jump to navigation

Real Amish Recipes May 16, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
Tags: , ,

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.

               Rhubarb Applesauce

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.

              Funeral Pie

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,




1. Melanie - May 16, 2008

This was another wonderful post that I thoroughly enjoyed. As a child my parents brought me often to Pennsylvania to visit various Amish sites. Both of my parents are from Germany and my dad especially loved the food and gentle ways of the Amish people.

Homemade applesauce is served at almost all of our holiday meals and I can’t wait now to try adding the Rhubarb. I don’t have any growing here yet but will get to it someday.

Thanks, Melanie! The history and cuisine around here are fascinating. Just make sure you use the reddest rhubarb stalks to make your applesauce really glow! (I actually know some people who put cinnamon red-hots in their applesauce to get a nice red color.)

2. Benjamin - May 16, 2008

Well, this all looks gross. This kind of food reminds me of growing up (ages 0-9) in Oklahoma, where most of my family were of the mennonite tradition (Germans from the Ukraine, came in the late 1800s, settled OK after it opened wioth the Homestead Act). No offense, btw, when I say these recipes look gross. It’s a tradition of using what you have, isn’t it? And getting used to it? Reminds me of a time in my life when I could only eat mashed taters and lemon lime gatorade. I now love gatorade. Yuck.

Eeeewwww, Gatorade! Kept here in our first-aid kit to revive heatstroke victims (including pets). Mashed potatoes, on the other hand… yum!!! And I know, when we first moved up here, a lot of the food seemed scary because it was so different from the down-home Southern foods we knew and loved. It took many years before we’d even try a pickled beet, much less a red beet egg, or that other local favorite, apple butter on cottage cheese (which to us was a savory food to be mounded on ripe tomatoes with salt and, if you were being super-decadent, a dollop of mayonnaise). But you know what? Apple butter on cottage cheese is delicious, and so are pickled beets and red beet eggs. Just goes to show you, I guess…

3. deb - May 16, 2008

Great post. I loved the rhubarb pie a college rooommate used to make, but never learned ot do it myself. Maybe I should get on with it.

Rhubarb pie is *so* good!!! But oh, rhubarb-custard pie is heavenly!!!

4. flowergardengirl - May 17, 2008

My favorite part of the post was you setting everyone straight on us not really being Dutch!;) No such thing as Pennsylvania Dutch…just good old German sounding like they were saying Dutch–bravo!!! Another reason for me to be a friend of Silence Dogood!!!

I read all the recipes and sure remember my Nana making some of this stuff but my favorite is the applesauce. I love rhubarb too and all that sugar we put in it!!! Us Southerners like our sugar tea and all–you all!!!

So true! I swear, sugar and salt are the only things that keep Southerners upright in all that heat and humidity. (Even up here!)

5. Cinj - May 18, 2008

Mmm, those recipes sound good. I’ll have to try the rhubarbs applesauce with my kids, they love applesauce. I hope my rhubarb is ripe for harvet in 3 weeks without having gone to seed.

Corn chowder sounds yummy too.

Corn chowder *is* yummy, Cinj! Corn pie (savory, not sweet, and usually served with some warm milk poured over each slice) is, too! you’ll have to try them sometime!

6. Tom and Liane Young - August 8, 2008


Looking for a recipe for making Butterkase, (Amish Butter Cheese). Might you have one?

We have looked all over the internet with no success.

Thank you for your help,

Tom and Liane Young
Kush-Hara  Farm and Goat Dairy
29227 General Rodes Lane
Rhoadesville, VA 22542
540 854-7114
“Live simply so others can simply live” 

7. phyllis loveday - August 18, 2008

i need a recipe for plant food can you help me
phyllis loveday
553 1st. ave.
gallipolis ohio, ohio 45631

i wold also like help in growing african violets

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: