Learn to cook a central Pennsylvania staple
Although my mother was Italian, she learned to cook my father’s favorite dishes from her mother-in-law. Shoofly pie, red beet eggs, boiled pot pie, dandelion salad — these were ordinary dishes when I was growing up. Not until I moved away from home did I learn that this was traditional Pennsylvania Dutch fare.
As all locals know, the term Dutch is a corruption of Deutsch, or German. The first settlers emigrated from the German-speaking areas of Europe before 1800 to escape religious persecution. Lured by William Penn’s promise of religious freedom, they settled in Pennsylvania.
Along with their language, the settlers brought their cuisine. Heavy on meat and starches, it was meant to fill stomachs for a long day of work on the farm.
It also showcased the frugality of the immigrants. Nothing was wasted. Hogmaw is a typical example. A pig’s stomach was used as a vehicle to be filled with a mix of potatoes and other savory ingredients. Scrapple is a mixture of leftover pork parts cooked with cornmeal.
Although my mother drew the line at hogmaw and let my father fry his own scrapple, she generally embraced and mastered the local cuisine. My father also made some concessions. In the spring he foraged for cardoons (a relative of artichokes), so that my mother could enjoy her seasonal treat.
Below is a recipe for a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch potato salad. Since commercial mayonnaise wasn’t available on the farm, German housewives made their own “boiled” dressing. The name is a bit of a misnomer because allowing it to boil will curdle the eggs and ruin the dressing.
The amount of sugar in boiled dressings varies according to taste. If your favorite deli brand is sweeter, feel free to increase the amount of sugar.
Pennsylvania Dutch-style Potato Salad
2 pounds Yukon Gold or red-skinned potatoes
2 celery stalks, diced
3 hard-boiled eggs, diced
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon flour
Cook the potatoes whole with their skins in salted water. Be careful not to overcook or you won’t be able to cube them. Drain the potatoes. When cool, remove the skin with your fingers, and cut the potatoes into 3/4-inch cubes. Add the chopped celery and hard-boiled eggs.
To make the dressing, whisk together the beaten egg, vinegar, sugar, water, celery seed and salt. In a medium-size saucepan, melt the butter over a medium-low flame. When the butter is melted, stir in the flour, and cook for a minute. Stir in the egg mixture, and raise the flame slightly. Stirring constantly, cook for about 10 minutes or until the dressing has thickened. Let cool.
Gently toss the dressing into the cooked potatoes. Chill for about an hour before serving.
— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.