It just goes without saying that most people cling to at least some of their roots no matter where life takes them. Jim’s hometown is Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, which is nestled in the center of the beautiful Tuscarora Valley, about an earshot away from Pennsylvania Dutch country.
The first time he took me out there, nearly 30 years ago, I was in awe how the gently rolling farms in the valley blended with the foothills of the towering Tuscarora Mountains. I was also in awe, or rather, shock at some of the recipes he grew up cherishing. Here are a couple unique ones and the stories behind them. Perhaps you’d like to try them – or not.
On the first trip out there, some friends graciously invited us over for an old Pennsylvania Dutch recipe that she was sure Jim hadn’t had in a long time. It’s called Hog Maw, also known as Pig’s Stomach, Susquehana Turkey or Pennsylvania Dutch Goose. It is made from stuffing a cleaned-thoroughly pig’s stomach with cubed potatoes, loose pork sausage, cabbage, onion, and salt and pepper. Then you poke holes in the bottom for the grease to drain out and bake it.
It was traditionally made on hog butchering day in Lancaster and Berks counties, and then it spread elsewhere. Pigs’ stomachs can be purchased at traditional butcher shops in Pennsylvania, and many people in that neck of the woods believe it is bad luck not to eat either Hog Maw or pork and sauerkraut on New Year’s Day. Once you get past the name, it is a pretty flavorful dish. I make it quite often except I ditch the pig’s stomach and replace it with tin foil.
Another favorite of Jim’s is Ponhaus. This is a lot like Scrapple, only with a few subtle changes. How we make it today is take pork broth from cooking a pork roast, bring it to a boil, add flour and cornmeal, and stir until it lets loose from the sides of the pan. Immediately, dump it in a loaf pan and cool it in the refrigerator. When it is cool, and usually for breakfast, slice it into 1/2-inch slices and fry until golden brown and crispy. Serve with maple syrup. I still haven’t developed a taste for this one.
The original recipe for Ponhaus originated when folks used everything but the squeal when butchering. It called for one pig’s head, separated into halves. Remove the eyes and brains, scrape the head and clean thoroughly and then cook. NOT HAPPENING HERE!!!
Slippery Pot Pie, on the other hand, is quite a different story. The first time I had this dish, on another trip back to Jim’s home, I thought I’d gone to heaven. It is merely a cooked picnic ham, meat picked off the bone, cut into chunks with delicious homemade egg noodles cooked in the broth. It can also be made with chicken or beef, but why mess with perfection?
Puddin' is another popular Pennsylvania Dutch dish. It is made from boiled pork and is literally the ground pork, broth, seasonings and oatmeal. It is usually eaten over pancakes. Souse meat or head cheese is also a favorite. It is made from the parts of meat that will create a jelly substance when cooked like beef tongue and pigs’ feet and ears. Now here is where I draw the line. I refuse to even taste this, let alone eat it.
Through the years I have come to savor some of these dishes; others, not so much. However, one thing is for sure, the Pennsylvania Dutch learned to find a use for every part of everything they raise and not to waste anything. Even if these dishes don’t make your favorites list, you have to admit they add some regional flair to the menu. Following are a couple of the recipes:
1 head cabbage, cut up
5 potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 onion, chopped
1 1/2 pounds bulk pork sausage
Mix all ingredients, adding enough water to moisten to the consistency of stuffing. Place in aluminum foil sprayed with non-stick cooking spray and with holes poked in the bottom. Place on broiler pan, bake at 350 F for about 1 hour, or until potatoes are done and sausage is thoroughly cooked. Open foil for last 15 minutes of baking to brown.
Slippery Pot Pie
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons cold water
1 picnic ham, cooked
Combine first 4 ingredients, roll out on floured surface to 1/8-inch thick, cut into 2-inch squares.
Peel ham off bone, bring broth to boil. Drop noodles in broth in batches, cook until tender. Add ham.