Peruvian ceviche and Chinese pork dumplings get all the hype. But the Amish pretzel dog is an unsung hero.
Apple cider and shoo-fly pie won’t be winning any gourmet prizes, either. It’s partly because Amish country – or at least the Amish and Mennonite communities around Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, near where I grew up – couldn’t be less glamorous. The Amish call themselves ‘plain people,’ and to an extent, their food is plain, too. Though not often in a bad way: their superb ice cream is simple and farm-fresh.
Last year, I had the pleasure of covering my home state for Lonely Planet’s revamped New York, New Jersey & Pennsylvania book, and I was impressed with the quality and variety of produce, meat, spices, sauces, breads and baked goods at the Amish farmer’s markets. So a couple of weekends ago, when I spent a lovely weekend with my family and with a few visiting friends (old friends from my days living in Prague), we decided to head straight to the Bird-in-Hand market to get some inspiration for a summertime Saturday dinner.
Before buying any ingredients, of course, we had to sample the goods. There was the famous apple cider (you drop 25 cents into a tin and help yourself to a cup), spicy sweet corn salsa, hot walnut bread with cream cheese frosting, homemade beef jerky, berry preserves, peanut butter cookies, hummus and Swiss cheese and freshly squeezed lemonade.
The hands-down favorite was the pretzel dog. The pretzel dog, the glorious pretzel dog, is a homemade sausage wrapped in buttery dough, then baked in an oven for exactly nine minutes. We pretended we were all going to share a couple of these, but that’s not what happened. We just kept going back to the pretzel dog stand for more of them.
Then we branched off into smaller groups to buy the ingredients for dinner. My friend Amanda, who’s a vegetarian, volunteered to head over to the meat counter (she said ‘I think Amish meat is okay, I’ll make an exception.’) She came away with three kinds of homemade sausage, including a pork and sage variety, plus organic ground beef to make gourmet burgers. Another friend shopped for cheese; I took care of the eggplant, baby potatoes, and other vegetables for the grill – and I think my sisters went to buy some bread, but who are we kidding, they almost certainly shared another pretzel dog on the way.
Then it was time to go back to the house, but the famous Strasburg Creamery was calling my name. We were all too full for ice cream, but wouldn’t you know it, we were not too full for a wine tasting at the brand spanking new Strasburg Winery. (I’ve actually never tasted Pennsylvania-grown wines. Not as… um, sub-par?… as I expected. We even bought a few bottles for dinner. Okay, okay, they had names like ‘Surprise’ and ‘Evening Delight.’ I didn’t say Amish country was cool, I just said the food was good.)
The Amish-themed weekend continued back at the house as my Californian friends put together a farm-inspired cheese platter and chopped summer squash.
Meanwhile, my vegetarian friend energetically prepared the burgers and my Chilean brother-in-law got really creative with cocktails (see these two pictured below.)
Yes, he actually made an apple cider martini. And it was everything I ever hoped it could be.
I don’t know that the ‘plain people’ would approve.
Then again, I’ve underestimated them before.