Last week at lunch we somehow got on the topic of Lancaster, PA (pronounced 'Lehn-kes-ter, not LANG-Cass-ter). No, I remember why now. Because Jeff had a whoopie pie. And no one knew what it was when they saw it. Except me. This was the case despite the fact that two of the other guys sitting at the table were from PA. This led to a discussion of all things PA Dutch and why I love my great state, specifically the central rural part of it in which I was raised. So now, in one great blog I will unveil all the reasons why I love central PA.
Food. Let me just say that there is so much good PA Dutch food that one can't get anywhere else in the country, and I miss it terribly. I will admit, however, that I don't miss the corresponding increase in pants size that often results from consuming the majority of this food. Links to more information, and some with pictures are included for your reference.
1) Shoofly Pie- a molasses-based, wet-bottom pie that is just glorious
2) Whoopie Pies- as inspired by Jeff's lunch, this is similar to a Moon Pie, kind of... whipped cream in the middle of two chocolatey-cakey-cookies. Whipped peanut butter filling is particularly good. You really can only buy these homemade at a farmer's market. Or eat them at your grandma's house :)
3) Ham and Bean Soup- Just what it says. I've never seen it made outside of central PA though, which is a shame, because it's darn good
4) Chicken Corn Soup- This I have seen on occasion in other locations, but it is rampant in central PA
5) Middleswarth Potato Chips- made in Middlesburg, PA, these are literally the best BBQ chips I've ever eaten. Ever ever.
6) Pardoe's Perky Peanuts- made very close to where I grew up, in Montandon, PA, they are great peanuts, and, actually the source of Trader Joe's nut mixes... yes, ladies and gentlemen, TJs gets their nuts from central PA
7) Sand tarts- these thin crispy cookies, almost like a sugar cookie rolled very flat and thin and cut out into a whole host of different shapes are intimately linked with the holidays for me. They are everywhere. I brought them back to the office once after Thanksgiving and was asked by multiple people if it was possible to have any shipped to NYC
8) Pork and Sauerkraut on New Years Day- the traditional meal that you eat on January 1st for good luck in the new year. I don't know where this tradition is rooted, but let me tell you, I get a little paranoid now that I don't start off my new year "properly" because I literally ate this meal every year on New Years Day growing up
9) Birch Beer- I am still shocked when I talk to people who have never heard of or tasted birch beer. It's kind of like if root beer and ginger ale had a love child together, but better. Refreshing. Amazing. Yes, you can get this other places, but it's a heck of a lot more common in central PA
10) Chicken and Waffles- this is a CLASSIC central PA dish... chicken, waffles (yes, like the kind most people eat for breakfast), mashed potatoes, and loads of gravy. A heart attack on a plate, essentially
Words and Phrases. You can't even imagine how long it has take me to work some of my PA Dutchisms out of my vocabulary. But it has been incredibly necessary, given the amount of confused looks and ridicule I received in college.
1) Tablet- This was not a word I used to describe something Moses wrote the 10 Commandments on... or even to describe Aspirin pills. Oh no, this was what I used in reference to a notebook. Yes, like the kind you write in. Yes, it's true
2) Sweeper- Nope, not a broom. A vacuum. I'll never forget the time that I asked my freshman year roommate to get me the sweeper and she looked at me like I was crazy. She was like, "Um, do you want a broom? Because we don't have one... and we have a carpet..." Oh no, I wanted to sweep, errr, vacuum the floor
3) 'On accident'- To this day I have been unable to shake this one, because I just cannot conceive that it is incorrect. Whereas most people say they did something "by accident," I do things "on accident." Frequently
4) 'Rud up'- I'm not sure if that's how it's spelled because I only ever have heard it spoken. But it's a shot. And ok, so I can't say that I personally use this one all that much (ok,pk, ever), but I know what it means, and since its meaning is important to a child, I definitely know what it means. It means to tidy or clean up. Not like a super duper spic-and-span kind of clean, just get things in order. Like, "Hey Liz, go rud up your room before the company comes." Just for record, my parents never used this phrase. But you get the point
5) Outen- As in, "Please outen the light." Better known as "turn out"
There are so many more, and there are websites devoted to PA Dutchisms, so I'll leave you with just those.
Events. There is seriously a lot of cool stuff to do where I'm from. I swear.
1) Let's get something straight first of all. I have never gone "cow tipping" nor do I personally know anyone who has done so. That shizzle is dangerous, and hella hard too. You try pushing over a 1400 pound animal at the scraggly age of 15 by yourself. Heck, at 25. Or even with 3 of your friends. Good luck.
2) Strawberry Festivals- Late spring/early summer is strawberry season. And boy do we have a lot of strawberries in central PA. Enough, in fact, to devote entire festivals to them. Nearly every year in my teens my dad and I would go to one together, my favorite because it's in my school district and run by many of my teachers and parents of friends. There is strawberry shortcake, homemade ice cream (strawberry and others), strawberry pie, and of course some yummy homemade iced tea and BBQ. While you are eating you can often enjoy the sounds of a local barbershop quartet, and when you are finished you can browse the Antique cars on display. What more could you want on a Sunday afternoon?
3) Carnivals/Fairs- Most notably the Bloomsburg Fair, which is the largest fair in the state of PA, aaand it is a mere 3o minutes from my childhood home. This week-long fair with all kinds of animals, rides, food, and a fair number of truly... unique... sites (read: freakshows) is a truly special event. Apparently last year more than 400,000 people attended, and there were more than 1,500 food stands. This is also a place where you can win a prize for your canning skills. For those of you unfamiliar with this term "canning" I am referring to the process of taking vegetables and "canning" them in glass mason jars so they are pressurized and sealed and able to be stored for many months (for instance, over the winter to have fresh fruits and veggies during the long cold months when nothing is growing). One of the best things about the Bloomsburg Fair is that it afforded us a day off of school each year. Yes, we had a vacation day for a fair. And I wondered when I got to college why I was so far behind everyone else. Hmm. But we were always jealous because the Bloomsburg kids got the entire week off. Totally unfair.
4) Heritage Days- So my high school sits on a historic site where a battle during the French and Indian war was fought. The house in which the settlers lived still stands at the edge of the school grounds, as does the barn (maybe not the original, I don't really know), and one weekend each fall at this site the community holds a festival reenacting Colonial times. I don't know many people who haven't volunteered at one of the various stands during their lifetime. Ok, my parents. But they're not really into the dressing-in-period-costume-and-making-baskets kind of thing. This festival is complete with several reenactments of the battle during the war, men, women, and children dressed in full Colonial attire, and a whole host of period activities and foods. Some of my favorites were making Corn Cob Dolls (just like they sound) and eating homemade, well, any of the yummy food... yes, including chicken corn soup and ham and bean soup. And shoofly pie. Mmm.
5) Knoebel's Amusement Resort- "Fun, food, and fantasy Knoebel's Amusement Resort" is the advertising slogan of this central PA amusement park. With free parking and free admission, this is totally geared towards families and totally amazing. How do you pay, you may ask? Oh yes, you get little "ticket books," say $20 worth of tickets, and then each ride "costs" a certain amount. Say, $.80. Or $1.40 for the really good ones. Rip off some tickets, give them to the little pimply-face high school student manning the ride, and off you go. Not unlike traditional theme parks, but just with loads more kiddie rides and loads more food stands and fewer rollercoasters. As in, until the mid-90s they had one. And it's wooden. And incredibly famous. The Phoenix rollercoaster has got to be one of the coolest rides ever. Consistently ranked as one of the top 5 wooden coasters, it is a ride where you can just pay the $1.60 each time you want to ride, wow, it's glorious. My dad and I would go over to the park just to ride it a few times and then go home. AND recently they added another wooden coaster at the park. I could hardly contain my excitement. Knoebel's also has an old school carousel and hands down THE best haunted house ride I have ever been in. Seriously y'all, it's a good good time.
Other cool stuff
Central PA is home to Hershey PA, the town that (literally) smells of chocolatey yummyness. Smack in the middle of Amish country, you get the world's most famous chocolate brand. It is also home to Heinz and all of the 57 varieties. It is also the state with some pretty uniquely suggestively-named towns including Fertility, Intercourse, Highville, Blueball, Mount Joy, Climax, Paradise, and Bird in Hand. And who wouldn't want to live in a town named Blueball as a teenager? I couldn't make these things up if I tried, folks.
And I will close with perhaps one of my favorite things to tell people about growing up in central PA. We got days off of school for hunting. Yes, you read that right. Hunting. As in, hunting animals to kill them. And eat them. Each and every year we would get the first day of Deer season as well as the first day of Big Game season off of school. We're talking all the way down to the elementary school level. Because why bother having school when only 50% of the students would be there anyhow? Yea, precisely. Again with the wondering why I was totally behind all the other kids when I got to college. Yeah.
What a great childhood.