Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--German and Pennsylvania German Breads/Dessert

     Recently I was working in the Southeast Pennsylvania area, which is home to a significant population of Amish and Mennonites.  They are often referred to as the "Pennsylvania Dutch," which is a confusing term:  Their heritage is actually German, not Dutch.  "Dutch" in this case is a corruption of "Deutsch," which means "German" in their language.  The foods I picked up were two breads and a dessert--muesli bread, sunflower seed bread, and shoo-fly pie.  One of the breads was from a NJ Wegman's, one from a PA one, and the dessert came from a PA Weis supermarket.
     As you can see from my photos on this blog, I have quite pronounced "mutton chop" sideburns.  Because of this, friends have frequently joked that I look Amish.  Back during the times when we archaeologists worked with school children for the day as part of a public outreach, I was asked if I was Amish several times.  (The children's other most frequent question was mercenary and practical--wondering what our salaries were.)  During previous projects on Amish and Mennonite farms, my coworkers and I noticed something funny.  When the farmer, or other family members approached us, they always seemed to talk to me first.  Did they think I was a recent runaway from their group?  (It could have been a coincidence, of course.)  I also recall a female boss remarking that she was impressed by her dealings with the male Mennonite farmers.  She said they were unfailingly polite, and paid close attention to her while she was speaking, but not in a creepy way.
     Both breads were from Mestemacher.  As you can probably tell from the name, it's a German company.  The sunflower seed bread, aside from its title ingredient, contained organic whole kernel rye, whole rye flour, sea salt, and yeast.  It was a thick, dense bread, with a dark brown color.  It looked a lot like pumpernickel bread.  Its size was slightly unusual--the slices were long, about 6 inches (15 cm.), but rather thin, about 3-4 inches (7-10 cm.) wide.  I had some plain, some with butter, and some as a cheese sandwich.  It was good--dense and grainy.  Way more flavorful than a boring slice of white bread.
     The origin of the main ingredient in the other bread, muesli, is well known.  Muesli was invented by a Swiss doctor, Maxmilian Bircher-Benner, in 1900.  He was looking for a healthier food to serve to the patients at his hospital.  He claimed to have been inspired by a dish served in the Swiss Alps.  Muesli, which means "mashup" or "puree" in German, can be made in different ways.  But it consists of a rolled grain (usually oats, corn flakes, wheat flour, or rye flour) mixed with dried fruit (apples, berries, grapes, and banana being typical) along with nuts and seeds.  My example was made from whole meal rye, whole rye flour, sultanas, flax seed, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, almonds, oat flakes, raw cane sugar, salt, sesame, and yeast.  Like the sunflower seed bread, it was dense, dark brown, and reminiscent of pumpernickel bread.  As before I tried it as a cheese sandwich, with butter, and plain.  My opinion was also pretty much the same.  Tasty, and interesting.  You could pick out the occasional bit of nut or other large ingredient pieces.  I liked the sunflower bread a little bit more, but the muesli kind was also respectable and good.
     I'd actually had shoo-fly pie as a child, so this recent time was a reminder.  The name is just as you'd probably think--shoo-fly pie's major ingredient is molasses, necessitating the need for the maker to discourage the flying pests that the sweetness will attract.  It comes in both a dry and wet bottom variety.  This most recent time I had the wet.  Aside from the molasses the pie contains flour, sugar, vegetable shortening, leavening, and possibly milk, eggs, wheat, soy, peanuts, and tree nuts (I  think the last part of this list is for legal reasons, for people with severe allergies).  Shoo-fly pie is very good.  The store-bought kind was good, but, not shockingly, I've found home-made to be superior.  If you like pies and sweet flavors, you'll probably enjoy this.  It's probably not very healthy to eat frequently, but it has a pleasing taste.  "Diabetes in a pie shell," I guess.  Given their love of overly-sweetened things like Sweet Tea, I'm a little surprised that shoo-fly pie isn't consumed more in the American South.
     Finally, getting back to the Pennsylvania "Dutch," I thought the movie, "The Devil's Playground" (2002) was a worthwhile documentary.  It's about rumspringa, the period during the late teen years when Amish and Mennonite kids go out and experience the world outside their communities, before deciding whether to stay with their community, or leave forever.  You see these kids having wild drinking parties, doing drugs, and in general going crazy, sometimes while still wearing their traditional garb.  It was very illuminating.

No comments:

Post a Comment