Sunday, May 27, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: Pennsylvania III - Apple Pan Dowdy!? We don't need no stinkin' Apple Pan Dowdy! (or "Amish Pie-radise")

Indiana has the country's most Amish county, and per capita there are (apparently) more Amish in Ohio than in any other state.  But the Amish are forever tied to Pennsylvania, where they first set foot the United States.  Many an "English" tourist has flocked to Lancaster County to get some exposure to Amish lifeways and culture, only to bitch and moan when they get stuck behind a horse and buggy.  There is something to be said about we tourists actually trying to, you know, respect Amish lifeways - especially when that involves getting stuck behind a horse and buggy.  But I digress.

Official Name: Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
State Nicknames: The Keystone State, The Quaker State
Admission to the US: December 12, 1787 (#2 - Delaware beat 'em to the punch)
Capital: Harrisburg (9th largest)
Other Important Cities: Philadelphia (largest), Pittsburgh (2nd largest), Allentown (3rd largest), Erie (4th largest)
Region: Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest; Middle Atlantic (US Census)
RAFT NationsMaple SyrupClambakeCrabcakeChestnutWild Rice
Bordered by: Maryland & the Mason-Dixon Line (south), West Virginia (southwest), Ohio (west), Lake Erie (northwest), New York (north & northeast), New Jersey & the Delaware River (east), Delaware (southeast)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: white-tailed deer (animal), milk (beverage), ruffed grouse (bird), chocolate chip cookie (cookie), brook trout (fish)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: German & Amish foods; Polish & Eastern European foods; pretzels, water ice, hoagies & Philly cheese steaks (particular to Philadelphia); city chicken, halupki halušky, chipped ham, kielbasa (particular to Pittsburgh); scrapple; Hershey's chocolates; birch beer; Herr's Potato Chips, Hanover Pretzels & (yes) Utz Potato Chips; people (if you're an extra in a George Romero movie, that is - the big ones were all filmed near Pittsburgh)

The Amish first arrived in Pennsylvania in the 18th century, after fleeing Europe for their Anabaptist beliefs, specifically that only adults may be baptized.  According to Wikipedia and Lancaster County website [Pennsylvania Dutch Convention & Visitors Bureau 2012], they first settled in Berks County, with many eventually settling in nearby Lancaster County.  Today there are over 50,000 Amish in Pennsylvania, many centered around Lancaster County, along with their less religiously conservative but similarly "plain" religious brethren, the Mennonites and the Brethren (both of whom do use electricity but typically dress the same).

Many Marylanders have had exposure to the Amish - not necessarily to individual Amish, per se, but to Amish country.  This includes the massive Amish buffets in Lancaster and Strasburg, which don't seem to fit the Amish spirit - "Amish" and "excess" aren't really two words that go together.  But as the Amish America website points out, the Amish are known for good food.  Good, filling, and not exactly slimming food.  While the Amish pretty much grow (and sell) their own farm foods - vegetables, eggs, milk, meat - depending on what the specific community allows, some Amish may buy food at the grocery store or even make their own wine (many communities are dry apart from weddings and semi-annual communion services).  And even the Amish are eating out more than they used to, bringing more processed foods into their diets.  But overall, most of their diet is of the low-processed variety [Amish America, 2010].

A few dishes are particularly famous for being Amish dishes.  Some, like scrapple, have crossed over into our "English" world.  Many people in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic love scrapple, that mixture of pig parts and cornmeal that you slice up and fry.


I could never understand what my mother saw in it back when she had a block of Rapa Scrapple sitting in the fridge ready to slice and fry up.  The Amish are also famous for their pies - apple butter pies, sugar cream pies, whoopie pies (yes, they make those just like New Englanders do), and the pie that I most readily identify as Amish: the shoo fly pie.

Just as New Englanders share whoopie pies with the Amish, so Southerners share shoo fly pies with them as well.  Hardly an Amish restaurant or buffet in Lancaster County is missing this gooey concoction of molasses and brown sugar baked in a pie shell.  One doesn't need to connect too many dots to figure out where it got its name: all the molasses attracted flies, hence the need to shoo them away.  While it is also known below the Mason-Dixon Line, as Montgomery pie (with lemon added), I have always thought of this as an Amish thing.  And few if any of the Amish cookbooks you buy in Amish Country are missing a recipe for the famous and easy pie.  I got this recipe from one of those cookbooks, The Amish Homestead Cookbook [date unknown], printed (apparently) for the Amish Homestead on Lincoln Highway East in Lancaster - long since replaced (apparently) by a Wal-Mart.

The Recipe: Shoo Fly Pie

This shoo fly pie recipe is on page 28 of The Amish Homestead Cookbook (in the "Fastnacht Day" section).  Since I don't think this is a copyrighted book - there isn't even a publication date - and not a terribly easy book to find, I will provide a photo of the recipe for exact measurements:

So as you see, you will need:

* pie crusts (yes I cheated - again, Trader Joe's is a good pre-made pie crust with as little junk as you will find in a pre-made pie crust.  Extra plus: I had this in the freezer and didn't even know it!  Note: though the Amish do occasionally shop in grocery stores, they probably would make their own)

From here there are two components to this recipe, the crumb part and the liquid part.  For the former, assemble:
* brown sugar (had it)
* flour (same)
* shortening (some recipes call for lard and/or butter, as Alton Brown's version on his molasses episode of Good Eats uses)

For the latter you will need:
* molasses (had a bottle of backstrap molasses in the pantry)
* salt (no, I didn't have this lying around.  That was snark.)
* cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger (I had most in ground form - had to grind the cloves myself)
* baking soda (had it too)
* hot water (not difficult to find)

Mix the brown sugar, flour and shortening together until well blended.

Like so.

Next, grind your spices if they need grinding.

Add the spices, salt and baking soda to your bowl.

Dump in your molasses.

And add hot water.

Mix the whole mess together.

Now for the pie crusts.  You only need one, to fit a 9 inch pie plate.  If you thaw it correctly, you won't need to roll it out.  I forgot this step, and so tried to cheat by blow drying it, on high.  [Yes, don't laugh.]  Needless to say, it didn't work, but with enough stopped and started blow drying it did soften the pie crust enough that I could roll out the various pieces that broke off as I tried to unroll it, and re-roll it out into a normal pie crust shape.  I could even make up for the few pieces I lost to the floor.

Looks good as new.  This is a little tedious, but the blow dryer and re-roll method is a viable shortcut if you forgot to thaw your pie crust.  Also I must point out that I got this method for rolling out pie dough between two pieces of plastic, wax paper or parchment paper from Adam Roberts, who suggested this on his Amateur Gourmet website.  I could not tell you when he posted this.  All I know is I got this from him.  So cred where cred is due.

Put the pie crust in the pie plate.

Crimp the edges and make it look all purty-like.

Now you're ready to assemble the pie.  Alternate crumb and liquid, making sure you both start and end with a crumb layer.

The easiest way for me to do it was crumb-liquid-crumb-liquid-crumb.

I went to the trouble of spreading out the crumbs all over the top.

You will bake this in two steps.  Start with a 450°F oven and bake for 15 minutes, then decrease the temperature to 350°F (I got there fast by both lowering the temperature and leaving the oven door open until it got there) for 20 minutes more.

Let it cool down, or just eat it piping hot.  Mmmm.  Burns from piping hot molasses.

This shoo fly pie is pretty much part and parcel what I would have expected from a shoo fly pie.  It tastes about the same, and feels that way too: gooey, ridiculously sweet and slightly salty, with a wonderfully flaky pie crust and a desperate need for some ice cream.  Again, the Amish are not eating health food.  Remember that, people.


Amish America.  "What do Amish eat?"  Copyright 2010 Amish America, All rights reserved.

Amish Homestead Cookbook.  Tourist cookbook, date of publication unknown.  "American Civil War Recipes: Union Hardtack and Confederate Johnnie Cakes".  Date unknown.  Copyright 1997-2012, maintained by Central Design Lab. All articles are public domain and clearly credit and link to the author when possible.

Batz, Bob, Jr. "Pittsburgh sticks with loving 'City Chicken'".  Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, published March 30, 2012.  Copyright ©1997-2012 PG Publishing Co., Inc. All rights reserved.

Brieda, Luboš.  "Potato Dumplings (Halušky)".  Slovak Cooking, posted November 3, 2009.  Updated March 24, 2010.  Copyright 2009-2011 Slovak Cooking.  "Slicing Ribeye roast for philly cheese steak".  Discussion on "Home Cooking" board, Thread started September 6, 2008.

Pat's King of Steaks. "Pat's King of Steaks Philadelphia Cheese Steak".  Featured on the episode "Best Sandwiches" of the show The Best Of.  Food Network, 1999.

Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau.  "Pennsylvania Amish history & beliefs".  Copyright 2012 Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau, site maintained by Cimbrian.

Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.  Pennsylvania Cookbook Trail of History.  From the Editors of Stackpole Books and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, foreword by William Woys Weaver.  Stackpole Books: Mechanicsburg, PA, 2004. ( "How to Make Haluski (Cabbage and Noodles)"  Date unknown.  Copyright 2012  All rights reserved.

Robinson, Douglas.  "City Chicken".  Recipe in I Grew Up in Southwestern Pennsylvania: A Nostalgic Look at Growing Up in the Pittsburgh Region.  Recipe featured in the article "Pittsburgh sticks with loving 'City Chicken'" by Bob Batz, Jr. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, published March 30, 2012)

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Pennsylvania" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "Pennsylvania".