A Look Back in History: Helping the community with PA Dutch cuisine

Preliminary butchering was done in the barnyard and knives used to scrape off hair and dirt. Here, the farmer and company, most likely some of his boys help in the butchering of the 500 hundred pound swine.
Preliminary butchering was done in the barnyard and knives used to scrape off hair and dirt. Here, the farmer and company, most likely some of his boys help in the butchering of the 500 hundred pound swine. Photo by H. Winslow Fegley. Courtesy Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center, Pennsburg, PA.
Hogs were an integral part of the PA Dutch diet, including fresh (seen here) or smoked sausage, 
popularly used in sausage stews, appreciated in cold, winter months.  But a frugal Dutch family never wasted anything, including pig parts as many of our PA Dutch folk people always subscribed to the adage “Waste Not, Want Not!”
Hogs were an integral part of the PA Dutch diet, including fresh (seen here) or smoked sausage, popularly used in sausage stews, appreciated in cold, winter months. But a frugal Dutch family never wasted anything, including pig parts as many of our PA Dutch folk people always subscribed to the adage “Waste Not, Want Not!” Photo by H. Winslow Fegley. Courtesy Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center, Pennsburg.

With a number of the senior citizen cooks who have backed our local fire company kitchens retiring from civic organizations, we can only hope they have past their recipes down to their daughters and other kin. Traditional PA Dutch menus, which were once popular in the Dutch Country, have gone by the wayside. Coupled with how our early culinary ethnicity has been replaced by fast food chains, catering and convenient more to younger generations in rush rush times. But of all the community groups that have raised revenue through traditional, community Pot Pie dinners is the Oley Valley Community Benefit Association that boasts an attendance of 1,500 or more people to eat or take out a gourmet meal prepared by a joint group of villagers and the junior class of the Oley Valley High School; a beautiful transfer of knowledge in culinary arts.

Their proceeds have been shared with unfortunate victims of fire hazards or unexpected hospital procedures; a commendable group and supportive community. These farmwomen and Oley Valley citizens working with the high school students share their PA Dutch expertise to make their community stronger and between the years of 2000-2016 have collected an astounding total of over $160,000 that was donated back to this rural community, just on pot pie sales alone.

Another popular dish among the Pennsylvania Dutch, always eaten on New Year’s Day as a good luck meal, was pork and sauerkraut. As a collector of all things PA Deitsch in the vast Dutch country, I frequently would see a notice hosting a typical PA Dutch pork and sauerkraut dinner at a Church social hall, and am reminded about how many local farm auctions in which I attended where I once saw so many sauerkraut tools among the PA Dutch. Not only large wooden cabbage slicing boards, but many huge sauerkraut crocks used to ferment this popular farming dish; and their counterparts, long handle huge wooden stumpers in which farmwives and children pressed down various layers of shredded cabbage to ferment properly to be eaten with potatoes and pork in the cold winter months.

The family supply of pork was raised in their pig stable where the piglets were often fed with table scraps from the household wastes. Hogs were an integral part of the PA Dutch diet, including fresh or smoked sausage, popularly used in sausage stews, as well appreciated in cold, winter months. But a frugal Dutch family never wasted anything, including pig parts and their prized crocks of sauerkraut! So on New Year’s Eve, it is not surprising that a frugal or wise Dutch family decided to eat the last remaining kraut that had been fermenting from the previous season. It was a Dutch proverb that a successful Dutchman would eat pork and sauerkraut to bring him good luck in the ensuing New Year, but many of our folk people always subscribed to the adage “Waste Not, Want Not!”

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This folk practice over the years had created a yearning by our folk people never to forget this dish on New Year’s Day. In Berks and Lehigh counties, natives raised and ate a huge quantity of potatoes and cabbage, which was a common dish eagerly eaten by the farming class of people. But anyone who is native to this culture also enjoys eating pickled cabbage and coleslaw, besides our national folk dish of pork and sauerkraut! As with all ethnic food dishes; the difference between a good pork and sauerkraut vs. mediocre types, is if the dish was prepared by a PA Dutch housewife who followed a gourmet recipe.