A Look Back in History: Living in the PA Dutch pot pie belt of America

Chicken pot pie

One might judge the true ethnicity of a PA Dutchman, according to how he loves to eat his native chicken pot pie, the national dish of the PA Germans in southeastern Pennsylvania. Made with homemade dough and cooked chicken broth, it is a very hearty meal consumed in the winter weather, mostly. But if you are a Dutchman living in a different part of the state where it is very cold, you might be one of the regional natives who prefers ham or beef pot pie instead of chicken.

There recipes not a hastily dish with leftover ham or beef, but can be a gourmet dish with ham or beef simmered with homemade pot pie dough seasoned in a way that rivals the best chicken pot pie recipe one has ever tasted. The dish, full of complex carbohydrates, can give the farmer a type of sustained energy required to go out to the farm fields to perform his or her daily tasks on these long days.

Having met some ardent Dutchman who live north of Harrisburg, in the quaint territory of Higens Valley, they were confident that their families homemade ham pot pie was the best recipe of all alternative types found in the Dutch country Pennsylvania. However, since our native PA Dutch housewives are among the best Pot luck creative cooks in early America. I am sure there are many pot pie concoctions never experienced by the best conservative chicken pot pie or turkey pot pie cooks, but I bet most, if not all, are tasty!

But one courageous Dutch soul at the Macungie Fire Company in Lehigh County made their firehouse kitchen famous for serving Clam pot pie among its many volunteer members. This creativity turned into be a delicious recipe that brought their kitchen staff instant popularity in that local rural community and beyond. Although oyster soup has always been a traditional seafood favorite among inland Dutch farmers up to this time, no one has ventured to make something as delicious as clam pot pie in the Dutch country, where clambakes are very popular among our inland natives.

Richard Shaner, who lived in rural Macungie in the 1960s, also reaffirmed that many area Volunteer Fire Company kitchens enjoy competing with each other to see whose menus would entice more of the local PA Dutch people to patronize these worthwhile volunteer organizations. Therefore, citizens either could dine at the firehouse social quarters on the weekends or take qaurts of their popular pot pie home to be eaten later. Many of their talented farm women who ran these PA Dutch Volunteer Fire Company kitchens were admired for their generosity, as well as their husbands, who actually fought neighborhood fires in the community, becoming a social force for good in a vast rural territory. Although these pot pie sales and farmer / firefighters have declined in numbers over the years, one needs only to look in their local merchandiser or Patriot to still find quality pot pie!

However, with a number of the senior citizen cooks who have backed our local fire company kitchens retiring from civic organizations, we can only hope a pastor recipes down to their daughters. Traditional PA Dutch menus, which were once popular in the Dutch country, have gone by the wayside. Thus, another example of how are early ethnicity has been replaced is by fast food chains, catering and convenient more to younger generations in rush, rush times.

Of all the community groups that have raised revenue through traditional, community pot pie dinners is the Oley Valley Community Benefit Association that can boast 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!

Elaborating, these farm women 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 2000-2013 have collected an astounding total of $126,718.40 that was donated back to this rural community, just on pot pie sales. Pretty amazing!

One thing that has baffled me, that has brought on minor ridicule or quizzical looks by family and friends, namely my late grandmother and boss is my liking to add white distilled vinegar to my chicken pot pie and a decent portion. I would like to hear from the readers if anyone else does this or the possible origins of it. Im not sure who I picked this up from, but it adds a great tartness to an already flavorable taste! Just curious and adding to our folklore, as always. Thank you!

Richard L. T. Orth is assistant director of the American Folklife Institute in Kutztown.