It's the height of tourist season in Pennsylvania Dutch country, and tourists are getting fed a load of inauthentic "Dutchified" food.
So says William Woys Weaver. It might sound like he's got his lederhosen in a twist, but he can go on at length about all the ways tourism has corrupted a creative and longstanding regional cuisine.
That word -- "Dutchified" -- shows up in the first paragraph of his book, "As American as Shoofly Pie: The Foodlore and Fakelore of Pennsylvania Dutch Cuisine," released in May by University of Pennsylvania Press. It's "slang for anything that is gussied up to look, taste, or in some way made to appear Pennsylvania Dutch whether or not it really is." Locals use "Dutchified" to refer to tourist schlock such as barns covered with neon hex signs, but it can describe food, too.
Take the "Seven Sweets and Seven Sours" myth. Family-style tourist trap restaurants often serve spreads featuring seven sweet and seven sour side dishes or "relishes" such as cinnamon bread (sweet) and pickled beets and eggs (sour). But this tradition was created at a hotel in Montgomery County -- it's not Pennsylvania Dutch at all, Mr. Weaver said.
"It was created by tourism."
Some dishes are what he calls "halfway foods" -- perhaps originating elsewhere but quickly subsumed under the Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine umbrella. Whoopie pies are an example.
So what are the hallmarks of real-deal Pennsylvania Dutch cookery?
Mr. Weaver can sum it all up in a single word: sauerkraut.
"It's the one food that holds it all together," he said. "Whether you're Lutheran or German Reformed or Mennonite or Amish, you eat sauerkraut."
Other standard Pennsylvania Dutch dishes include schales and gumbis, vegetable- or fruit-based one-pot meals perhaps flavored with a bit of meat. They're named for the pots they're cooked in -- the first is shallow, the other deep. Mr. Weaver includes recipes for both, plus other authentic Pennsylvania Dutch recipes, in the book.
Shoofly pie (see recipe) would also appear on a list of classic Pennsylvania Dutch dishes, Mr. Weaver added. A relative newcomer, it arose after the Civil War, when an eggless baking trend took hold in Pennsylvania Dutch circles. And it was served as a breakfast coffeecake, not as dessert.
Then there's the venerable Stuffed Pig Stomach, which Mr. Weaver says "sounds scary" but is really nothing more than a large sausage.
But there's variation in cuisine from house to house and region to region. The reason is that the Pennsylvania Dutch emigrated from several different regions, so they imported different food traditions. Roughly a third came from southwestern Germany's Palatine region; they're the ones we can thank for the Stuffed Pig Stomach. Another third came from south-central Germany's Swabian region; they brought along lots of dumplings and dough dishes. The final third, from Switzerland, were the Amish and Mennonites who cooked plain food because gourmet cuisine was antithetical to their faith.
Tourists tend to think of the old-order sects of this last group as true "Pennsylvania Dutch" because they still dress and eat plainly, ride in horse-drawn buggies and eschew electricity. But it's not fair to equate only that group with Pennsylvania Dutch, Mr. Weaver said. In fact, about 40 percent of modern-day Pennsylvanians could be considered Pennsylvania Dutch based on their family origins, though many don't know it.
Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine has influenced American cuisine as a whole, Mr. Weaver added. Think chicken-noodle soup, pretzels and gingerbread.
There's potential for it to continue being influential. Some chefs, he said, are working to create a "New Dutch" cuisine because "peasant cookery is becoming the food of the rich because it's local, artisanal and rustic." He's working with one such chef, Andrew Little (chefandrewlittle.com) of the Sheppard Mansion in Hanover to promote high-end cuisine with Pennsylvania Dutch roots. The duo will appear at the Mother Earth News Fair from Sept. 21-23 at Seven Springs, where Chef Little will do cooking demos and Mr. Weaver will sign books.
Meanwhile, the burning question: You're headed to Lancaster or some other Pennsylvania Dutch hotbed for vacation, and you want to know where to get an authentic meal.
"It's not out there right now," Mr. Weaver said, noting some of the classic restaurants have closed, and a new generation needs to take up the mantle.
But then he hedges. There's always Risser's Family Restaurant in Womelsdorf, where they've got a weekly coffee klatch where only Pennsylvania Dutch is spoken. Your best bet, he said, is to find churches that serve authentic meals, such as Carversville Christian Church in Bucks County, which has held an "Oyster Pork Supper" every fall since the 1870s, with a menu that includes roast pork, hand-dipped oysters, creamed corn, stewed tomatoes, pepper hash, homemade applesauce and a wide assortment of church lady-baked goods.
"They go out and harvest all the vegetables, and it's the best food in Pennsylvania, better than a lot of restaurants.
"And if you talk to the people who go there, you find more. There's a group of people who, all they do on weekends is travel around to churches and fire halls and eat.
"It's kind of like people who go to flea markets."
Act I Winefest: Tastings from local wineries and samples of local foods. 1 to 5 p.m. Aug. 3 at the Red Barn Theater in Fombell. $20 admission and $5 for designated drivers; proceeds benefit the Red Barn Players of Ellwood City. Reservations: E-mail email@example.com or call 724-650-3054.
Pressley Ridge Ice Cream Fundae: Try creative ice cream flavors and vote for your favorites, plus enjoy children's activities and live entertainment. 6:30 p.m. Aug. 11 at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. $25 for adults, $10 for kids ages 3 to 12, free for kids under 3, or a family four-pack for $50. Benefits Pressley Ridge, a nonprofit that serves youths with challenging behaviors and their families. pressleyridge.com.
"Beyond the Big House Kitchen: A Culinary History of American Slavery": Nationally-known culinary expert Michael Twitty will talk and cook using the same tools and methods that slaves used more than 150 years ago from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, July 27, at Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village. Free with admission to the Washington County site, part of the Senator John Heinz History Center (heinzhistorycenter.org).
Summer in the Organic Orchard: Look at the first apples on the trees and discuss harvesting, summer pruning and disease prevention through fungal identification. This master class offered by Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture is intended for orchardists. 6 p.m. Aug. 2 at Kretschmann Organic Farm in Rochester. $15 ($10 for PASA members). Register at pasafarming.org.
The Rusyn Food Festival: The 20th annual one at St. John the Baptist Orthodox Church in Ambridge runs Aug. 1 through 3 (724-266-2879).
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup warm strong coffee
1/2 cup dark unsulfured molasses
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 9-inch prepared, unbaked pie shell
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a pastry cutter or food processor, work the flour, sugars, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and baking powder to form a loose crumb texture. Remove 1/4 cup of crumbs and reserve.
In a separate work bowl, combine the warm coffee and molasses and stir until the molasses is dissolved. Add the baking soda and stir gently to dissolve it. Pour the liquid into the crumb mixture and fold gently to combine well. Pour this into a prepared pie shell, then scatter the reserved crumbs over the top.
Bake the pie in the middle of a preheated oven for 40 to 50 minutes or until center of pie is firm and cakelike. Serve hot from the oven or cool on a rack and serve at room temperature.
-- "As American as Shoofly Pie: The Foodlore and Fakelore of Pennsylvania Dutch Cuisine" by William Woys Weaver (University of Pennsylvania, 2013, $34.95)
Rebecca Sodergren: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @pgfoodevents.