I’ve mentioned before that I’ve researched the Mister’s family and I continue to dig even deeper into their lives, but knowing who they were has only left me wanting to know more about their daily lives. Long before I knew they were the progenitors of my beloved, I admired many of their churches, cemeteries, and quaint little towns with their odd-sounding names, places that have since taken on a profound significance for us through knowing his ancestors were instrumental in the settling of those places or in their worship in the newly-founded churches.
A foodie, especially a historic foodie, can’t help but gravitate toward the foods they prepared and lovingly placed on the tables for their families, and so now my journey is taking me down the paths of those culinary traditions and gardening practices of the people whose names now look up at me from ancient tombstone photos.
I put a great deal of work into the genealogy but unraveling the threads of culture and tradition won’t be nearly as time consuming thanks to William Woys Weaver and his two excellent books – “As American as Shoofly Pie” and “Pennsylvania Dutch Country Cooking”.
“Shoofly Pie”, like the books I write, is primarily a history of Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine and culture with authentic recipes in the back. I found it especially nice that he has traveled extensively through the countryside interviewing average people about the foods they make, those their parents, and even grandparents made and providing variations of the dishes reflective of the countless ways each family prepared the same soup or dumplings.
Equally as important as the recipes are the ways they were served and shared. In doing my own research I was finding authentic recipes, and I was finding some discussion of cultural intricacies, but unraveling the traditions associated with the foods themselves was coming up flat. Mr. Weaver’s sharing of his personal interviews with hundreds of families whose ancestors traveled across the same ocean and then took the same paths during the same decade as Martin’s has added a depth of understanding I would never have gained on my own.
“Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking” is a real honest to goodness cookbook with all the glossy photographs and entertaining dialogue one would expect from such a book. I’ve enjoyed the photographs, taking a mental note of how many of the antique cookware pieces I have in my own collection as I flip through it. Seeing photographs of the prepared dishes allows my mind to wander back to the 1730’s when the family was gathered around the table talking about everything from crops to holiday festivities or putting up a year’s supply of sauerkraut and dried fruit with these very dishes on the table before them.
Just as I traveled extensively and ate my way through Scotland at every out of the way place I could find in order to compare my own preparation of the traditional dishes of my ancestors, with that of the country people whose families have prepared them for centuries, I find the photographs in Mr. Weaver’s book allow me to compare my own chicken and waffles to those prepared by farm women who have chicken gravy running through their veins.
I, with a completely different heritage, can stand in my kitchen or at the hearth and make the same foods as those of Catherine Strausbaugh, Anna Bewerts Staub, Susanna Weisensale, Catherine Swartzbaugh, Appolonia Buck Schonebruck, and the other ladies I’ve gotten to know by tracing their paths from places like Alsace, Flanders, and Lorraine to Goshenhoppen, Conewago, Paradise, Pigeon Hills, Nockamixon, Brickerville, etc. I suppose it takes a foodie with a passion for history to understand how Pennsylvania Dutch food with names I can rarely pronounce can transport me back through time to their kitchens and family circle as I season, stir, knead, and baste.
At the end of the day, the question of how authentically did I prepare the foods is clearly answered by the smile on Martin’s face as he enjoys the dishes he grew up with and shares bits and pieces of how they fit into his childhood – for example how his mom made “chicken” and waffles the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas with what was left of the holiday turkey. As always, Blissful Meals, yall, I think Catherine and Appolonia would smile to hear me say that as I immerse myself in the food regularly set upon their tables. ©