Pennsylvania Dutch Food
What is Pennsylvania Dutch Food?
PA Dutch food refers to the traditional cuisine of the Pennsylvania Dutch people, who are mostly of German and Swiss descent. Known for its hearty and comforting nature, PA Dutch foods reflect a strong German influence.
Many PA Dutch dishes are filling and provide a sense of warmth and satisfaction. This cuisine often involves from-scratch cooking, where dishes are prepared from basic ingredients rather than relying on pre-packaged or processed foods.
Some popular dishes in this heritage include shoofly pie, chicken pot pie, and scrapple. Emphasizing seasonal and local ingredients, PA Dutch food features a blending of German culinary practices adapted to suit American preferences.
Are "PA Dutch" and "Amish" the Same Thing?
"Pennsylvania Dutch" describes Americans of German and Swiss ancestry, particularly those who settled in Pennsylvania. The term "Dutch" originated from "Deutsch," meaning German. Despite the name, these individuals have a rich German cultural and linguistic background.
The Pennsylvania Dutch community is largely made up of descendants of German-speaking immigrants who arrived in Pennsylvania during the 17th and 18th centuries. (If you look at the history of the Amish, you'll notice that many of them have Swiss-German roots.)
The PA Dutch folk are known for their distinctive culture, including their unique dialect of the German language. They brought with them their language, traditions, and culinary practices.
Today, the term "Pennsylvania Dutch" is used to describe the descendants of these early German immigrants and includes both Amish and non-Amish communities in which their cultural influence is still present, especially in parts of southeastern Pennsylvania.
While the terms "PA Dutch" and "Amish" are often used interchangeably, they refer to different aspects of the culture in Pennsylvania.
"Traditional Pa Dutch recipes", "Amish recipes", and "Mennonite recipes" are all very similar though. They all have PA Dutch roots, having been passed down through several generations.
Pennsylvania Dutch Recipes
While most PA Dutch recipes are similar, there are many and varied recipes for the same dishes. Every cook adds their own twist and recipes evolve over the years.
Amish cooking has also evolved a lot over the years. While you can expect to find many traditional dishes such as mashed potatoes, and meatballs served at Amish dinners, you will also find Amish cooks serving pizza, Mexican dishes, etc. (I wrote another article about Amish food.)
Today, I'm sharing links to recipes that are specifically PA Dutch food. Some of these dishes may require a trip to PA Dutch country to experience them.
Having grown up in eastern Pennsylvania and then moving to Missouri, I could no longer purchase some things I grew up with. However, in recent years, we had a group of PA Dutch people (horse and buggy Mennonites) move into our area from Lancaster County. They opened a bulk food store and carry some PA Dutch foods, which makes me happy.
Most Popular PA Dutch Foods
There are a few popular PA Dutch foods that I don't have a recipe for, but I'll tell you about them.
#1. Lebanon Bologna
Lebanon bologna is a distinctive PA Dutch delicacy named after Lebanon County, where it originated. The combination of curing, smoking, and seasoning gives Lebanon bologna its characteristic taste, making it a flavorful and beloved part of Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine.
Lebanon bologna is commonly enjoyed as an appetizer or sandwich ingredient. It has become a popular lunchmeat choice in Berks County and the surrounding areas, and is readily available at local grocery chains.
Having grown up with this, you can imagine my delight when my local bulk food store started carrying it. In my opinion, there's no better cold sandwich than homemade bread topped with several slices of smoked sweet Lebanon bologna, a thick slice of deli meunster cheese, lettuce, tomato, and pickle slices. So yummy!
#2. Birch Beer
Birch Beer, though not exclusive to the PA region, is widely enjoyed in the Lancaster and Berks County area. This classic nonalcoholic beverage is carbonated and infused with the essence of birch tree bark, offering a sweet and spicy flavor reminiscent of root beer.
Scrapple is a popular choice in PA Dutch-style breakfast spreads, often taking the place of bacon or sausage. Made with the leftover pork scraps and meat that was cooked off of the bones, cornmeal, and flour, this mixture is seasoned with traditional spices and shaped into a rectangular form similar to meatloaf.
When sliced and fried, scrapple develops a firm, slightly crisp exterior, maintaining a buttery smooth interior. It is often served with maple syrup or ketchup. (This is one PA Dutch food that I have never learned to enjoy.)
This simple yet delightful creation features three distinct layers: a lusciously gooey molasses bottom, and a middle layer boasting a cake-like consistency, crowned with a lovely crumbly topping. All of this perfection is wrapped up in a flaky pie crust.
Originating from southeastern Pennsylvania, this classic recipe uses simple ingredients like molasses and eggs for a delicious, homemade flavor. Simply bake it until golden brown, and there you have it - a beautiful authentic shoofly pie ready to enjoy!
Wet bottom shoofly pie is a traditional Amish breakfast pie that's served with breakfast in many Amish homes. Similar to coffee cake, it is perfect with a cup of coffee!
#5. Chicken Pot Pie
The best chicken pot pie comes from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania! This brothy PA Dutch chicken pot pie recipe consists of square homemade pot pie noodles, chicken, and vegetables.
It is a hearty, comforting, and filling dish, perfect for cold winter nights. A traditional favorite in the Pennsylvania Dutch region that is sure to satisfy your cravings for a hearty, comforting, home-cooked meal.
#6. Potato Filling
Pennsylvania Dutch potato filling is a side dish that is made with a combination of mashed potatoes and bread stuffing.
It's a traditional PA Dutch holiday dish and seems to be Pennsylvania's most-searched-for Thanksgiving side dish recipe.
#7. Whoopie Pies
Popular in Pa. Dutch country, chocolate whoopie pies are two soft, cake-like, chocolatey cookies with a light vanilla frosting sandwiched between them (sometimes also known as gobs).
While chocolate whoopie pies may be the most popular kind, there are various flavors of whoopie pies (such as pumpkin whoopies, oatmeal whoopies, molasses whoopies, etc.) that can be found in Amish bakeries.
#8. Apple Dumplings
Apple dumplings are baked apples with cinnamon that are enclosed in a flaky crust and topped with delicious homemade caramel syrup.
Enjoy caramel apple dumplings warm, topped with vanilla ice cream, and savor every delicious bite. They are amazing!
Traditional Pennsylvania Dutch Food
Amish chicken croquettes are made with cooked and chopped chicken that is mixed with a thick creamy sauce, shaped into balls, then dipped in eggs and coated in bread crumbs.
To finish them off with the best and the most unhealthy part of all, they are deep-fried to give them a delightful crispy exterior. (Air-frying is a healthier option.)
#10. Chicken and Waffles
Lancaster County-style chicken and waffles are made with roasted chicken and creamy homemade gravy that's served over fluffy homemade waffles.
While classic chicken noodle soup is a popular American dish, the addition of corn in this dish is a PA Dutch tradition.
This soup includes chicken, corn, and noodles, creating a hearty version of chicken noodle soup. The noodles used can vary, but PA Dutch housewives often made homemade noodles, contributing to the homemade and from-scratch nature of Pennsylvania Dutch cooking.
Chicken corn soup is known for its simplicity, wholesome ingredients, and delicious flavor, making it a staple in Pennsylvania Dutch households. (Sometimes chicken corn soup is made with homemade rivels instead of noodles.)
#12. Ham Loaf
Ham loaf is similar to traditional meatloaf. However, it has a different flavor profile since it is made with ham and a brown sugar glaze.
Typically, ham loaf is made with ground ham and ground pork. But for this Amish recipe, we are using ground ham and ground beef instead of pork. Although, if you prefer, you can use ground pork in place of ground beef. It's good either way.
#13. Hot Bacon Dressing
PA Dutch hot bacon dressing is a type of salad dressing crafted from a combination of bacon and its drippings, vinegar, sugar, and egg. It boasts a delicious sweet and sour taste complemented by the rich, savory essence of bacon.
This dressing, said to have originated in Amish/PA Dutch communities, is known for its delicious tangy flavor. It's perfect over a bowl of dandelion greens or spinach salad.
#14. Buttered Noodles
Buttered noodles are one of the easiest dishes to make. It's a kid-friendly dish (because what kid doesn't like pasta?) and a great side with many different meals. Not to mention that they are comfort food at its finest.
These brown butter noodles are rich, a bit creamy, full of flavor, and oh-so buttery! There is so much to love about these Amish-style noodles.
#15. Corn Fritters
This recipe for Pennsylvania Dutch corn fritters is basically corn fritter pancakes. Stuff a pancake-type batter full of delicious sweet corn and fry the patties to golden perfection. The results are amazing!
#16. Homemade White Bread
This Amish white bread recipe makes a slightly sweet, soft, and tender loaf. It is easy to make, with simple ingredients, and it makes two amazing loaves of bread that can be used for toast or sandwiches.
There is nothing quite like a warm slice of fresh bread with butter melted into it. Drizzle it with honey, and it is simply divine!
#17. Potato Salad
Amish potato salad is a combination of cooked and diced potatoes with boiled eggs and chopped pickles. Which are dressed in a miracle whip-based dressing with sweet sugar, tangy vinegar, and mustard.
It's a combination of flavors that creates a unique taste that many people love. And it is a cool and creamy dish that will fill you up. I can sit and eat a bowl full of potato salad all by itself because it's just so good!
#18. Macaroni Salad
This recipe for macaroni salad combines cooked macaroni, hard-boiled eggs, crispy veggies, and a cooked creamy dressing with the perfect combination of sweet and tangy.
Pennsylvania Dutch macaroni salad is sure to be a hit at your next cookout or get-together. It's truly an old-fashioned classic macaroni salad!
#19. Soft Pretzels
PA Dutch soft pretzels are one of the most delicious snacks and are perfect for any occasion. These homemade buttery soft pretzels are simply irresistible, especially when they're freshly baked and warm.
Similar to Auntie Anne's pretzels, they're soft and chewy in the middle, golden brown on the outside, and have a delightful pretzel flavor.
#20. Cup Cheese
My recipe for Amish cheese spread (cup cheese) is a soft spreadable cheese that's made by melting white American cheese in hot milk. Also known as "shmear kase", this was often served at Amish church dinners along with peanut butter spread on buns.
There are at least two different types of cup cheese, and some PA Dutch people may be more familiar with sour cup cheese also known as Limberger cheese.
#21. Apple Butter
Amish apple butter is a thick and smooth spread made from cooked apples, sugar, and spices. It is a traditional recipe that has been passed down for generations among the Amish community.
To make apple butter, apples are first peeled, cored, and chopped into small pieces. They are then cooked down until they are soft and tender. The cooked apples are then blended until they form a smooth puree, namely applesauce.
Sugar and spices are added to the puree, and the mixture is cooked or baked for several hours until it thickens and darkens in color. The cooking process allows the sugars in the apples to caramelize and deepen the flavor of the butter.
#22. Pickled Chow Chow
Chow chow is a traditional pickled relish commonly made and enjoyed by the Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish communities. It's made with various beans, vegetables, and a sweet and tangy dressing.
It is simply a pickled vegetable mix. So if you love pickled food, this might be something you would enjoy.
#23. Red Beet Eggs
Hard-boiled eggs pickled in beet juice are another PA Dutch food that I never cared for. I am thinking, however, that I should try them once again. I don't have a recipe on my site, but I think this one I found at A Simple Homecook looks similar to what I was used to seeing.
#24. Breakfast Casserole
This simple breakfast casserole is a tasty combination of bread, meat, cheese, and eggs. It's an easy recipe that you can prepare the night before and bake in the morning, making it a perfect choice for busy mornings when you're short on time.
Whether you're feeding a crowd or planning for meal prep, this dish is a beloved favorite in Amish communities, commonly savored for breakfast or brunch.
#25. Pork and Sauerkraut
The tradition of the New Year’s meal of pork and sauerkraut originated in Germany and is still practiced by at least some of the PA Dutch people.
My mom used to can sauerkraut, although I don't have her recipe. Besides eating it with pork, it was always served with hot dogs.
#26. Rice Pudding
PA Dutch rice pudding is a creamy, slightly sweet, and oh so delicious cooked rice dish that's perfect for a light dessert or snack at any time of the day. It's comfort food that takes me back to my childhood.
PA Dutch Desserts
#27. Sand Tart Cookies
Pennsylvania Dutch Sand Tarts are addicting little cookies that I grew up eating every year at Christmas. I thought everyone’s family made sand tart cookies, and little did I know that it was a very regional cookie introduced by the Pennsylvania Dutch.
The beauty of the sand tart cookie is how thin and crisp it is, which makes it so addicting. You can never stop with just one or two.
Sand tarts are fun cut-out cookies, making them a favorite Christmas cookie for this region. Traditionally, they get sprinkled with cinnamon and topped with a nut.
Homemade Amish donuts, covered in a smooth glaze, make up one of our favorite breakfast treats. And the fact is they are irresistibly delicious, making it hard to turn them down even though we know they aren't good for us.
There's nothing quite like a fresh homemade yeast donut. They're soft and airy, and they practically melt in your mouth. Biting into one of these fluffy, warm donuts is like biting into a cloud. They're so amazing, I can never stop with just one.
#29. Sticky Buns
Similar to cinnamon rolls, sticky buns are sweet yeast buns that are rolled up with butter, sugar, and cinnamon and are baked over the top of pecans and a caramel glaze. When they are finished baking, the pan gets inverted, causing the sticky caramel sauce to drizzle down over the buns.
A delightful pastry to enjoy with a morning cup of coffee!
#30. Apple Schnitz Pie
Schnitz is slices of dried fruit, especially sliced dried apples. I believe the word "Schnitz" comes from German, meaning to carve or slice. So Apple Schnitz simply means sliced dried apples.
Traditional Pennsylvania Dutch Schnitz pie is an apple pie made with cooked dried apples and spices. The filling is the consistency of thick apple butter.
Sometimes my mom made this pie using homemade apple butter and apple sauce instead of dried apples. We still called it Schnitz pie. It tasted very similar and was faster to put together.
#31. Dutch Apple Pie
This Dutch Apple Pie with crumb topping is made with a cooked apple and cinnamon pie filling. It's a delightful dessert that combines sweet apples with a crunchy oat layer.
The exceptional oat crumb topping contributes a pleasing texture and buttery flavor. Baked to a golden perfection, this pie, served warm with ice cream or whipped cream, is a simple yet irresistible treat that captures the essence of homemade goodness.
#32. Sugar Cookies
This old-fashioned drop sugar cookies recipe makes the best Amish sugar cookies! They are so soft and puffy, and they practically melt in your mouth.
They're also very easy to make. You don't have to chill the dough or take the time to roll it out. And you get amazing sugar cookies without investing very much time at all.
#33. Homemade Ice Cream
This is a homemade vanilla ice cream recipe with eggs, so it's technically homemade frozen custard. The custard base needs to be cooked, therefore you'll need to plan ahead to allow the mixture time to chill.
After churning, you end up with almost 4 quarts of smooth, rich, and delicious homemade ice cream.
Homemade dishes beat store-bought, boxed, or frozen meals any day. And, in my opinion, the Amish and PA Dutch folks have the best comfort food recipes.
Who doesn’t love the occasional indulgence in the comfort of a hearty meal? It warms your body all the way through, and you can almost taste the love in every bite. That’s what Pennsylvania Dutch food is all about - it is wholesome, stick-to-your-ribs dishes, made from scratch.
All of these foods that I shared in this post have been a part of my Pennsylvania Dutch heritage.
If you get a chance to visit a Pennsylvania Dutch country farmer's market or PA Dutch restaurants, you will find many of these traditional PA Dutch dishes.
If you grew up in the Pennsylvania Dutch culture, or if you get to try any of these traditional Amish recipes, I'd love it if you left me a comment below. What is your favorite Pennsylvania Dutch food?