During the colonial days, less
successful farmers envied the success of these German farmers.
Many resented that they spoke German. Even their customs and
their customs allowed their English neighbors to ridicule.
The German language name for
German is �Deutsch,� thus �Deutschland� is Germany.
Their English neighbors called them �Deitsch,� �Dutch,�
and often �Dumb Dutch.�
Actually, the term Pennsylvania
Dutch distinguishes the Swiss and Low Country German settlers
from the later nineteenth-century German immigrants.
Nevertheless, in those early
years the name separated these people from their neighbors, set
them apart cruelly, and sealed them into a double isolation of
distance and language. For solace, they turned to their music
and handicrafts. It is the origin of �Pennsylvania folk art.�
In the beginning, these early
settlers were too busy to worry about what their neighbors
thought of them. �Think what you please,� ran one of the
adages, �but not too loud.� Another was �Better die eating
However, when the Revolution
began, these people took the side of freedom. Although they
continued to be peace loving, they knew that need to win their
freedom and to hold on to it. The sects that would not permit
the bearing of arms maintained hospitals or collecting supplies.
The Revolutionary cause made large use of their skills, and
their voices heard.
Pennsylvania rifles made by
these German craftsmen turned the tide in many battles.
Pennsylvania�s cannon and cannon balls cast in Pennsylvania
furnaces were essential to victory. The fate of the nation
depended upon Pennsylvania�s Conestoga wagons, creaking into
Valley Forge, heavily laden with Pennsylvania�s stone-ground
flour, or loaves of freshly baked bread.
History tells us that General
Washington�s cook at Valley Forge that long winter was a
Pennsylvania German. When Washington returned to Mount Vernon,
he took with him a fondness for Pennsylvania cookery that lasted
his lifetime. He was not the only one, for soldiers from other
colonies, had learned to enjoy German cooking. They went home
and raved about it. Meantime, the Quaker and Scotch-Irish
neighbors of these Pennsylvania German housewives, learned to
bake, preserve, and pickle. Many considered Pennsylvania German
cookery to be the best in the land.
This cooking had come a long
way from the valley of the Rhine, from the villages of
Switzerland, and from the towns of Alsace. To fully develop in
the New World required herds and the harvests for milk, butter,
and flour. At first, they were luxuries in the new land.
They called these beginning
dishes �poor man�s dishes.� However, the memory of good
food does not die and as better times arrived, they returned to
their grandmother�s techniques. From the closets, came their
old handwritten cook books and they began to study and practice
the old methods of cookery.
With bumper crops, they
experimented with the fruits and vegetables found in the New
World. They were encouraged to add some of their own recipes to
their grandmothers in the same German writing. As a result,
Pennsylvania German cookery developed.
Many Pennsylvania German cooks
still use their handwritten cookbooks. Except that nowadays,
they usually write in English. Just like the old ones, you are
likely to find a table of measurements in the front and a few
household remedies in the back. They skip the everyday recipes,
but there is a rash of rules for cakes and pies, sweets and
Mrs. Showalter won the blue
ribbon at the country fair for her marble cake, so Mrs.
Showalter�s technique is carefully noted. The fact that the
cookbook already contains several recipes for marble cake makes
no difference. It is baking nuances and the tricks of famous
cooks, which are all-important. Aunt Katie uses �eating
molasses� in her cake. Mrs. Weaver bases here success upon a
certain kind of sugar � so various recipes for the same cake
must be included.
In the best-liked dishes, the
problem of measurements arises immediately. Pennsylvania German
cooks give little thought to proportion and measures by feeling.
Cooking is instinctive, and �butter the size of a walnut,�
�one and a half eggshells of water,� �flour to stiffen,�
and �as large as an apple� are their measurements.
Standardization can take the life right out of a good
The cupful: it may be the
uniform measuring cup, but it is more likely to be a teacup that
has lost its handle or a coffee cup � large, cracked one that
still has its uses. You cannot be sure, with their measurements,
but you strive for accuracy and hope for luck. For Pennsylvania
German cooking, is a combination of practicality, imagination,
The typical Pennsylvania German
menu is generous and satisfying. You do not take their menus
lightly. They may have come from the Old World, but they lost
certain continental flourishes to the demand of pioneer life and
adapted to become farm food. Even with the addition of many
ingredients now available, it is much the same today as in the
beginning, they are hearty size meals. Therefore, unless you
have a formidable appetite, you should try this one recipe at a
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