Pennsylvania Dutch Pot Pie or Not a Pie? That is the Question
I wouldn’t say it’s breaking news to think that I would be interested in eating something called Pennsylvania Dutch Chicken Pot Pie. My general rule of thumb is, if the word “pie” is anywhere in the name, I’m gonna like it. Pumpkin, Apple, -insert Revenge of the Nerds joke here, even a pizza pie. Give me all the pies!!! But when I first heard about this Amish comfort food on an episode of Andrew Zimmerman’s Delicious Destinations, I didn’t want to try it because it was a pie, I wanted to try it because it wasn’t a pie.
About an hour and a half west of Philadelphia, Lancaster County Pennsylvania is home to the oldest and second largest Amish community in the country. It’s a dichotomy of past vs present where it’s more common to see a horse and carriage trotting down Main Street than it is a Tesla. Generations of Amish families have handed down their traditions and humble way of living “in the world, but not of it” with little modern technology assistance. Luckily for the rest of us, this includes passing down family recipes that haven’t changed in over a hundred years.
I got a riddle for you
What do you call a chicken soup made with chunky cut carrots, chopped onion and celery, and egg noodles cut into 2” by 2” squares?. Give up? You could call it nature’s best cold medicine or one of the best soups you’ll ever eat, but if you are from Lancaster, it’s known as chicken pot pie. There’s no crust, no pie tin. It’s not even baked. In fact, there’s no semblance of anything that could possibly consider the dish a pie, but because it’s cooked in a pot, it earned this inaccurate moniker. At least the pot part makes sense. The large noodles are the star of the show. They have a chewy, al dente bite that adds an interesting textural dimension and act like a sponge, soaking up the rich poultry flavor. Their unique size is really what differentiates the dish from the “traditional Campbell Soup” variety of chicken noodle.
Where can I get this?
Smorgasbords are to Lancaster County what buffets are to Vegas. But unlike Sin City where hordes of dejected gamblers stuff their faces with upmarket items such as king crab legs and sushi to make up for their losses, busloads of day trippers trek out to Lancaster for the authentic Pennsylvania Dutch foods. Restaurants like Miller’s Smorgasbord, originally a 1929 truck stop that served truckers a unique take on chicken and waffles, are now culinary tourist destinations. Diners pile their plates full of local dishes like pork and cabbage, northern beans and ham and chow chow, a vinegary salad of pickled string beans, corn, carrots, peppers and kidney beans. I took my parents on this particular food trip, and my mom boldly proclaimed Miller’s fried chicken to be the best she ever had.
Bird-In-Hand Family Restaurant is another old school all-you-can-eat that has been serving the community and tour groups for over 50 years and makes their own excellent version of chicken pot pie, sauerkraut & pork as well as delicious desserts like whoopie pies and cinnamon buns from their bakery next door.
A pie that’s really a pie!
It turns out, the Pennsylvania Dutch pie that’s actually a pie, didn’t actually start out as a pie. Say what? Shoofly pie, an uber popular tangy and sweet molasses filled pie topped with a cinnamon nutmeg crumble was originally prepared as a “wet” crustless crumb cake and served for breakfast in the 1800’s. This morning treat eventually evolved to what it is today to make it easier to eat. It's available with a dry bottom (cake and molasses throughout) or wet bottom, a gooey molasses base topped with cake and molasses then crumbs. The name is believed to have originated as a result of the bakers having to ward off the annoying pest attracted to the sugar. Shoofly pie is available as the perfect ending at all smorgasbords, as well as Amish markets and bakeries including Dutch Haven, who has been making the same recipe since 1946. If you can’t make it down to their shop that looks like a giant windmill, no worries. Dutch Haven ships out hundreds of their gooey sweet treat every week.
Pro Tip- Pair with a scoop of your favorite vanilla ice cream to temper the sweet
If you’ve never visited Amish country and you are within a day trip drive, I recommend putting it on your to-do list, but make sure to confirm hours and availability before you go. Not all restaurants make the pot pie daily and many seem to close at least two days a week. Also, while the area shares a similar “past its prime” feel as does its Pennsylvania neighbor to the North, the Poconos, continuously rising costs are likely going to push the community out overtime, so visit while you can. If travelling is not an option, please check out this recipe that I feel captures the soul of what I ate: Pennsylvania Dutch Chicken Pot Pie (gatherforbread.com)