Adrienne Wolter shares local restaurant reviews, day trips and cooking adventures
Pennsylvania is home to many unique culinary treats. The iconic Philly cheesesteak is known the world over, and Pennsylvania Dutch dishes have become popular among residents and tourists alike. Can you imagine a summer fair without funnel cake, Fat Tuesday without fasnachts or a fall festival without various apple butters for sale? Here’s a guide to all you need to know about these beloved regional favorites.
A row of delicious apple butters.
A fall favorite, apple butter is a preserve that can be used as a spread, condiment or side dish. It’s produced by slow-cooking apples with cider or water until with mixture caramelizes and turns a dark brown. Apple butter is typically seasoned with cinnamon, cloves or other spices. It was first produced during the Middle Ages as a way for monasteries in Belgium and the Netherland to preserve fruit. Many Pennsylvania Dutch farms produce this popular spread, and it’s traditionally served at traditional seven sweets and seven sours dinner festivals.
The fasnacht is a fried doughnut traditionally served on Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent begins. They were created as a way to use up sugar, butter and fats, which were fasted from during the Lenten season. Many bakeries and grocery stores in central Pennsylvania offer these seasonal treats. Although the traditional version is plain, fasnachts with various seasoning, such as sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, have gained in popularity.
Funnel cake is a delicious staple of carnivals in PA and elsewhere.
Funnel cakes, those doughy and crispy summer fair favorites, originated with the Pennsylvania Dutch in the western part of the state around 200 years ago. They were called drechter kuch and were popular during harvest festivals and German holidays. Their popularity spread, and today they are a staple at amusement parks, festivals and fairs. They are created by pouring batter through a funnel, which is deep-fried in oil. The spirals of dough become crispy and golden brown. After being drained, they are typically sprinkled with powdered sugar or other toppings.
When you think of food in Philadelphia, the world-famous Philly cheesesteak quickly springs to mind. It’s said that city residents Pat and Harry Olivieri created this iconic sandwich in the 1930s at their hot dog stand, which later became Pat’s King of Steaks. They decided to try out new sandwich using chopped steak and grilled onions, and it became an instant hit. Philly cheesesteaks are traditionally prepared with thinly sliced rib eye or top round steak, which is quickly browned and chopped, and then topped with cheese. Cheez Whiz, provolone or American are the cheeses of choice, with Cheez Whiz the most popular. Most cheesesteak places prefer using the Amoroso roll for their sandwiches.
Philadelphia may have the cheesesteak, but Pittsburgh has the steak salad. A traditional Pittsburgh steak salad is made with iceberg lettuce, cucumbers, onions, shredded cheese – and then topped with fries and steak. It’s typically served with either Ranch or Italian dressing. It’s said that this specialty salad was created at Jerry’s Curb Service in the 1960s when a customer ordered a steak sandwich with no bun, fries and salad dressing. The waitress later tried this mixture atop a salad, and the steak salad was born. It caught on, and now Pittsburgh steak salads can be found on menus throughout Pennsylvania.
Scrapple is literally made with pork scraps, in the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition of using everything up. Scraps and offal left over after butchering are the base of this dish, which also includes cornmeal, flour and seasonings. This mush is formed into a loaf, which is then either fried in ceramic cookware or broiled. It can also be deep-fried. Scrapple can be served at breakfast, as a sandwich, mixed with scrambled eggs – it all depends on the region and your appetite.
A decorative mini shoofly pie.
Shoofly pie is a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch dessert made with molasses. It is a very rich, dense and sweet pie with either a crumbly or flakey topping. It’s said that it got its name because the sweet molasses scent attracts flies, which must be shooed away. Amish settlers who came to Pennsylvania in the 1730s brought this traditional dish with them. It kept very well on long boat journeys and was made with staples of their diet, such as flour, brown sugar and spices.