A Look Back in History: Living in the PA Dutch Pot Pie belt of America

PA Dutch Pot Pie is made with homemade dough and cooked chicken broth.
PA Dutch Pot Pie is made with homemade dough and cooked chicken broth. Submitted photo

One might judge the true ethnicity of a Pennsylvania Dutchman, according to how he or she loves to eat our native chicken pot pie, the national dish of the PA Dutch in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Made with homemade dough and cooked chicken broth, it was 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 preferred ham or beef pot pie instead of chicken. Their 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, gave farmers a type of sustained energy required to go out to the farm fields to perform his or her daily tasks on long days.

Having met some ardent Dutchmen who lived north of Harrisburg, in the quaint territory of Higens Valley, most 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 venture to guess most, if not all, are tasty! One adventurous Dutch soul at the Macungie Fire Company in Lehigh County made their firehouse kitchen famous for serving “Clam pot pie” for its many volunteer members. This creativity turned into being a delicious recipe that brought their kitchen staff instant popularity in that local rural community and beyond. Although oyster soup had always been a traditional seafood favorite among inland Dutch farmers up to this time, no one had ventured to make something as delicious as clam pot pie in the Dutch country where clambakes always were very popular among our natives.

Richard Shaner, who lived in rural Macungie in the 1960s, also would comment on our back country research trips that many area Volunteer Fire Company kitchens enjoyed competing with one other to see whose menus would entice more of the local PA Dutch people as we patronized these worthwhile volunteer organizations. Therefore, citizens could either could dine at the firehouse social quarters on the weekends or take quarts of their popular pot pie home to be eaten later. Many of their talented farm women who once 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.

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Although these pot pie sales and farmer / firefighters have declined in numbers over the years, one needs only to look at our local merchandiser or Patriot to still find quality pot pie! But 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 passed down recipes down to their daughters. Traditional PA Dutch menus, which were once popular in the Dutch country, though have gone by the wayside and yet another example of how our early ethnicity has been replaced by fast food chains, catering and more convenient to younger generations in faster 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 most years, prepared by a joint group of villagers and the upper class of the High School, this a beautiful transfer of knowledge in culinary arts. Their proceeds have in the past been shared with unfortunate victims of fires unexpected hospital procedures, etc., a commendable group and supportive community!