Photograph by Jennifer MacNeill-Traylor, National Geographic Your Shot
Photograph by Jennifer MacNeill-Traylor, National Geographic Your Shot
The Plate

The Simple, Edible Pleasures of Pennsylvania Dutch Country

Travel down the rural backroads of Ohio, Indiana, or Pennsylvania, and you’re likely to pass a horse-drawn buggy or see a team of horses pulling a plow through a field. Both are sure signs that you’re in Pennsylvania Dutch country, also frequently referred to as Amish country.

But first, let’s clear up some misconceptions about the people who live there: Pennsylvania Dutch, Amish, and Mennonite aren’t interchangeable terms. “Pennsylvania Dutch” refers to the descendants of German-speaking settlers from Europe who settled in the U.S., mainly in the 18th century. While that includes many Amish people, not all Pennsylvania Dutch are Amish. Some are Mennonite, Brethren, Lutheran, or adherents of other religions (and we should note that each of these have various sects, as well), while some who identify as Pennsylvania Dutch have no religious affiliation at all.

Collectively, many of the Pennsylvania Dutch—those who avoid many (but not all) forms of modern technology, like automobiles, computers, motorized farm equipment, and trendy dress—are referred to as “plain people.”

OK, you say, so what does any of this have to do with food? Well, farm-to-table, DIY, local food is not a trend for plain peopleit’s their way of life. Small-plot, hand-tilled family farms? They’re the backbone of many Amish and Mennonite communities. DIY fresh jams, jellies, pickles, and preserves? Those are staples in homes that typically lack refrigerators. And Pennsylvania Dutch specialities combine American classics (think pork chops, dumplings, scrapple, pot pie, shoofly pie) and German influences (potato salad, pretzels, pickles, sauerkraut)—perfect dishes for foodies who are rediscovering the simple, hearty, comfort food that plain people have been preparing for generations.

So this week, we’re sharing photos that highlight how many of these foods make it to the family table in Pennsylvania Dutch country—and, lucky for the rest of us, the Amish and Pennsylvania Dutch markets you’ll find in many parts of the United States. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to take our poll! What foods do you love to pick up at an Amish market? Let us know below.