brunstetter’s Amish Friends Cookbook (Barbour Publishing, 2007); The Beverly Lewis Amish Heritage Cookbook (Bethany House Publishers, 2004); Esther H. Shank’s Mennonite Country-Style Recipes & Kitchen Secrets (Herald Press, 1987), which won a Benjamin Franklin Award from the Publishers Marketing Association; and Jeff Dietrich and Lucetta Trexler Muth’s Folk Art and Foodways of the Pennsylvania Dutch (Albany Township Historical Society, 2006).
Let’s look at some of those recipes! I can’t look at Will Weaver’s book without wanting to share all the recipes—the photographs make everything look fantastic!—but I’m going to choose an unusual and intriguing soup, since soup’s always a good place to start. (Note that this is clearly not an Amish or Mennonite dish, since it contains wine, but it is an old, authentic Pennsylvania Dutch recipe.)
Green Apple Soup
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup white breadcrumbs
2 cups sliced leek
8 ounces unripe green cooking apples, peeled and cored
3 cups apple wine or a fruity white wine such as a Vidal
3 fresh bay leaves
1/2 cup finely chopped sorrel
1 cup finely chopped lettuce
1 cup finely chopped purslane (leafy part only)
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 cup heavy cream
minced fresh mint or lemon thyme
Put the oil in a deep saucepan and brown the breadcrumbs in it over medium-high heat. Add the leek and cook 3 minutes or until soft. Puree the apples in a food processor and add them to the crumb and leek mixture. Add the apple wine, 5 cups of water, and the bay leaves. Cover and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes. Then add the sorrel, lettuce, and purslane. Cook no more than 2 or 3 minutes, just enough to heat the herbs. Taste and season with salt, then set the soup aside to cool.
Once the soup has cooled, refrigerate until cold. Just before serving, add the cream and garnish with minced mint or lemon thyme. Or serve with chopped tomatoes, allowing 1/2 cup per serving. (The photograph shows the soup in bowls with chopped red tomatoes and it is gorgeous!—Silence.) Yield: 6 to 8 servings.
Note: Where purslane is unavailable, double the amount of sorrel and add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice as a substitute.
Moving on from soup, here’s a real Pennsylvania Dutch specialty, Pickled Red Beet Eggs. As the authors of Folk Art and Foodways of the Pennsylvania Dutch explain, “It is said that Pennsylvania soldiers introduced red beet eggs to the world. Mothers sent jars of the ruby colored eggs along with their sons when they left home.” This is their recipe.
Pickled Red Beet Eggs
2 cans cooked young red beets with juice
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup vinegar
1 cup cold water
3 small pieces cinnamon stick
4 whole cloves
6 hard boiled eggs, shells removed
In a saucepan, gently cook the beets in their juice with the rest of the ingredients—except the eggs—for about 10 to 15 minutes. Let the beets steep in this mixture for several days, refrigerated. Remove the beets and put the liquid in a jar large enough to hold it and the eggs. Add the eggs and refrigerate for at least 2 days. Serve cold. (Hmmm—they don’t say what to do with the beets. Wonder if you could heat and eat them, or slice them onto a salad?—Silence)
People (including me and our friend Ben) tend to think of sweet potatoes as a Southern crop, but they’re grown here in PA Dutch country and enjoyed in a wide range of traditional dishes. Here’s a favorite from Esther Shank’s Mennonite Country-Style Recipes & Kitchen Secrets:
Sweet Potato Biscuits
Sift together into a bowl:
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
5 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
Cut in until crumbly:
1/2 cup shortening
Combine and then stir into mixture:
1 1/4 cups cooked mashed sweet potatoes
1/3 cup milk (more or less*)
(*Amount of milk may vary slightly depending on how stiff the sweet potatoes are. Sweet potatoes should be mashed without adding any liquid.) Knead slightly. Roll to 1/2-inch thickness and cut with biscuit cutter. Place on greased baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees F for 12 to 15 minutes. Yield: 18 to 20 large biscuits.
Since moving to Pennsylvania, our friend Ben and I have learned to love rhubarb, one of the area’s signature crops. But we became especially enamored of this “spring tonic” plant when we learned that it was introduced to the Colonies by none other than our hero, Ben Franklin, in 1770. (Geez, what didn’t the guy do?!!) We love rhubarb in rhubarb custard pie, rhubarb crisp, as a preserve with strawberries, and in rhubarb upside-down cake. But I’m going to give you a very simple recipe here for classic Rhubarb Applesauce. Back in the day, this would have been a great way to use up those last stored apples while taking advantage of the new rhubarb crop. If you’ve never made applesauce from scratch, you’ll love how easy it is! This recipe is also from Folk Art and Foodways of the Pennsylvania Dutch.
4 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 medium apples, peeled, cored and chopped (Use crisp, tart apples like Granny Smith, not Red or Yellow Delicious.—Silence)
1 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
In a medium saucepan, mix rhubarb, apples, sugar, and 1 cup water. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally until rhubarb and apples are broken down and soft. Remove from heat, stir in butter and vanilla. Serve cold or at room temperature. (Note from Silence: If you’re harvesting your own rhubarb, remember that rhubarb leaves are poisonous. Make sure you only use the stalks and compost the leaves.)
Ready for dessert? Here’s the regionally famous “Funeral Pie,” a favorite at post-funeral gatherings because it’s quick to make and keeps well. The recipe for this one is from Wanda Brunstetter’s Amish Friends Cookbook, courtesy of Esther Stauffer of Port Trevortown, PA.
1 cup raisins
2 cups hot water
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 tablespoons flour
1 egg, well beaten
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 (8 inch) unbaked pie shell and pastry strips for lattice top
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Wash raisins and soak in hot water for 1 hour or longer. Drain. Add remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly. Cook in top of double boiler until thickened. Cool. Pour into pie shell and weave pastry strips over filling to make lattice top. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes, lower temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking until pastry is nicely browned.
Sheesh, there are so many other classic Amish and regional recipes—dumplings, sauerkraut, braised red cabbage, potato filling, chow chow, fried tomatoes with milk gravy, potato corn chowder, roasted squash soup, Dutch cole slaw, red pepper and cucumber salad, creamy dandelion dressing, bread and butter pickles, beet relish, corn pie, shoofly pie, sticky buns, corn fritters, potato bread, fastnachts—the list is endless! I guess I’ll just have to share some more of these regional classics in a future post. Meanwhile, try some of these and let me know what you think of them!
‘Til next time,