Food for Thought: As American as Shoofly Pie

As American as Shoofly Pie is about half history and half recipes, making it a good introduction to Pennsylvania folkways from the leading authority. Wiliam Woyes Weaver has lived in the Pennsylvania Dutch region for much of his life so has quite a bit of inborn perspective. He adds to this knowledge by researching recipes in old church cookbooks (in several instances he has been able to locate and interview the original author, if she is still alive) and by attending church dinners which are a more authentic look at current Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine than you might find at a touristic buffet.

I feel there is a wild card to this approach because of the variability of individual cooks. Among any cohort of home cooks, some are lazy, some incompetent, some instinctive and creative and it is that last group whose recipes will get shared and imitated. So it’s interesting to trace the origins of such foods as “gribble” (an ancient crumbled and dried pasta which was used sort of like breadcrumbs are today) and how they appear in certain Pennsylvania Dutch communities. It’s like a virus that catches and spreads or doesn’t; many cooks were exposed to this dish in the old country, but how many were able to replicate it in a form (sometimes with saffron!) that was interesting enough to share? The presence of this or another dish in a community might indicate a unique node of food heritage, but it also might be the influence of a single gifted cook.

Beyond that quibble, the book is well researched and extensive and I absolutely recommend it if you want to educate yourself about the region prior to making your own exploratory expedition. (Since I didn’t do that, I will have to go back.) The recipes are often esoteric and fascinating and unlikely to be found elsewhere, other than in W3’s other books. Remembering the origin, you might want to apply a reality check before preparing. (Example: it’s suggested that the vinegar brine for Pickled Okra with Summer Sausage might be reused as a starter for sauerkraut, but it seems to me the vinegar would kill the lactobacilli. Of course, I might be wrong about this.) Check it out.

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