Pennsylvania Dutch Soft Cookies and a nostalgia for a childhood I only read about

by Irvin on April 14, 2011 · 21 comments

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Pennsylvania Dutch Cookies by Irvin Lin of Eat the Love.

Growing up I had a slight fascination with other “outsider” cultures. Perhaps it was because I was Asian, or “Oriental” as they referred to it back then, living in the Midwest surrounded by white people. I have specific memories of asking the one other oriental girl in my grade school if she spoke Chinese at all. She looked at me as if I were crazy and emphatically said NO with derision as she stormed off (later I would discover that Janet Kim was, in fact, Korean not Chinese). I was fascinated by anyone that identified as “other” and read young adult books voraciously whose themes were about growing up different. Looking back, this is pretty much the theme of EVERY young adult novel (who doesn’t feel different and alienated growing up?) but I loved my books.

my brother, me and my sister

That’s me in the middle. Apparently I learned to smirk at an early age.

The Girl with the Silver Eyes talked about a kid whose mom took a prenatal pain killer and instead of being born without arms, she was born with silver eyes and an ability to move things with her mind. Creepy and cool. A Wrinkle in Time has an awkward teen traveling with her near idiot savant brother and a handsome popular high schoolmate to a distant planet to try to rescue her father. Awesome. And The Westing Game had a neglected teen girl named “Turtle” who is finally solves the murder mystery that of the eccentric millionaire (aren’t all millionaires eccentric?).

Girl with the Silver Eyes, A Wrinkle in Time, The Westing Game

But there was a book whose name I can’t remember that stuck with me all these years. It takes place in upper Pennsylvania about a teen that moves there and has to readjust to the Pennsylvania Dutch culture. Though I have since forgotten the name of the book, I distinctly remember being fascinated by this subculture, with their own language and their own old worldly ways. Affiliated with the Amish and the Mennonites, the Pennsylvania Dutch were a subculture of people who refused to give up their own culture, even in the modern world.

Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign on house.

Pennsylvania Dutch hex sign on house. Photo by Clyde Adams III

I remember very little from the book or the plot. I believe there was an Anti-Semite subplot, where the girl befriends a Jewish classmate and other classmates warn her it was not in her best interest, but she sticks with it and eventually all the other classmates discover that having the last name Goldstein does not preclude you from being cool. I remember being surprised that the Pennsylvania Dutch were actually descended from Germans, with the word “Dutch” being a bastardized version of “Deutsch”. And I learned cool new phrases like “Grex” which means complaining, “Outen the lights” which means “turn off the lights” and “don’t eat yourself full” which is fairly self explanatory.

family portrait

My brother there is thinking “Man, that Irvin is always grexing.”

So it was no wonder, when I was flipping through Nick Malgieri’s book Perfect Cookies, Cakes and Chocolate and came across a recipe with the name Pennsylvania Dutch Soft Sugar Cookies that I had to make them. The name alone was calling to me, homey and no frills. And that’s exactly what they are, wonderful in their simplicity. And whenever I make them, I get nostalgic, for a childhood that I never lived, but still had, via a book that I can’t quite remember.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Shawn April 14, 2011 at 11:28 am

What a wonderful post…love your story and book reviews 🙂

Those cookies remind me of my Auntie’s tea cakes. Not fancy but, tasty and comforting.


merri April 14, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Oh cute pic! I loved a wrinkle in time!! I used to have that book! My family went on vacation to amish country in maybe early highschoolish or something and we bought an amish cookbook. I think the only thing we tried from it was some lemonade but its SO GOOD! That is def a very interesting culture.


Ethan April 14, 2011 at 1:05 pm

I hear ya…although I didn’t grow up looking different from most others, I also led a somewhat “outsider” childhood being Jewish where there weren’t that many around. Virtually every year, school picture day in September fell on Rosh Hashanah (The Jewish New Year) so some years i’m in the class picture, other years not so much!
Thanks for the snapshot into your childhood and the matching bowl cuts are rockin’!


Felisa April 14, 2011 at 2:11 pm

I want to dive into that bowl of cookies, then take a quick dip in the strawberries, and then go back to rolling around in the cookies.

Also, I LOVE “The Girl with the Silver Eyes.”


pickyin @ LifeIsGreat April 14, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Hilarious story on Janet Kim! I tend to have leftover buttermilk sitting around so I’m keeping this recipe.


Maggie @ Flour Child April 15, 2011 at 2:33 pm

What a lovely post, as always. (You have a true gift for storytelling.)

I especially related to this post because I was an outsider growing up, alienated by and relentlessly (and cruelly) bullied for my parents’ choice to raise me in a cooperative mountain community where we grew our own food, sewed many of our own clothes, and ate sea vegetables, sprouts and tofu.

Books helped to ease the pain and and make sense of being different — A Wrinkle In Time was a favorite — but I never stopped longing for a “normal” childhood punctuated with Nikes, Ditto jeans, Jif and Betty Crocker brownie mix.

But these days, I’m grateful for the life (and love of real, honest food) my parents gave me, and look forward to celebrating it by whipping up a batch of Pennsylvania Dutch Soft Cookies. Thank you, Irvin!


Zoë April 15, 2011 at 3:10 pm

Could it be Gideon’s People by Carolyn Meyer? Seems to fit your description.


Brian @ A Thought For Food April 16, 2011 at 3:15 pm

HAHAHA! I think you have to submit that second family picture to Awkward Family Photos. 🙂 This is an adorable post… though I wish I could tell you what that book is, I never read anything that sounds remotely similar. The other books were all childhood favorites, though… thanks for bringing back some wonderful memories.

And, of course, you have me drooling over these cookies!


Cookin' Canuck April 17, 2011 at 5:06 pm

What wonderful memories of your favorite childhood books. I, too, was a voracious reader and remember being absorbed by a Wrinkle in Time. These cookies look so simple and completely addictive.


annelies April 17, 2011 at 7:19 pm

For the record, Westing Game and Wrinkle in Time were on my top list of pre-teen reads. I can totally relate to fascination with the “other” – I mean my name didn’t exactly inspire the sameness I found repeated around me in Texas. It figures that most of my friends in high school were Filipino or black…


Lily April 19, 2011 at 6:52 pm

I remember, as a child, being fascinated by the Amish and any other culture that was so different from my own. It was so difficult to fathom.


Emmie April 23, 2011 at 1:53 am

uh, YUM, those cookies look GOOD. And I wanted to drink that drink, but upon further inspection I’ve concluded that it’s jam. I don’t want to drink that.

I am embarrassed to say that I’ve never read A Wrinkle in Time. I was always looking at it at the library, but the cover just turned me off (same with The Hitchhiker’s Guide, and I really need to read this book too). Must read someday.


Susie May 7, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Thank you, growing up PA, near Gettysburg, my mom made these so often she didn’t use a recipe for these cookies! So I have been on a quest. I have many cookie books, and will give these a try. I’m sure it will be close. Thanks again.


Irvin May 7, 2014 at 11:13 pm

Let me know how they turn out and if they are what you are looking for!


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