Amish cooking

Do What with the Bacon Fat?

Dude--they can also cook

Big time score at the annual Christmas auction: The New Pennsylvania Dutch Cook Book (Harper & Row, New York). "New" as in 1958 new. The second I saw it lying there on the table, sans dust cover and with the name scratched out on the endpage, I knew it had to be mine. At any price. Even if I had to hover (which I did), and even if I had to hear my opponent-bidder's sob story about how her family hailed from Northampton County. Whatever, Lady. (Actually, I've promised to let her read the history bits in the cookbook after I've tried out some of the recipes.)

This baby is mine. And the reason I wanted it so desperately was because it's a real-food cookbook. Cooking before processed food took over the scene. You will not find, between its covers, any call for "one can cream of mushroom soup." Shortening has appeared--alas--but there's still plenty of bacon fat, lard and butter required. As for the canned tomato debate--organic or conventional? domestic or imported?--just be sure they're "home-canned" because that's what's listed. And if you're wondering where your faded copies of Schleck Boi ("Lickin' Good Pie") or Stuffed Pig's Maw or Boovashenkel II ("Boys' Legs II") got to, look no further.

The Pennsylvania Dutch were also a thrifty bunch, to judge from the sections and recipes headed "Poor Man's." Poor Man's Soups, Poor Man's Turkey, Poor Man's Dinner, Poor Man's Cake, Poor Man's Pie. Amusingly, Poor Man's Turkey calls for "1 4-pound beef flank with pocket," which just goes to show you which meat used to be cheaper before they bred the huge, sad turkeys with enormous breasts and messed-up balance. If vegetarianism or your pocketbook have put any sort of meat into the Rich Man's category, you might prefer Poor Man's Dinner I: a soup (any kind you have on hand) thickened with eggs, mashed potatoes and bread.

Author Ruth Hutchison claims that "a full-rounded Pennsylvania dinner is not to be taken lightly. This cookery was brought from overseas with certain continental embellishments that were soon lost to the exigencies of pioneer life and it was adapted to become farm food for hearty trencherman" (xvi). She advises that, "unless possessed of a redoubtable appetite," we would be better off trying only one PD recipe per meal.

I'm getting a brain blitz here: according to Newsweek, Amish romances are the hot new genre, almost to the point of market saturation. Maybe for all you wannabe-Amish blog readers, we should experiment with some of these recipes. My husband's not home tonight, which meant we were having Breakfast for Dinner, but now it's gonna be Amish Breakfast for Dinner. Yessir. I'm trying Flannel Cakes II. Stay tuned.