Why is “Pennsylvania Dutch” called “Dutch”?

What’s that language that the Amish speak? It’s called “Pennsylvania Dutch” or just “Dutch”. It confusing because it’s not the Dutch that people in Holland speak – it’s a dialect of German. So why is everything in Amish country is called “Dutch” when the dialect spoken is really German? This will require a short history lesson, so bear with us.

Deutschland, the homeland

The original Anabaptist Christian movement (meaning “re-baptizers”) began in the 1500’s in German-speaking Switzerland. Many Anabaptists lived in the mountains around Bern, Switzerland, the Alsace-Lorraine and the German Palatinate. In 1693, a conservative sect of these Swiss Anabaptists broke away from the main branch and followed the teachings of Jakob Amman, later known as the Amish. The main branch of the movement was eventually called the Mennonites, after a priest from Holland named Menno Simons.

When the Amish and Swiss Mennonites came to America, they brought with them their Swiss dialect. Along with the many German-speaking immigrants who came to Pennsylvania, the entire group was termed “Pennsylvania Dutch”. Dutch or “Deutsch” is actually German for the German language.

Du sind Deitsch!

Modern Pennsylvania Dutch varies from community to community and state to state. “Deitschers”,  or those who can speak Dutch, can always tell if someone is from out of the area just by their way of speaking. English is often mixed into the vernacular so you may catch a few phrases or words if you listen closely. High German speakers will find it difficult to understand and communicate since the Dutch dialect is so evolved – Swiss and Low German is similar but still quite different.

A word to the wise: those of you who read Amish novels may expect to have a good grasp of the Amish language. Believe me, it’s not even a drop in the bucket. I’ve lived in an Amish/Mennonite community all of my life, know enough Dutch and German to be dangerous, but I would not even try to speak Dutch to an Amish person. It’s not offensive to them, but you’ll find yourself to be the chuckle of the day and a good story at their next family gathering. Try speaking Dutch only if you have the ability to laugh at yourself!

A short glossary and the comedic side of “Dutch”

Dutch is really a fun language. This is a short list of common and amusing Dutch words. The words are spelled as they sound.

  • Diener – Minister
  • Dawdy – Grandpa (Sometimes the little house built next to the big family house is called the “Dawdy Haus“.)
  • Mammy – Grandma
  • Ferhuddled – Mixed up or confused
  • Groombadda mush – Mashed potatoes
  • Greeny bonna – Green beans
  • Lumba – Dish rag
  • Butz – To clean.
  • Wie bischt du? – How are you?
  • Kannst du Deitsch schwetza? – Can you understand Dutch?
  • Schmutz – Grease
  • Doplich or Dobbich – Clumsy. “I’m so dobbich, I tripped over my own feet!”
  • Loppich – Naughty
  • Gook mal doe! – Look at that!
  • Strubblich – messy. “My hair is so strubblich!” Grandma used to say this.
  • Hook die hanna. – Sit down! Often heard on the bus ride home from school.
  • Hinkle – Chicken
  • Gol or Golly – Horse
  • Kuw – Cow
  • Schlock – To hit. “He schlocked the ball over the fence.”
  • Bush – Trees. “He schlocked the ball over the bush.”
  • Shiddle – To shake. “My custard pie is so slimy, it’s shiddling.”
  • Glevalich – Slimy. “My custard pie is so glevalich, it’s shiddling.”
  • Iss da Chim dat? – “Is Jim home?” – A direct quote from my youth. The neighbors called us often at 6am, looking for my dad, Jim.)
  • Maydy, vit du hayra? “Girl, do you want to get married?” This phrase is actually a well-known Dutch song by Ohio musician John Schmid.

Lost in translation? German has a different word order than English, so the translation to English (and vice versa) can cause fits of giggling.

  • I stood up at 6 this morning. “I woke up and got out of bed at 6 o’clock.”
  • Make the lights out. “Turn off the lights.”
  • The lemonade is all. “There is no more lemonade.”
  • Throw the cow over the fence some hay. “Throw some hay over the fence for the cow.”
  • We get too soon oldt and too late schmart.

Have an amusing Dutch word or phrase? Post it (clean ones, please) in a response. We’d love to hear them.

Etiquette in Amish Country

Amish Farmer Chopping SilageIf you’ve ever visited Amish country, you already know that you’ll see and hear things that are both unique and fascinating. And while you may have the feeling that you’ve traveled back in time, please remember that this is, in fact, real life for everyone who lives here – both Amish and “English”.

To enhance your experience, you’ll want to remember a few things before setting out on your trip…

Driving in Amish Country

You’ve left the beltways and four-lane highways behind for a slower pace. A very slow pace. A trotting horse will be traveling at 8 miles per hour or less. A team pulling farm machinery may be painfully slow. Especially on the hills of Holmes and Tuscarawas Counties, you may catch up with a buggy or bicyclist on a hill where you can’t see oncoming traffic. Just be patient. You’ll get there eventually – wait until you have a clear view of the traffic coming from the other direction.

Be very cautious at night – even though some Amish churches allow reflectors and lights, black buggies are still difficult to see on a dark road without streetlights. The most conservative orders of Amish allow only one lantern hung on the side of the buggy and are almost impossible to see at night. They are most common in the Mount Hope and Apple Creek areas in Ohio.

Honking is rather disrespectful. Horses, by nature, are flight animals. Honking can “spook” or frighten them and cause a wreck. Most horses on the roads are “traffic safe” (broke to drive in traffic) but you never know. Give them the benefit of the doubt and be ready for anything. If you feel the need to alert a buggy driver, a light tap on the horn will suffice.

Photographing the Amish

Amish do not pose for photographs or videos, the key word being “pose”. Posing for photographs is seen as prideful or interpreted as making a graven image, forbidden in the Ten Commandments. Exceptions may be made for children or young people who have not yet joined the church.

However, many Amish will not resent visitors taking photos of their buggy, working on the farm or in public places. Just be careful and respectful – no need to hang out of your car trying to shoot an up-close photo of a “real Amish person”. If you feel uncomfortable taking the photo, just ask permission. The answer may be no, but your polite request may open the door to a conversation!

Buggy horses and other farm animals

It’s fine to stand back admire that beautiful field of shiny black and white Holstein dairy cows, but it’s impolite and dangerous to enter the field to pet or feed them. Again, animals are unpredictable – they have teeth that could bite or heels that could kick! The occasional bull in the field could also ruin your day.

The same warning applies to buggy horses tied at a hitching rail. It’s always best to ask permission to touch the animal or buggy. Stories have arisen of Amish returning after shopping, only to find tourists sitting in their buggy posing for pictures. Please, don’t do this.

Conversations with the Amish

Tourism is so common in Ohio’s Amish country that most people have become accustomed to questions and conversations with visitors. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or say hello, especially in a public setting. Be genuinely interested in the response and never make anyone feel foolish (a good reminder for all conversations!)

One fellow blogger recommended trying to speak a little Pennsylvania Dutch. This makes me smile – the day-to-day Dutch spoken by the Amish is a little different than the “Dutch” you may read in popular Amish romance novels. Even those of us who know enough Dutch “to be dangerous” would not try speaking more than a few words here and there. That is, unless you want to be the latest amusing story at their next Sunday church lunch.

Amish Etiquette 101

Really, the main thing to remember is the Golden Rule, paraphrased as: treat others the way you’d like to be treated yourself. It’s mostly common sense. Amish Country isn’t a zoo or a show with actors. We’re all people just like you and appreciate the same kindnesses that you do.

Fried Amish Cornmeal Mush

No breakfast in Amish country is complete without a hearty helping of fried cornmeal mush. Most often eaten with syrup or sausage gravy, it’s a simple, honest and economical dish that has long been a staple in Amish and Mennonite households.

Fried Cornmeal Mush

Fried Cornmeal Mush

Humble Cornmeal

Made with ground corn, mush was well-known on the American frontier. Corn was first cultivated by the Native Americans, but newcomers to the New World soon learned the value of corn. Easily dried and ground, corn could be ground and used in mush (either fried or in a porridge), cornbread, corn pone and grits.

Because mush required few ingredients to make and cornmeal was plentiful, the American pioneers carried corn mush with them on wagon trains and other travels. A breakfast and/or supper dish, it was served with butter and milk if available. Since the Amish themselves were pioneers from Europe with large families to feed, they soon learned to appreciate humble corn mush as must in the farmhouse kitchen. It’s been said that that corn mush might have been the food staple that kept the pioneers alive during long winters and lean times.

How to make Amish cornmeal mush

Corn mush is made with finely-ground yellow corn meal. It’s easily available in grocery stores or, if you are ambitious, you can make your own. Just be aware that corn meal is not made from sweet corn! Sweet corn is what you eat off the cob, but it’s not suitable for corn meal. Yellow cornmeal is made with “dent” corn or field corn (look for the dent at the top of the kernel). Field corn is harder and more starchy.

You will need to make sure the corn dried thoroughly before you grind it in dry mill. Specialty stores such as Lehman’s Hardware carry mills and even corn to grind.

Once you have cornmeal, mush is pretty simple. Other than cornmeal, the only ingredients are water and salt. There are variations, but here is a recipe:

3/4 cup – cold water
3 cups boiling water
1 cup – corn meal
1 tsp – salt

First make a paste with cold water and cornmeal/salt mixture, then stir in boiling water. Continue to cook (stirring often) over a low heat for about 20 minutes, then pour into a pan and let cool until the mush is set. Slice thinly and fry in oil until crispy brown. Serve hot with breakfast syrup, sausage gravy, tomato gravy or apple butter.

If you’d rather go straight to the frying, ready-made corn mush is available in many bulk food stores and bakeries in Ohio’s Amish country or online at the Dutchman Online Store.


For a really Pennsylvania Dutch variation, try scrapple, also known as “pon haus”. Pon haus was made at butchering time and consists of pork scraps and trimmings mixed with cornmeal mush. We won’t go into the details here, but the scraps were cuts that were not usable elsewhere and therefore made into scrapple to avoid waste. Pon haus is sliced like regular mush and fried. It’s still available in some butcher shops and sometimes bulk food stores.

Amish Date Pudding

Amish Date Pudding

Date pudding, served with caramel sauce and whipped cream

During the holiday season, every culture has traditions that are cherished and celebrated. Mennonite and Amish culture is no different, particularly in foods. Here in Ohio, no holiday meal (Christmas or Thanksgiving) would be complete without serving date pudding.

No, it’s not a pudding that you’d find in sealed plastic cups at the grocery store! It’s actually a very moist cake, flavored with dates, nuts and lots of sugar. And while we can’t say exactly when or why the date pudding tradition started, it’s certainly a fine way to celebrate Christmas or any important occasion.

There is no right or wrong way to make date pudding. Recipes are handed down through the generations and each family thinks their version is the best! Date pudding may be baked Up-side Down (or right side up), with bananas, without bananas, with caramel sauce and so on. My own Grandma Miller served date pudding cake broken into pieces and mixed thoroughly with fresh whipped cream (made from milk from the cows gave that morning), placed in a large deep dessert bowl and topped with bananas.

I’ve personally made date pudding several ways, but here is the recipe that I’ve used the most. It’s actually the recipe Der Dutchman Restaurant uses to make the date pudding they’ve served for 40 years.

Amish Date Pudding

1 cup boiling water
1 teaspoon soda
1 cup chopped dates (buy them already chopped or use a food processor to chop whole dates)
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon butter
1 egg, beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup walnuts

Pour boiling water over dates and soda. Let set until cool. Add date mixture to the rest of the ingredients. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Test the cake with a toothpick – if it comes out clean, the cake is ready. Cut into squares and top with whipped cream, walnuts and bananas.

Peach Pie Season in Amish Country

Dutchman Fresh Peach Pie

Dutchman Fresh Peach Pie

Nothing tastes like summer like fresh peaches! Beginning mid to late July, they are in season here in Ohio. Families all across Amish country will buy them by the bushel and either can or freeze them.

Whether you can them or eat them fresh, you’ll want to start out with quality fruit. Here are a few tips for buying peaches.

Selecting your fruit

When shopping for peaches, be very picky. You’ll want to make sure the fruit is soft but not bruised. While bruised peaches spoil quickly, peaches that are hard will never ripen correctly and are not as tasty. To save yourself both grief and work, be sure to select free-stone varieties – “cling” peaches do not lift off the stone easily and will be harder to slice. Red Haven is the variety of choice but there are many good options for eating and “putting away.”

If you plan to can or freeze your peaches, try to ask for varieties that do not turn brown when sliced. Although the peaches may taste OK, they won’t retain the beautiful yellow color they had when fresh. If you’re not sure what kind of peaches you have, just coat your sliced peaches with an acid, such as lemon juice or orange juice. The acid helps the peaches look fresh and yellow until you eat them next winter.

It’s fine to store peaches in your refrigerator, but be sure to store them side-by-side. Stacking peaches will cause them to bruise and get mushy. Before eating fresh peaches, remove them from the refrigerator to warm up. Peaches at room temperature seem to have better taste than those straight out of the frig.

If you do happen to buy some peaches that aren’t ripe (a ripe peach should be soft but not mushy), just lay them out in one layer on your kitchen counter. They’ll ripen up naturally in a day or so.

Where to buy peaches

In Walnut Creek, Hillcrest Orchard is one place that raises their own peaches (50 acres of peach and apple trees) and they pick them only when they are ripe. Peaches will be available there by August 1.

Another option is at our local livestock auctions, such as Farmerstown (Tuesday), Mount Hope (Wednesday) or Kidron (Thursday). You’ll find multiple vendors there with peach varieties such as Harvestor, Contender, Red Haven and the later varieties of “white” peaches. If you are in the market for large lots of fruit, check out the Farmer’s Produce Auction in Mount Hope on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

In Plain City, just west of Columbus, you’ll be able to find peaches at Yutzy’s Farm Market. They’ll be selling the varieties Contender, Red Glow and later Red Haven. All three are good for freezing and canning and are free-stone varieties.

Peach Pie

Fresh peach pie, as the name states, is made with fresh uncooked peaches. At our Der Dutchman and Dutch Valley restaurants, pie bakers peel and slice the peaches, then cover with a homemade peachy-orange glaze. Although we can’t give you our recipe (it’s got a secret ingredient), it’s made with peach-flavored jello as its base. It’s the job of one baker to peel the peaches for all our pies – it takes nearly all day. The pies are made by filling a pre-baked pie shell and topped with whipped cream.

On the other hand, if you’d like to bake your peaches into a pie, here’s a simple Peach Cream Pie recipe that comes from our original and old-fashioned 1973 Der Dutchman Cookbook

Peach Cream Pie
From Mrs. Ben Miller

1 cup white sugar
1 cup cream
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Approximately 3 – 4  fresh peaches, depending on the size

Fill an unbaked pie crust with peeled fresh peaches. Mix the sugar, cream and cornstarch and pour mixture over the peaches in the pie shell. Bake like a custard pie.

Editor’s note: Instructions for baking a custard pie are as follows: Bake for 400 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes or until until nicely browned on top.

What in the world is Rhubarb?

Ahh…rhubarb. It’s one of the first crops of the spring. A sure sign that spring really has arrived, it starts sending up its first green shoots as soon as the ground begins to warm, usually in April in our neck of the woods.

Photo of Rhubarb

Rhubarb often has beautiful red stalks

Don’t know what rhubarb is? Well, you’re not alone. Here in Ohio’s Amish Country, most people are quite familiar with the plant. Most people with a garden will have a clump of rhubarb somewhere on the property. The wide triangular leaves of this rhizome are poisonous, but the stalks have a unique tart taste that makes wonderful pies, cakes, jams. salads and many other tasty recipes.

Rhubarb is said to be a very “old” plant, meaning that documented knowledge of the plant goes back as far as 2,700 years in China. The roots were said to have medicinal value and were a prized commodity. In his travels, Marco Polo became acquainted with rhubarb and soon the roots of Chinese rhubarb were traded in Italy. Interest in the plant began to spread throughout Europe. Seeds or rootstock were brought to America with the early pioneer farmer. Cultivation and use of the stalks as a food grew as sugar became more readily available as a sweetener.

How to grow Rhubarb

Rhubarb is a cool season crop and is well-suited for Canada and the northern United States. Winter time temperatures must be below 40 degrees to break its dormancy period. Harvesting can begin as soon as the stalks are between a half inch or an inch in width. The more you harvest, the more the plant will yield.

It likes well-drained slightly acidic soils with an abundance of organic matter. The recommended fertilizer is well-aged manure. Since no herbicides can be used, weeds can be a problem and should be addressed by diligent hand-weeding and hoeing. Rhubarb is relatively pest and disease-free.

Our own rhubarb patch was started from the seeds of a neighbor’s plant. Rhubarb will grow a rather unsightly seed head which many people cut off before it reaches maturity. Leaving the heads on the plant also seem to strain the vigor and decrease the yield. Alternately, roots can be dug and transplanted to start a patch.

A word of caution: If you go looking for rhubarb, don’t confuse it with the weeds that grow along the road sides. This is Burdock, a weed that is considered toxic! It looks similar but is not what you are looking for. You can tell by the leaves – rhubarb has smooth leaves and burdock leaves have woolly undersides. It will grow into an annoying perennial weed that spreads quickly and produces cockle burrs that will attach themselves to your clothes, your hair and your dog. Don’t let this get going in your garden.

Recipe for Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Der Dutchman Rhubarb Crumb Pie

Our crumb-topped rhubarb pies from Der Dutchman and Dutch Valley Restaurants

Here’s the best part! At our Der Dutchman and Dutch Valley restaurants, we make rhubarb-cream cheese cookies, coffee cake and the most popular of all, rhubarb crumb pies. Rhubarb has many delicious uses but because of its strong tart flavor, it requires large amounts of sugar. Often, bakers will mix in strawberries to lessen the tartness. Below is a Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie recipe from our 40th Anniversary Cookbook contributed by on of our salad cooks, Clara I. Miller.

1 pint fresh strawberries
2 cups sliced fresh rhubarb
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind or 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Make (or buy) enough pie crust for a double crust pie:
1 layer to line your pie shell, 9 inches in diameter
1 layer to form your top pie crust (or make a topping of crumbs with butter, brown sugar and flour)

Combine the sugars, flour and lemon; Add the fresh fruit and toss together. Add the mixture to your unbaked pie shell and cover with the second the top crust. Pinch together the edges and bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 50 minutes. Enjoy warm with a dollop of vanilla ice cream!

Exploring the German Culture Museum in Walnut Creek

The Old German Culture Museum

The Old German Culture Museum still stands in Walnut Creek.

Holmes County, home to the world’s largest Amish community, has its share of attractions and shopping. But as of last May, another venue reopened in the village of Walnut Creek. The German Culture Museum has been open in the town since the early 1980’s with a collection of historical items pertaining to the arrival of the Amish in the area, Amish origins in Europe, as well as local traditions and lore.

Housed in a small house where President William McKinley once slept, the original German Culture Museum was a the brainchild of several of Walnut Creek township’s history fanatics, particularly the Schlabach Family, Wayne Hostetler and Roscoe Miller. With the blessings of the Mennonite Information Center (known for the Behalt cyclorama), the team started assembling collections of items that belonged to the early pioneers of Walnut Creek, as well as photos, books, and other antiques. Stanley Kaufman, a former art professor living in Berlin, expertly arranged each room of the little house to describe different aspects of life in the township from the early 1800’s to the present day. Guided tours were available during the weekend.

As years passed, the Museum directors saw that the little blue building would never be large enough to house all of the collection. There was no place to display a surrey, wagons or the numerous local furniture pieces that were housed in two dark damp storage facilities. The old building was neither climate-controlled, weather-tight or handicap accessible – all problematic issues. When land was donated by the Schlabach Family for a community building, the idea began to circulate to relocate the German Culture Museum.

In May of 2007, work began on a brand new Walnut Creek Community building to house a branch of the Holmes County library, a community meeting room and the new home of the German Culture Museum. Entirely paid for by a community fund drive, the building was completed and work began on moving the extensive and fragile collection from the old museum to its new basement home across the street. It took quite some time and a lot of grunt work to clean, build displays and arrange the antiques, but the museum reopened in the summer of 2010.

Jonas "Der Weiss" Stutzman Reenactor

Larry Miller, local resident, as "Der Weiss". Der Weiss means "The White One" in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect.

Rooms have been built to feature the old Kitchen, Bedroom (complete with rope bed and straw tick mattress), Dining Room, Textiles and Tool Collection. In addition, you will be able to see a small replica of a European Hiding Place where Mennonites hid from persecutors during the Reformation and the completely restored and Rockefeller Surrey. A museum feature is a replica of the cabin built by first settler in Walnut Creek, Jonas Stutzman who was known as “Der Weiss.” On a visit, you may even experience a conversation with the old fellow in the form of a Der Weiss reenactor.

Oh, by the way, Ohio’s newest covered bridge over the Walnut Creek has been named Stutzman Crossing in honor of Jonas. To find out why Jonas was called “Der Weiss,” view an interview with “Der Weiss” at the Grand Opening of the bridge last November.

At the new museum location, you’ll be now be able to tour at your own pace, but feel free to ask questions of the museum attendants. Expect to spend an hour there (or more if you are really a history buff), and take your time to view all the fascinating variety of items on display. You won’t need to be a local or a member of the older generation to enjoy the experience – all ages and school groups will find this to be a step back into time.

As of spring 2011, the museum plans to be open on Saturdays, with possible additional days throughout the week. Since the museum is staffed entirely by volunteers, entrance fees are on a donation basis – a great idea for families on a budget. To inquire about hours or book special tours, please call 330-893-2510

If you’re looking for an economical and educational activity, the  German Culture Museum should be a planned stop on your trip to Walnut Creek or Amish country. The museum is located on Olde Pump Street, just around the corner from the well-known Der Dutchman Restaurant in the basement of the brand-new library building. It is handicap-accessible and parking is free.