Pennsylvania Dutch Meat


The preparation and taste of Pennsylvania Dutch meat had been created by the German settlers who emigrated to the area during the 18th and 19th centuries. These settlers had been raised in a lifestyle where meat was a major part of the diet. These small farmers did not possess a lot of grazing land while in Germany. Therefore, they had been required to raise and breed hogs which took up less grazing space than cattle.

Once they came to Lancaster County, these settlers were able to acquire a great deal more land than they had in Germany. At the time land was still plentiful and cheap. As a result, the small farmer was able to raise beef cattle as well as hogs.

The Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish farmers even tried to raise sheep. They got the idea from some of their English neighbors whose English traditions favored mutton. However, the Pennsylvania summers were generally hotter and more humid than in England and the sheep-raising was not very successful. Furthermore, the Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish people did not take to the taste of mutton.

Nevertheless, the rich land and relatively-mild spring and summer climate were very beneficial to raising hogs and cattle and the small farmer thrived.

Prior to the 1830's, these German farmers sent most of their butchered meat to the markets in Philadelphia and Baltimore. They kept only a small portion for themselves.

Things began to change with the advent of the railroads in the 1830's. These railroads brought competition from the large cattle-growers of the Midwest and West. These large cattle-growers were able to undercut the smaller farmers of Lancaster County.

Since it was no longer profitable to sell their Pennsylvania Dutch meat to the markets of Philadelphia and Baltimore, the small, Pennsylvania farmer focused on selling their meat locally.




Butchering the Meat

At one time, each and every farmstead butchered their own meat. It usually took all day to butcher the meat. In fact, neighbors and extended family members often dropped by to help in the process. Nowadays, commercial butchers do most of the butchering for Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish families.

Nearly every piece of meat was used by the Pennsylvania Dutch cooks. This was especially the case with pig meat. The loins and ribs of the hogs were prepared into chops and roasts; the the fronts, sides, and hindquarters were smoked; large scraps were made into sausage; smaller scraps were seasoned and mixed with cornmeal to make scrapple. Moreover, the feet were boiled with vinegar and spices and made into souse. Finally, the fat of the pig was made into lard for cooking.

Likewise, most of the cow meat was served as well. Leftover meat was made into bologna or smoked and made into dried beef.


Curing and Smoking the Pennsylvania Dutch Meat

After the meat is butchered, it is usually cured. This is done by rubbing salt brine into the meat. After the curing is completed, the meat is taken into a smokehouse which is fired by hickory chips, green stumps, or fruit wood.

It is extremely important to keep the fire in the smokehouse at the correct temperature so the smoke could adequately penetrate the meat. If the temperature is too high the meat would begin to cook; if it is too low, the meat would freeze.

Depending upon the size of the cuts, smoking would take anywhere between 24 hours to a full week to complete. The meat is then wrapped in muslin and put into the attic.

Although the flavor of home-cured meats taste superior to that of the meat prepared in supermarkets, home-curing has largely become a thing of the past. People are just too busy to afford the time and care necessary to properly home-cure and home-smoke their meat. Therefore, just as commercial butchers have taken over that part of the meat preparation, most locals find it easier and cheaper simply to purchase their meats directly from the supermarket.


If you would like to learn more about the Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish food available in Lancaster County, please see the following:

Pickled RelishPiesPotato SaladSauerkrautVegetables





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