Pennsylvania Dutch Vegetables
Farming and Gardening as a Way of Life
To the Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch, vegetables are an important part of their way of life. To the farmer and gardener, the calendar revolves around the planting and harvesting of their vegetables and fruit.
Traditionally, the people of the region have been highly dependent upon the land and the harvest as a means of earning their livelihood. In fact, gardening and farming has become a big family industry in Pennsylvania Dutch country.
Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch families tend to be large with lots of mouths to feed. Therefore, it is a must to grow as much food as possible. To reach this goal, all members of the family participate in the farming chores: from planting to harvesting to preserving the produce. As a result of this hard work and dedication, the harvests are plentiful and the food lasts throughout the year until the next harvest.
For the inhabitants of the region, especially for the Amish and the Mennonites, farming and gardening is a practical illustration of their long-held religious, spiritual, and moral values.
Values such as the respect for life, devotion to nature, and the willingness to work hard have long been major tenets of the Amish and Mennonite people. It is no surprise, then, that the region is so well highly regarded for its abundance and quality of its Pennsylvania Dutch vegetables and fruit.
Harvesting and Preserverving the Vegetables
Although there is much work during the summer months, there is also much feasting as the vegetable grow, ripen and are picked.
Most of the Pennsylvania Dutch vegetables are harvested in the months of June, July and August. However, some of the produce such as peas, onions and asparagus begin to appear in May and earlier.
During late summer, the vegetables and fruit are canned and preserved. Many families have basements where canning shelves extend from the floor to the ceiling. Families also preserve their produce in frozen food lockers. Many Amish who do not use electricity from public utilities and do not own large home freezers, often rent freezers from the local grocery stores.
Serving the Vegetables
The Amish and the Pennsylvania Dutch cook their vegetables until they are soft. Only raw vegetables are served crunchy.
In general the Pennsylvania Dutch vegetable dishes are served simply. Most regional vegetables such as string beans, peas, carrots, asparagus, and cauliflower are served salted and covered with brown butter. Sometimes they are served with a cream or cheese sauce.
There are, of course, recipes that are unique to the Amish and the Pennsylvania Dutch region. Anyone visiting Lancaster County for the first or fiftieth time should sample these specialties whenever they get the chance.
Corn is a popular vegetable among the Pennsylvania Dutch. Among the many different ways it is prepared, corn fritters are a unique favorite to the region as well as to visitors.
There are two general varieties of corn fritters. The first consists of doughy little balls that are deep-fried and laced with corn. The second type is made by shaping a corn and batter mixture into pancakes which are then browned in a skillet. The second version tends to be more nutritious.
Essentially, corn fritters consist of grated corn, eggs, flour, shortening, baking powder and salt which are combined and browned in a skillet or deep-fried.
Sweet corn is often dried and canned as a means of preservation. When it is time to prepare, the dried sweet corn is soaked in warm water for about 1 hour until the corn becomes soft and the water is absorbed. Salt, sugar, milk or cream is then added and the mixture is boiled until the desired texture is achieved.
A corn pie is where a combination of corn, potatoes, hard-boiled eggs are poured into a pastry-lined pan. Flour, salt and milk are added until the vegetables are covered. Then a pastry covering is placed on top and the pie is baked for about 40 minutes.
The corn pie is similar to a chicken pot pie but without the chicken. It can be served as a stand-alone meal.
Peas with Knepp
Unlike Schnitz and Knepp which is a ham and apple dumpling dish, Peas with Knepp is a type of pea dumpling. It is made by first creating knepp dough out of flour, baking powder, shortening, milk, and salt. Meanwhile peas are boiled in a kettle for about 10 minutes. The knepp dough is spooned on top of the boiling peas and cooked uncovered for about 10 more minutes.
Peas and Knepp are usually served with brown butter.
Creamed celery is traditionally served at the reception following a wedding among the Amish community. One of the main reasons for this is that Amish weddings usually occur in November and December in Lancaster County and celery is one of the only fresh vegetables available during those months. Since celery is not grown in great quantities in the region, it is considered a delicacy and eaten on special occasions rather than at daily meals.
It is an Amish custom that when an Amish girl is planning to be married at the end of the year, the family plants an unusually large celery patch. Since Amish weddings are not usually formally announced until one or two weeks before the event, the planting of the celery becomes an informal announcement to the community of the upcoming blessed event.
This Amish as well as Pennsylvania Dutch vegetable dish is prepared by first cooking the celery along with water, sugar, butter, and salt until the vegetable is soft. The cooked celery is then heated in a cream sauce consisting of cream, brown sugar, and flour. Vinegar is also used to prevent the cream sauce from curdling.
Fried Oyster Plant
This Pennsylvania Dutch vegetable dish gets its name from the subtle oyster taste of the Salsify plant which grows in Eastern Pennsylvania.
To make the fried oyster plant, the Salsify plant is steamed until soft. It is then sliced and dipped in eggs and cracker crumbs. Next, it is fried in butter until it is evenly browned on both sides.
Salsify can also be sliced like a carrot, cooked until soft, and served in a soup.
Ever since the 1770's when the American wheat crop was threatened by the Hessian fly outbreak, potatoes became such an essential part of the diet in Lancaster County that they rivaled bread and noodles in popularity among the German settlers.
Even today, potatoes are regularly served from breakfast through supper. And, like the other Pennsylvania Dutch vegetables, the Lancaster County region has developed its own unique ways of preparing the potato dishes.
Potato cakes are prepared by first mashing the potatoes. Then, the potatoes are mixed along with eggs, flour, cream and onions. The mashed potato patties are then heated in shortening until brown on both sides. They are best eaten immediately after leaving the frying pan.
Riced Mashed Potatoes
Riced Mashed Potatoes are another popular Pennsylvania Dutch vegetable dish that every visitor to Lancaster County should try.
It is made by cooking, in a small amount of water, potatoes that have been peeled and cut into chunks. When the potatoes become soft, milk and salt are added into the saucepan.
Next, the potato chunks are mashed by hand with a manual potato ricer. Additional milk is added if the potatoes appear too stiff. As soon as the potatoes are formed into noodle-like strands, they are cooked some more in a covered skillet and browned with butter.
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