Pennsylvanian Dutch Traditions Worth Borrowing
Easy-to-cook food, mindful ingredients and a heritage of hospitality.
Pennsylvania’s rural culinary traditions are immediately associated with German and Dutch settlers. The dishes that come to mind are hearty, winter-warming ones like sauerbraten, brown-butter noodles and schnitzel. To some extent, this is accurate. The Pennsylvania culinary community, however, wants everyone to know that while its staples may be humble, the richness of its farmlands and diversity of produce is on par with anywhere in the country.
“Pennsylvania always has been and still is very agriculturally rich. Food traditions come right from the land,” says Carrie Havranek, author of “Tasting Pennsylvania: Favorite Recipes from the Keystone State.”
Lancaster, famous as the heart of Amish country, is also nicknamed “Garden Spot of America” due to the importance of farming. Lancaster Central Market is the oldest, continuously operating indoor farmers market in the country. But many other parts of rural Pennsylvania are farmlands. Easton Farmers Market, located in Havranek’s hometown, is the oldest, continuously operating open-air market. It’s been open since 1752.
“Anywhere you go,” continues Havranek, “there’s proximity to a farm.”
In the fall and early winter, there’s an abundance of pumpkins and squash, leafy greens and root veggies, mushrooms and shelling beans. Local restaurateurs are big on creamy vegetables soups and heirloom grains on fall menus, as well as slow-cooked, braised, large-format dishes Havranek categorizes as “easy food.” Many of these roasts and casseroles were originally served to hardworking farmhands, but now bring comfort to all.
The state’s abundance of beautiful, locally grown food elevates even the simplest traditional recipes to special occasion classics at fine dining restaurants—those in big cities like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, as well as those where the ambience is woodsy and peaceful. At the historic Lodge at Woodloch, the menu of signature dishes is extensive enough to warrant a cookbook—with recipes ranging from Old Country traditional into the realm of spa cuisine.
“Woodloch is rich with history and steeped in tradition. The founding family of Woodloch was of German heritage, which influenced dishes early,” says chef George Schmidt. “We try to keep our eyes on the future of cuisine and dietary restrictions, but remain with one foot in the past to keep traditions alive.”
Pennsylvania’s restaurateurs understand well that classic dishes achieve that status because people don’t tire of them. Though restaurants all over the state are sourcing mindfully and plating beautifully, most diners never get tired of a still-warm-from-the-oven Amish soft pretzel or a simple Pittsburgh Salad with homemade dressing.