United States Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch
1 GEOGRAPHIC SETTING AND ENVIRONMENT
The Amish make their homes in rural areas in twenty-two U.S. states and Ontario, Canada. The states with the largest Amish populations are Ohio and Pennsylvania. The oldest Amish community (and the one most familiar to non-Amish) is made up of about 16,000 people living around Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The Amish living there are primarily Pennsylvania Dutch (people of German descent), but not all Pennsylvania Dutch are Amish.
Deutsch is the German-language word for German, so the name Pennsylvania Dutch comes from "Pennsylvania Deutsch." The food of Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish are similar, due to their common German heritage.
2 HISTORY AND FOOD
The Amish have their roots in a Swiss religious sect that was part of the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s. It was called the Anabaptist movement, and its members lived simply, rejecting material wealth. At the end of the 1600s, a small group led by Joseph Ammann broke away from the Anabaptists. They migrated to France and later were called the Amish in honor of their founder.
In the early part of the 1700s, Amish families began arriving in North America. They founded large settlements in Pennsylvania. Gradually Amish settlements spread to Ohio, Indiana, and other states.
When they came to the New World (North America), the Amish brought with them the cooking traditions of their homelands in Switzerland and the Rhine River area of Germany. This heritage can be seen in the popularity of such traditional German foods as sauerkraut, and even in the Amish name for the evening meal, "Nachtesse" ("night eating"). However, Amish cooking was also influenced by life in America. Many Amish settled in areas where wheat, rye, corn, and barley flourished. Home-baked breads, desserts, and other grain-based foods came to play an important role in the Amish diet. Products of the rural areas where they settled, including eggs and other dairy products, poultry, fresh vegetables, and apples, also became Amish staples.
The Amish have continued to live simply, without modern conveniences such as cars and electricity. They also continue to prepare the simple, hearty dishes they learned from their ancestors.
3 FOODS OF THE AMISH
The Amish generally eat foods produced in their own gardens or on their farms. As a rule, they do not eat processed, store-bought foods, such as corn flakes or potato chips. Homegrown fruits and vegetables, eaten fresh, canned, or frozen, play a very important part in the Amish diet. Vegetables often found in Amish meals include peas, corn, zucchini, beets, beans, rhubarb, and many others. Cabbage and potatoes are especially important. Sauerkraut—a type of pickled cabbage—appears at many Amish meals
Amish main meals are usually built around hearty meat dishes, such as pork chops, ham, roast beef, or meatloaf. Dairy products, especially eggs and cheese, are also important dietary staples. The Amish are known throughout the country for the quality of the cheese they produce and market. Most Amish families keep at least a few chickens so they can eat freshly laid eggs all year round. In the wintertime, hearty soups are eaten regularly.
Amish women bake a great deal, preparing breads, cookies, pies, and cakes. The best-known Amish desserts include shoofly pie, sugar cookies, and schnitz pie, which is made with dried apples.
Favorite beverages include coffee, tea, milk, and lemonade.
Pork Chops with Sauerkraut and Potatoes
- 2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
- 6 pork chops
- Black pepper, to taste
- 6 small potatoes, peeled
- 2 cans (15-ounce each) sauerkraut, well drained
- 2 cans (15-ounce each) chicken broth
- Optional: several whole cloves
- Preheat oven to 300°F.
- In a saucepan, boil the peeled potatoes in salted water 6 to 8 minutes.
- Set aside.
- Grease a roasting pot and sprinkle half the onions in the bottom of the pan.
- Place the pork chops on top; sprinkle with the pepper.
- Arrange the potatoes around the chops.
- Top with the sauerkraut, add the stock.
- Drop in the whole cloves, if used.
- Cover and bake for 2 hours.
- Serve hot, adding some of the cooking juices to each serving.
Cream of Cabbage Soup
- ½ pound bacon, chopped
- 2½ pounds cabbage, shredded
- 5 cans (16-ounce each) chicken broth
- 1 cup half-and-half
- 2 teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- Swiss cheese, grated
- 1 onion
- In a large pot, fry the bacon until crisp over medium to high heat; remove and set aside.
- Add the cabbage and onion, reduce the heat to medium and sauté, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until the cabbage is limp.
- Add the chicken broth and simmer until the cabbage and onion are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.
- Stir in the half-and-half. Season with salt and pepper.
- Serve garnished with the bacon and cheese.
Serves 8 to 10.
- Frozen 9-inch pie crust, unbaked
- 1 cup flour
- ⅔ cup brown sugar, packed
- 1 Tablespoon cold butter
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 1 cup molasses
- ¾ cup cold water
- ¼ cup hot water
- 1 Tablespoon baking soda
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, butter, and salt.
- Remove ½ cup of the mixture and set aside.
- In a small bowl, beat the egg. Add the molasses and cold water. Stir and set aside.
- In another small bowl, mix the hot water with the baking soda and blend into the molasses mixture.
- Add to the flour mixture and mix well Pour into the pie shell and top with the reserved crumbs.
- Bake for 35 minutes.
- The pie filling will appear jelly-like but will firm up as it cools.
- Transfer to a rack to cool completely before cutting.
4 FOOD FOR RELIGIOUS AND HOLIDAY CELEBRATIONS
Instead of going to church, the Amish hold religious services in different people's homes every Sunday morning. After the service, there is a large Sunday lunch. A typical menu for this meal is homemade bread with butter, jelly or peanut butter; cheese cubes or a type of homemade cottage cheese called schmierkase ; pickles; an apple pie called schnitz pie; and coffee or tea.
The Amish are known for their strong family ties. Large family reunions are important occasions that include a bountiful Amish meal, with everyone bringing something. Like church services, Amish weddings are held at home. After the ceremony, a big festive meal is served on long tables set up all over the first floor of the house.
Special rectangular doughnuts called Fassnacht Kuche are baked on Shrove Tuesday, a day before the beginning of Lent. Mashed potatoes are used in the batter, making the doughnuts moist and tender. They are served with black coffee.
Spicy Oven-Fried Chicken
- ⅓ cup vegetable oil
- ⅓ cup butter
- ½ cup flour
- ½ cup bread crumbs
- ½ cup yellow cornmeal
- 1½ teaspoons garlic salt
- 1½ teaspoons paprika
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 4 pounds of chicken pieces, or about 14 pieces (legs, thighs, breast halves, wings)
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Put the oil and butter in a shallow pan and place it in the oven until it melts. Set aside.
- In a large paper bag, combine the flour, bread crumbs, cornmeal, and seasonings.
- Roll the chicken pieces, 3 at a time, in the melted oil-and-butter mixture, then drop them in the sack and shake to coat.
- Remove and place the coated chicken in the pan, skin side down.
- Bake for 45 minutes, flip the pieces and bake 5 to 10 minutes longer, or until the top crust begins to bubble.
- Serve hot or cold.
Serves 7 to 14.
Wedding Dinner Menu
Mashed potatoes and gravy
Bread and butter
Peachy Baked Apples
- 6 small apples, halved and cored, but not peeled
- 1 cup brown sugar, packed
- ¼ cup peach preserves
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ cup apple juice
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Place the apple halves cut side up in a 9x13-inch baking pan.
- In a small mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar, preserves, cinnamon, nutmeg, juice, and butter.
- Sprinkle over the apples and cover the pan tightly with foil.
- Bake for 30 minutes, or until the apples are just tender.
- Remove from oven and spoon the juice from the bottom of the pan over the apples.
- Return to the oven and bake, uncovered, for 5 more minutes.
- Serve warm or cold.
- ¾ cup sugar
- ½ cup margarine or shortening, at room temperature
- 1 egg
- ½ cup buttermilk or sour cream
- 1½ cups plus 3 Tablespoons flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Cut the margarine or shortening into chunks and place it in a mixing bowl.
- Add the ¾ cup of sugar. Blend well.
- Add the egg and beat the mixture again until smooth.
- Add the buttermilk or sour cream, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and vanilla.
- Stir with wooden spoon until creamy.
- Grease two cookie sheets.
- Drop the batter by teaspoonfuls onto the cookie sheets, keeping the cookies about two inches apart.
- Gently place a raisin in the center of each cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sugar.
- Bake for 8–10 minutes until the cookies are light brown.
- Transfer cookies to a rack to cool.
Makes about 2 dozen cookies.
5 MEALTIME CUSTOMS
The Amish eat a hearty breakfast. For the families of Amish farmers, the day starts early, with breakfast served around 6:00 A.M. A typical Amish breakfast might include eggs, cornmeal mush, pancakes, and homemade canned fruit.
Amish schools do not have cafeterias, so all of the students take packed lunches to school. Lunches usually include sandwiches made with bologna or leftover meat from dinner, such as beef roast or meat loaf. Peanut butter and jelly, pizza, or other leftovers may also be eaten. In the winter, homemade soups are taken to school in Thermos bottles, which keep them hot. Sometimes a casserole is taken to school in a wide-mouthed Thermos bottle. Lunches also include fresh fruit and home-baked cookies, cake, or pie for dessert. One popular dessert is an Amish specialty called Whoopie Pie, a cookie sandwich with icing in the middle.
On evenings and weekends, when the whole family is home, the main meal of the day (dinner, or "Middaagesse") is eaten at midday. On these days, a light supper is eaten in the evening.
At the end of the school year, Amish children have a picnic. Their parents take casseroles, salads, cakes, candies, and puddings to school. Often a tablecloth is thrown over the bottom of a big farm wagon. The food is spread out on top and everyone eats heartily.
Popular Amish snacks include soft pretzels, peanut butter and molasses spread on bread or crackers, and ice cream made from freshly fallen snow.
Snow Ice Cream
- 2½ quarts clean snow
- ½ cup milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup sugar
- When there are several inches of freshly fallen snow on the ground, scoop up just the top layer and pile it into a one-quart saucepan.
- Empty the contents into a mixing bowl; repeat, filling the saucepan a total of 2½ times.
- Gently mix in the milk, vanilla, and sugar until it has been completely combined with the snow.
- Serve immediately.
Peanut Butter and Molasses Spread
- ½ cup smooth peanut butter
- ¼ cup molasses
- Add ingredients into a mixing bowl.
- Stir well and spread on bread or crackers.
- 1 quart fresh strawberries, washed
- 4 cups sugar
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- Remove the stems and leaves from the tops of the strawberries. Cut berries into halves or quarters.
- Place in a three-quart saucepan. Stir in two cups of sugar, mixing it well with the berries.
- Place saucepan on stove and turn heat to medium. Heat until the mixture boils.
- Boil gently for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Remove from heat.
- Stir in the remaining two cups of sugar and the lemon juice.
- Place the pan back on the stove and cook the berries over medium heat for 10 more minutes, stirring frequently.
- Remove the pot from the stove. Leave the jam in the saucepan, covered but unrefrigerated, for 24 hours.
- Spoon it into clean jelly jars and refrigerate until you are ready to use it.
Old-Fashioned Spicy Lemonade
- 3 Tablespoons grated lemon zest (yellow part of the lemon peel)
- 4 cups sugar
- 4 cups water
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- ¾ cup lemon juice
- Lemon slices
- In a saucepan, combine the lemon zest, sugar, water, and cinnamon sticks.
- Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat.
- Reduce heat and simmer uncovered, for 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat and cool.
- Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth.
- Add the lemon juice to the sugar syrup.
- Transfer to a large jar or pitcher and refrigerate until ready to serve.
- To serve the lemonade, fill a tall glass with ice. Measure ¼ cup (4 Tablespoons) of the prepared mixture into the glass, add 1 cup of cold water, and stir.
- Garnish with lemon slices.
6 POLITICS, ECONOMICS, AND NUTRITION
Amish families generally receive adequate nutrition from their diets, although some nutritionists report that their diet may be slightly too high in sugar and carbohydrates. Because Amish rarely marry non–Amish, they have experienced a higher incidence of birth defects caused by genetics. (In simple terms, some types of birth defects are more common when the mother and father have similar genetic make-up.) To try to minimize these birth defects, Amish families have learned more than the average American families about genetics. Also, because they have not often married outside their own cultural group, medical researchers have invited Amish people to participate in research studies involving genetics and genetically transmitted diseases, such as diabetes.
7 FURTHER STUDY
Adams, Marcia. New Recipes from Quilt Country. New York, NY: Clarkson Potter, 1997.
Good, Phyllis, and Kate Good Pellman. Amish Cooking for Kids. Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 1999.
The Budget. P.O. Box 249, Sugarcreek, OH 44681. (330) 852-4634. Amish newspaper.
Holmes County Traveler . P.O. Box 358. Millersburg, OH 44654. (330) 674-2300. Bimonthly magazine about Holmes County, Ohio. [Online] Available http://www.gpubs.com/traveler/ (accessed July 31, 2001).
Amish Country Foods. [Online] Available http://www.amishfoods.com (accessed April 16, 2001).
Amish Net. [Online] Available http://amish.net/ (accessed July 31, 2001).