Heading to Berks County this holiday season? Trying new foods is one of the best parts of traveling. Everyone has to eat, so why not fuel your sightseeing adventures with some local delicacies you can’t get back home?
In most cultures, favorite recipes are passed down from generation to generation. That’s certainly true in Pennsylvania’s Americana Region, where talented chefs and bakers continue to whip up traditional PA Dutch dishes, both savory and sweet. Whether you’re a lifelong resident looking to explore outside your comfort zone or a visitor who doesn’t know scrapple from shoofly pie, this guide to the best Berks County eats is for you!
Richer than jam and more complex than honey, apple butter is a sweet condiment most often spread on toast, used as a pastry filling, or eaten with cottage cheese. Despite the name, it contains no dairy products and is instead made by slow-cooking apples, apple juice, sugar, and spices until they caramelize into a thick, dark brown molasses-like consistency. This sticky substance is an autumn staple, but it’s enjoyed year-round, since it can be canned, as long as supplies last!
Another fall favorite, apple dumplings are typically enjoyed as a side dish, dessert, or as a full meal. Whole apples are cored, stuffed with a mix of butter, sugar, and spices, then wrapped in a pastry dough and baked to golden brown perfection. Sometimes served in a bowl with milk, apple dumplings satisfy sugar cravings without overwhelming your sweet tooth.
While not strictly a PA Americana region treat, birch beer, a carbonated beverage flavored with the bark of birch trees, is hugely popular in the Berks County area. This traditional nonalcoholic drink has a sweet and spicy taste similar to root beer.
Chicken Pot Pie
Some people think of chicken pot pie as a pie crust filled with chicken, vegetables, and gravy, served by the slice. Think again!
Okay, so that may be a valid “English” version of chicken pot pie, but in Pennsylvania’s Americana Region, we do things a little differently. PA Dutch chicken pot pie is a hearty soup or stew featuring homemade chicken broth, filled with chicken, vegetables, and egg noodles, traditionally cut in a square shape. It’s a full one-pot meal that warms the body and heart on even the coldest nights of winter.
In contrast to PA Dutch chicken pot pie, corn pie is actually made with pie crust. A savory meatless option that can be eaten as a main course or a side dish, it’s best made during the tail end of summer, when sweet corn is in season. The pie filling consists of a few simple ingredients—corn, butter, milk, seasoning, and occasionally hard boiled eggs—that are baked into a flaky crust.
You may find chow-chow outside of Berks County, but chances are it won’t taste quite the same. Chow-chow is popular in both the Appalachian Mountain area and the Southern United States, but the PA Americana region has its own unique recipe.
A sweet relish made from some combination of red and green tomatoes, beans, onions, carrots, and other vegetables, PA Dutch chow-chow can be enjoyed all by itself or as a condiment on hot dogs, hamburgers, and sandwiches. Like pickle relish, it has a strong, tangy flavor that compliments salty, savory foods.
Named after Lebanon County, where it was first created, Lebanon bologna is a true PA Dutch delicacy! A cured, smoked beef sausage usually sliced thin and eaten as an appetizer or on a sandwich, Lebanon baloney has a deep, smoky flavor and a similar texture to salami. It’s so popular in Berks County you can easily purchase find it at area grocery chains.
A PA Dutch Thanksgiving table wouldn’t be complete without potato filling, a tasty alternative to traditional bread stuffing that often accompanies this holiday spread. Made with potatoes, bread, onion, milk, butter, and seasoning, then baked like a casserole, potato filling is like mashed potatoes with added flair. Use it as a side dish for any big dinner, Thanksgiving or not.
Red Beet Eggs
One of the most polarizing options on this list, the PA Dutch red beet egg is worth a try, just to say you’ve had it! Preserved eggs are common in cultures around the world, and for many families in the PA Americana region, this pickled version is a must-have at picnics and other summertime celebrations. Red beet eggs are made by curing fresh peeled hard-boiled in a mixture of red beet juice, vinegar, and spices, resulting in a beautifully hued and surprisingly delicious snack.
Primarily used as a breakfast meat, Scrapple often replaces bacon or sausage on a PA Dutch-style breakfast platter. It’s a blend of leftover pork meat, cornmeal, and flour, seasoned with traditional spices and formed into a rectangular shape similar to meatloaf. It’s typically sliced and fried so that the outside has a firm, slightly crisp texture, while the inside stays buttery smooth.
Traditionally, the PA Dutch ate shoofly pie for breakfast with cups of steaming hot coffee, but today, it’s more popular as a dessert. The rich, gooey molasses filling and light crumb topping make shoofly pie a unique, and scrumptious option to enjoy with your coffee.
Where Can I Find PA Dutch Foods in Pennsylvania’s Americana Region?
Now that you’ve learned about some of our favorite PA Dutch foods, you might wonder where you can sample them.
Pennsylvania Americana Region’s farmers' markets provide ample opportunities to taste and purchase some or all of the foods listed (and then some). Plan a visit to Leesport Farmers Market in Leesport, West Reading Farmers Market in West Reading, and Renninger’s Farmer’s Market in Kutztown to experience our PA Dutch fare.
Locals enjoy Deitsch Eck, in Lenhartsville for traditional PA Dutch cooking. The restaurant’s weekly specials always include wonderful PA Dutch favorites like pig’s stomach, pork and sauerkraut, or chicken & waffles.
While not as much fun, you can always shop at our local grocery stores for PA Dutch specialties like birch beer, Lebanon bologna, chow-chow, shoofly pie, and scrapple.