What PA Dutch Cooking Really is
- Ravenquille Mar 16, 2002 12:06 PM
I live in the famous PA Dutch Country, and have a good overall knowledge of PA Dutch-style cooking offered in PA Restaurants. The term captures everyone's attention, but many travelers are not really sure what PA Dutch Cooking really is.
Everyone has different likes and dislikes; making it very helpful to know what you will be swallowing before you do! If you are a Gourmet, or into spices, high flavors, and rich, decadent types of things, you will want to avoid PA Dutch-type Restaurants, for the most part. Primarily, what PA Dutch Cooking is,is Bland in the extreme, and overcooked in the extreme. In general, you will find little use of salt, pepper, or spices. Secondarily, you can expect to find alot of sugar and vinegar ( referred to as 'Sweet and Sour' ) used in preserved vegetables, relishes, potato salads, macaroni salads, and that sort of thing. Baked Goods are also very basic, and tend toward the bland side; oversweetening so that the taste of sugar is emphasized above all else. You will find nothing rich, buttery, flaky or decadent here! A good wet-bottom Shoo-Fly Pie is worth a try, because it is unique. You must give it a try if you are visting the area.
Beware of the 'PA Dutch Smorgasbord' kind of places unless you honestly do not mind prepared foods which are bland, overcooked, and over-vinegared/sugared; and baked goods and desserts which are bland and excessively over-sweetened with sugar.
"If you are a Gourmet, or into spices, high flavors, and rich, decadent types of things, you will want to avoid PA Dutch-type Restaurants"
Well, you won't find too many gourmets here.
Chowhounds don't look at what food ISN'T; we appreciate it for what it is, aiming to love and respect anything made with care and skill on its own terms and with utter disregard for any single set of assumptions. Using a single set of assumptions to judge all foods is snobbish and silly, and thankfully falling well out of style.
There are many routes to deliciousness. Buttery, flaky, decadent French pastries can be wonderful - when they're good - but are not the sole apple by which all oranges must be judged.
Throughout the history of food writing, there've been those who've penned statements like "Why must the Spanish use all that bloody olive oil?" or "Mexican food is so spicy that it's intended not to please the palate but to destroy it" or "East Asian restaurants present an inexpensive alternative to serious cuisine, for those who don't mind their food chopped up into little bits, baby-style...and too primitive to match with good claret"
We're past all that now. Deliciousness is deliciousness. Flexibility and an open (but discerning) mind yield many times the pleasure, and pleasure's what it's all about - both the superficial pleasure of pure gustatory enjoyment and the deeper pleasure of discovering dormant parts of yourself which resonate and spring to life via the partaking of other people's (or peoples') ways of doing things.
Okay Ravenquille, you've described the cusine of my dreams perfectly! All the spices, flakyness, and high flavors in the world couldn't make a food more perfect to my tastes than Kaufman's Pear Butter.
Now where do reccomend I go when I want to sit down to a meal of Amish cooking?
Let's get down to business here!
For those interested in an excellent book on what Pa dutch cooking is, its history, and great recipes, check out "Pennsylvania Dutch Country Cooking" written by William Weaver and published by Abbeville Press in 1993. Weaver explores the history behind each dish and its ingredients. It won numerous awards and is a great read and a great source of interesting recipes. It even shows how scrapple can be a highly respectable food!
Pa. Dutch cooking can be rich and delicious, but how often do you find a Pa. Dutch restaurant that prepares food the way grandma would cook it? Overcooked food covered in glop is fairly common. Ravenquille's point is that you have to choose your restaurant carefully in the Lancaster/Lebanon/York area. Perhaps the posters who wrote in defense of Pa. Dutch cooking could name a few good places.