Photos: The Cuisine of Eastern Pennsylvania

March 27, 2013

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Over my recent spring break we headed east to visit Mrs. Bfast w/Nick’s family. Most of her family hails from Pennsylvania, with one whole contingent from the southeast corner of the state in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania Dutch territory. This region, like every region with a good identity, sports some very unique eating. First up: pickled beet eggs. My wife’s grammie has always made them, and I never knew or loved them until I had hers. The beets and eggs (hard-boiled) are pickled together in the beet juice, vinegar, and sugar. They’re a little sweet and they stain your fingers.

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At a family dinner we also had a dish called corn pie.

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This is a very basic mixture of corn, hard-boiled eggs, milk, and butter in a pie crust, flavored with salt and pepper. It’s simple, easy-to-like comfort food.

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Pizza is pizza, but it always tastes better when it’s a little sentimental. This is a slice of the meat lovers from P&J Pizza in Womelsdorf. P&J was my wife’s grandfathers favorite pizza place; the family that owned the place always called him “Charlie,” even though that’s not his name. When Pop passed away a couple years ago, we actually had to make the call to P&J to let them know that Charlie had passed, and they were genuinely disappointed to lose a friend.

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We spent a morning in the adorable and vibrant small town of Lititz, including breakfast at a home-cooking buffet (blog post coming soon!). Lititz was just voted Coolest Small Town in America by Budget Travel, and from what I’ve seen that’s a worthy title. Storefronts are not only occupied by small businesses, but they’re busy, too. There’s a healthy mix of history and some modern invention, and the town overall is very well-kept. We visited two food-related places that are steeped in history.

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The first stop was the Julius Sturgis pretzel factory, first pretzel bakery in the U.S. The small stone building still houses the old equipment and ovens, although they only make soft pretzels on site. The twice-baked pretzels are made at a larger factory nearby.

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On the tour you learn to roll and twist your own pretzel.

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And then there’s the obligatory sampling of the fresh soft pretzels.IMG_3236

Around the corner from Julius Sturgis is Wilbur Chocolate Company, still making chocolate in their original production space. The lower level is a shop and museum, but on the floors above you can hear the equipment thumping away.

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Part of the gift shop serves as a small museum, with displays of old packaging, equipment, and photos.

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Out of sheer curiosity, I picked up a bag of Wilbur’s coffee. The package noted that the beans are dusted with cocoa, and they seriously weren’t kidding.

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If you’re eating in eastern Pennsylvania, you’ve got to have some scrapple! Scrapple is made from the butcher’s meat scraps, mixed with cornmeal and seasonings, then sliced and fried. When it’s done well, it’s good. When it’s not done well… it’s hard to forget what goes into it. This was the version served at our buffet breakfast in Lititz, and it was quite good. Crispy and well-seasoned.

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We finished the weekend with breakfast at a local diner called Risser’s Family Restaurant. You have to love small town diners and their placemats with local advertising.

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At Risser’s I tried their eggs benedict with a couple hash brown patties. All very good – the hollandaise was a little on the thick side – but all in all it was a fitting end to a weekend of comfort food.

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FOOD + TRAVEL WRITER

I go by Dr. Breakfast, but in addition to restaurants and recipes, I write about family travel, breweries and distilleries, the arts, outdoor fun, and so much more.

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