Pennsylvania Dutch. Pennsylvania Dutch cooking. While working on my family tree lately, I discovered that my great grandma Fanny was of Pennsylvania Dutch descent. My sister told me this years ago but I didn’t believe her. I love my sister because she is not the “I told you so” type, even though I often give her reason.
My ancestors came to the New World from Germany in 1745 and settled in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Their name was Meissen. My grandfather got his bright red hair from them, and I got my freckles.
This is why, when going through the vintage recipes, I found so many that matched the recipes in the public domain Pennsylvania Dutch cookbook that I found on Amazon and downloaded to my kindle. Still, when these recipes were being used, everyone was cooking on a wood stove. I know my grandmothers and even my mom, in her childhood, learned to master the wood cooking stove.
I’ve only seen someone cook on a wood stove a few times in my life, always at a vacation cabin where we were roughing it when I was a teenager. I can boil water on a wood stove and even make coffee, but bake a loaf of bread?
Reading through these old recipes, I began thinking, and wondering about the women who used a wood stove for cooking all of their meals. Imagine what that would have been like in July and August. I bet they ate a lot of cold food during the hot months.
First, it was a matter of fire control. Different woods produced different fire temperatures. Light kindling and pine produce fast hot fires, while hardwoods like apple, oak and maple produced longer burning fires. My brother uses his wood stove when the power is out, and he starts his fires with cedar, then burns Alder, because Alder trees grow faster than fir trees.
A woodstove’s temperature is controlled by the stoves draft controls, and it’s damper. Women who cooked with a wood stove were intuitive cooks. They knew how to judge what was a slow oven, or a hot oven. It came from experience. They also knew how to judge ingredient amounts, and how to cook what was on hand and what was in season. It wasn’t magic. It was intelligence.
Boiling water, making toast or even frying was relatively easy on a stovetop. But baking was a whole ‘nother matter. This was the real test for the cook. Dampers can be set to direct heat from the fire under the oven and block their passage over it. These old time cooks knew how to judge temperatures by instinct and experience. If you try it you should use a thermometer.
This all sounds like a lot of bother in the modern world, but here’s something to think about: wood ovens aren’t vented so food aromas stay in the baking foods and food baked in a wood stove tastes better.
This week, I’m posting one of those old Pennsylvania Dutch recipes. It’s a good recipe, it has easy ingredients, tastes good, and can be baked in the oven you now have in your kitchen. If you make this cake, give some thought to my great grandma Fanny and what life was like in the not so distant past.
SPICE LAYER CAKE
2 cups light brown sugar
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup milk
3 tsp. baking powder
1 cup chopped raising
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
Cream sugar and shortening and beat until fluffy. Add the eggs and beat until light. Sift the flour, add salt, spices, baking powder, then sift again. Add the dry ingredients to the egg mixture alternately with the milk. Beat thoroughly and add the floured raisins. Pour into greased layer cake pans. Bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees F.) for 25 or 30 minutes.
pans. Bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees F.) for 25 or 30 minutes.
For icing use:
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup milk
2 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
Cream together and boil until it forms a soft ball when dropped in water. Add vanilla and beat until cold. Spread between layers, over top and sides.
MONTGOMERY PIE (Pennsylvania Dutch recipe)
½ cup molasses
½ cup white sugar
1 egg beaten
2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 cup water
½ cup lemon juice
Mix ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until it boils. Remove from heat and cool.
1 tsp. baking powder
2 unbaked 9” pie shells
Cream the sugar and shortening together. Beat in the egg. Whisk the flour and salt together. Gradually add the flour and milk to the sugar/shortening mixture. (For sour milk, add a little lemon juice to it.)
Pour the bottom mixture into the pie shell and top with the syrup mixture. Bake in a moderate oven (350º) for 40 minutes.