I picked up the Pennsylvania Dutch Cookbook for a quarter or 2 a few years back at a garage sale. The publishing date is 1966, but from what I can find, I think it was originally compiled and published around 1935 by Leonard S. Davidow. It is a short book, but it has some real gems in it. I have a fondness for old cookbooks and old recipes. Recipes and flavors that existed before soft drinks and junk food took their toll on the taste buds of the boomers and subsequent generations. Not to sound overly nostalgic, but I like “real” food, the way food was when every part of the hog was used or when everybody grew a different variety of tomato. Food that existed before Americans tastes got dumbed down. Now the only two flavors one is likely to detect are sweet and salty (and frankly, artificial). These old cookbooks, on the other hand, often include a number of foods and flavors that in this day and age are nearly foreign. Foods that did not easily apply themselves to mechanization or have immediate appeal to a broad audience.
I also have a fondness for that wide swath of agricultural land stretching from the midwest to very nearly the East Coast. Growing up in Iowa (our Dutch are actually Dutch, as in from the Netherlands as opposed to the Pennsylvania Dutch who are German) I come from those “plain” people who take a rather no frills approach to food. That is not to say the food is not good, in fact much of it is quite excellent. Much pride is taken in its making and much appreciation is taken in its eating. Still in some regards it is still fairly simple. Truth be told, the simplicity of much of the food of the midwest is probably more a result of the various immigrant groups no longer having access to the spices and other culinary materials of their perspective homelands. That and the economy of farm life precludes certain extravagances.
Simple it may be, but with food simple can be the best (when is the last time you looked at the back of a TV dinner and thought “no wonder this is the best thing I’ve ever tasted, look at all those ingredients”). A few fresh ingredients prepared in uncomplicated manner is the basis form most of the world’s cuisines (and probably all of its home cooking). This recipe is an illustration of simplicity producing a quick, economical and delicious tasting dish. While there is nothing exceptionally Germanic about corn chowder, this recipe is a pretty fair example of American midwest farm cooking.
- 12 saltines
- 1 c. milk (I prefer whole)
- 1/4 pound of salt pork or bacon, chopped (I use bacon)
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 4 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 2 to 3 cups of water (enough to cover)
- 2 cups of whole kernel corn (about 3 fresh ears)
- 1 1/4 t. salt
- 1/2 t. paprika
- Crumble up the saltines and mix with the 1 c. of milk, set aside. In a pan brown the chopped salt pork or bacon over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook until soft.
- Add the potatoes and water and cook until the potatoes are just tender (about 15 minutes). Stir in the cracker milk mixture, corn, salt, and paprika. Cook a few more minutes until the soup is thick and the corn is just done (if using canned or frozen corn just cook until the soup is thick and heated thoroughly).