In many past blog posts, I’ve mentioned my PA Dutch (not Amish, but PA Germans) heritage. My father’s family settled in northeastern PA, before the Revolutionary War, making my family tree’s roots in the Pocono Mountain soil very deep. While many of these PA Dutch relatives and neighbors greatly influenced my life, I have always felt truly fortunate that God blessed me with what I have always considered a wise, Jewish grandmother figure too (mentioned in previous blog posts: here, here, here, here). My childhood UCC Reformed pastor was married to a lovely Jewish lady from New York City, who was educated at Teachers College Columbia University.
The parsonage for St. Matthew’s UCC Church in Kunkletown was not next-door to the church, but was on the edge of the village (yes, Kunkletown was officially designated a “village” in PA):
Hamlets and Villages
Villages in Pennsylvania are often small communities within a township that chose not to incorporate into a borough. Many villages are identified by the familiar PennDOT sign along a state highway. Lahaska is an example of typical village in suburbanPennsylvania.
The parsonage was directly across the road from my childhood home.
Our pastor and his wife. Rev. and Mrs. Boehner, had collected a very nice home library, which Mrs. Boehner kept meticulously organized and maintained. They also subscribed to several magazines, some of which their subscription went back to the 1920s. When Rev. Boehner retired in 1969, he turned a large building next to the parsonage, which he had built for his woodworking, into a small retirement home. In this small open floor plan design, with a small kitchen area, dining area, and living room area, they designed a long wall of floor-to-ceiling bookcases, with a built-in desk area centered along the wall, to showcase their home library. Mrs. Boehner had her piano on one end of the living room too, which added to the air of culture, when you walked into their home.
Mrs. Boehner dedicated her life to doing good works, in a tradition long familiar in pastors’ wives. She also became neighborhood children’s go-to source when writing school reports or needing information. Kunkletown did not have a public library and I believe the nearest public library, when I was a kid, was in Stroudsburg, PA. (half-hour drive away) Later there was a local branch in Brodheadsville, PA (10 miles away). Mrs. Boehner allowed us to use their home library like our own personal library and she graciously served as our volunteer librarian, project advisor and mentor with teaching us how to research topics.
Often, if we told Mrs. Boehner our report topic, she would search her home library and magazine collection, which she had organized on small bookcases in their attic, and she would have the stack of books and magazines, with article pages bookmarked, waiting for us. If we wanted to do some sleuthing ourselves, she allowed us to scamper up their attic ladder and spend hours up there looking through her magazine collection. She often would climb up to check on us or join us in our efforts. She was a great teacher.
By the time I was a teenager, she had singled me out as her favorite pupil and I am thankful everyday for the efforts she put into teaching me to think about many things larger than my little village. She would often have books and magazines, neatly stacked, waiting for me, where she would smile and say, “Susie, I thought of you when I read this.”, then she’d proceed to explain an article or a book or often a quote she had jotted down, which she thought was memorable or important to what she believed was the best education – a classic liberal arts education.
She allowed me to borrow her Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and of course, I have a copy of my own now. She told me that it would be a good idea if I started a notebook to keep my favorite quotations all in one place. I immediately got a Mead spiral organizer notebook, with pockets to serve as my very own quote notebook. I still have it:
Mrs. Boehner subscribed to Yankee Magazine, often having articles marked, in the latest one, waiting for me to read. I developed a soft spot in my heart for that Yankee Magazine and later their books. Even though Yankee Magazine is about New England, I felt a deep connection to much of the homespun advice and stories. Her love of Yankee Magazine led to my love of it too, but also my interest in learning how “everything” was done in the “olden days”. I acquire books like:
And, another fascination of mine is what nowadays they call “repurposing”. That is the process of taking old junk and turning it into some sort of other usable item. I think this book title is more honest:
However, you might find real gems, so a book like this is handy too:
All of this brings me to the one thing that I laid claim to as a definitive PA Dutch habit – one I grew up embracing wholeheartedly and one my husband never understood, no matter how often I told him, “Pie is the best thing to eat for breakfast. PERIOD!” I grew up eating pie for breakfast, even though my mother cooked traditional breakfast spreads and we had plenty of cold cereal, oatmeal and even Cream of Wheat options to choose from.
My favorite pies for breakfast were shoofly pie, which is the PA Dutch molasses crumb pie and funny cake, which only the PA Dutch would embrace, with its total disregard for piling in as many extra calories and fat into one dessert as possible. Funny cake is yellow cake, marbled with chocolate syrup, which pools in a nice gooey layer on the bottom, inside a flaky pie shell – yes, it’s a cake baked in a pie shell. I used to bake both often when my kids were little.
2 1/4 c. flour
1 2/3 c. sugar
3/4 c. milk
2/3 c. Crisco vegetable shortening
1 tsp. salt
3 1/2 tsp. baking powder
Beat, then add:
1/2 c. milk
3 unbeaten eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
Pour batter into 2 – 9″ pie plates lined with unbaked pie shells. Pour funny cake liquid over each pie and bake at 375 degrees or 30-35 minutes.
Funny Cake Liquid:
1/2 c. cocoa
1 c. sugar
1 c. boiling water
1 tsp. vanilla extract
(Do not cool before pouring over batter)
Then I realized that eating pie for breakfast wasn’t really just a PA Dutch thing…
“A Yankee, to a European, is any American. To a Southerner, it’s a Northerner; to Northerner it’s a New Englander; to a New Englander, a resident of Maine, New Hampshire, or Vermont. But to those of us who are still not excluded by other definition, it’s someone who eats pie for breakfast.
The breed is getting rarer, since most people don’t eat anything for breakfast anymore — or not so’s you’d notice. Pie for breakfast is a custom from the days when breakfast was a full and hearty meal eaten after a couple of hours of pre-dawn work had already taken place.”
Pie For Breakfast by Barbara Radcliffe Rogers, p. 168, The Yankee Magazine Cookbook
Well, even if eating pie for breakfast isn’t just a PA Dutch thing, let me assure you that shoofly pie or funny cake are way better with a cup of hot coffee in the morning than apple pie or some other not-PA Dutch pie selection;-)
Failing that, my mother baked homemade cinnamon rolls that were to die for…
Have a nice day:-)