Plant a “Victory Garden”! Berks History for Victory Campaign Continues to Inspire

This week, we are proud to share an essay authored by Corrie Crupi-Zana, the Vice President of the BHC Board of Trustees. Following the introduction of our History for Victory! campaign earlier this year, Corrie felt inspired to research and write an article about victory gardening – we are so touched that this campaign continues to inspire our own, as well as others in our community!


During turbulent times of war, strife, disease, and the Great Depression, our government encouraged people to become empowered and be self-sustaining.  In an effort to help reduce the pressure on the already low food supply chain, Victory Gardens were promoted with the slogan “Digging for Victory”.  In school, children were asked to volunteer to become part of the Victory Garden army and be “Soldiers of the Soil”.

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Minnesota Historical Society, Getty Images

In a 1919 pamphlet published by the National War Garden Commission, it pitched “War Gardens for Victory” stating that gardening was an American civic duty. During World War II, some 20 million victory gardens were planted in the United States. People started gardens in any space available such as on roof tops, fire escapes, windowsills, or backyards. Eleanor Roosevelt set an example by planting a garden on the front lawn of the White House. In 1943, it went as far as using Comic Books to depict cartoons of Superman, Batman and Robin working in their gardens.  

Around Berks County, half our work force entered for the military services. The burden of feeding millions of starving people fell on the United States government. Our local government urged people to jump on this bandwagon and express their patriotism by planting gardens. The citizens of Reading were inspired and needed another way to supplement their food ration stamp allowance.  The intent was that these victory gardens would help boost their outlooks and create a sense of security by being rewarded with a productive abundance of home-grown fruits, vegetables, and herbs.  Many of Berks County’s department store fronts exhibited displays featuring garden tools and fruits and vegetables in their large show windows.  

Gardens started to sprout up everywhere there was a small plot or vacant lot of land.  Reading had numerous gardens at many locations.  Permits were needed and issued from City Hall at 9th Washington Streets.  In the beginning, most of these gardens had a Safety Committee or a paid watchman.  The Reading Railroad allowed an empty lot to be tilled and farmed by their employees at the corner of 6th and Spring Streets. The Pottiger tract was at Church and Amity Streets and the Barbey’s allowed space at Third and Windsor Streets.  Other plots included were the nice garden areas formed around Hampden Boulevard at Marion streets and on Sternbergh land near the Sterling Mansion on Centre Avenue.  The East Reading side of town also had many patches.   Berks County Historian, George M. Meiser IX, recalls a large plot of six beautifully maintained gardens that spread from Baer Park on West Douglass Street all the way down to Clinton Street on the west side.  In Lower Alsace Township there was a large community allotment in a field at Cornell Street and one on Taft Avenue and one on Butter Lane in Exeter Township which are still tilled today.

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Some of the basic vegetables planted were tomatoes, carrots, beets, lettuce, peppers, radish, turnips, cabbage, cucumbers, spinach, onions, celery, and potatoes. Also popular were fruits such as strawberries, grapes, peaches, and apples. They grew lemon balm, mint, and lavender for tea.  A variety of herbs were easily grown including as rosemary, dill, oregano, parsley, thyme, and fennel.  Canning, jarring, freezing, drying, and pickling became quite the hobby and a tranquil challenge with tangible results.  Ideas from the old countries were used to stew down fruits and vegetables for sauces, jams, and marmalade. Cuttings from fresh herbs were put into an ice cube tray with water and frozen to later be able to pop some freshness into a stew or soup. 

A resurgence of the garden phenomenon or “back-to-the-land movement began again in the late 1960’s when the need to work mother earth trended.  Land on the Mt. Penn Mountain was the perfect place for people to start what then was called a Free Garden.  There was a nice sunny, but marshy plot on Hill Road which was then maintained by the City of Reading in a section of the Clinton F. Earl Land Trust Preserve where they encouraged residents to start to plant.  

These same ideals resonate today in 2020, as we are witness to a shutdown of the world making even stepping outside or a trip to the grocery store causes anxiety.  Many people are fraught with fear of exposure to the Corona Virus.  At this time in our history, we must adapt and remember the past generations and how they learned to cope and what they accomplished during the hard times. We also saw them rise above and unite establishing the perfect role model. Today people should again be prepared for a possible disruption in the food supply and demand. 

Luckily, for us in this generation, we have use of a Google search. We can watch do-it-yourself videos, digital online libraries of books, or You Tube for the experienced or unexperienced gardeners searching for the answers. I hope you are inspired to create your own “Corona Victory Garden”.  Please join the Berks History Center and its partners including: the City of Reading, DS Smith, Reading’s Environmental Advisory Council, Berks Nature, the Berks Conservation District, Penn State Cooperative Extension and the Berks County Master Gardeners, the Reading Public Library, Muhlenberg Greene Architects and Reading Hospital in this county-wide victory gardening initiative to encourage all citizens to cultivate your own food system to secure your own future and stand with “History for Victory”.

Authored by Vice President of the BHC Board of Trustees, Corrie Crupi-Zana


Good Feelings Wrapped Up in Bao

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For second generation Berks Countian, Vi Phan, Berks County Foodways are more than pretzels and pot pie. In addition to local favorites like potato filling and red beet eggs, Vi’s family’s Berks County culinary traditions include a rich inheritance of Vietnamese cuisine.

Banh bao generally isn’t made for a holiday or special time of year. You can buy it on the street any day of the week in Vietnam. However, not many people make it at home because preparing and cooking banh bao is a labor of love! So for Vi’s family, banh bao is a special treat reserved for family gatherings.

“When I was young, we only made banh bao when family from out-of-state would get together (about twice a year). It was too labor intensive otherwise. As time went on and more people left, my mother had less help. She still wanted to make banh bao on her own, so I started getting more involved. As a child, I would help cut the extra ingredients and assemble the buns, but now I’m in charge of making the dough too. I make the dough while my mom mixes the filling. I still have to master the filling part but I’m too busy making the dough! I enjoy making it and cherish the special bonding time I have with my mom when we do. It’s a lot of good feelings wrapped up into such a small bao.”

Banh bao is a sweet and savory Vietnamese bun made with seasoned pork or chicken, onions, eggs, mushrooms and vegetables. Banh bao often has Chinese sausage and a portion of a hard-boiled egg inside. All of the ingredients are prepared and assembled into a sweetened dough. For Vi and her family, chopping the vegetables; mixing and seasoning the meat; boiling, peeling and slicing the eggs; and preparing and proportioning the dough can take up to 8 hours of work. Once all of the ingredients are prepared, the fillings are lined up on a table and carefully assembled into small pockets of dough. The buns are sealed with a special twisting motion that takes some skill and time to master. The artfully-made buns are then steamed for about 15 minutes.

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Vi recalls that, “every time we make this, my mom and aunts would look to see if any of the baos burst open on top. If they find one, they always say “it’s smiling!” and then they giggle EVERY TIME.”

“I know that I say “This is one of my favorite foods” to just about every Vietnamese dish my mom makes, but a fresh banh bao is really up there on the list. The fluffiness, ever-so-slight sweetness of the dough soaked with the juices from the pork filling makes my mouth water just thinking about it. You happily munch away and suddenly you hit the jackpot, Chinese sausage! It takes the flavor profile to a whole new level. Man, I love banh bao. If you’ve been lucky enough to have a fresh one, you know what I’m talking about.”

This article was written as part of the Berks History Center’s 2018 Berks County Foodways Project. Click here to learn more about Berks County Foodways. 

Casseroles, Jell-O Salad & Other Treats from 1968

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The perfect dish for a perfect casserole! The Pyrex casserole dish pictured above was passed down to Archivist, Stephanie Mihalik from her grandmother. The red and yellow floral and bird motif is called the “Friendship” pattern and was available from 1971 to 1974. Stephanie mostly collects the “Amish Butterprint” or “Golden Butterfly” pattern, but she was happy to inherit this family heirloom into her Pyrex collection.
Casseroles are still part of our everyday American cuisine. However, these “one pot meals” were wildly popular in the 1960s and 70s. “The Hungry Doctor” was written by the Woman’s Auxillary to the Berks County Medical Society, Pennsylvania and was published in 1968. In this vintage cookbook from the Berks History Center Research Library collection, we found a number of casserole recipes including: Hot Chicken Salad, Noodle Pudding a la Crystal, Shrimp ‘n’ Noodles, and Swedish Hamburger Casserole.

 

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What’s Cooking in Berks in 1979?

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What’s Cooking St. John’s? published in 1979 by members of St. John’s Church Reading. BHC Research Library Collection

Throughout 2018, the Berks History Center is getting a taste of local history with the Berks County Foodways project. As we explored the eating habits and culinary practices of Berks Countians, we have had a chance to sample the diverse flavors of Berks County from pig stomach to spanikopita. This month, as we approach the Berks History Center’s 6th annual fundraiser – the Magical History Tour concert on August 18, 2018 – we began to wonder about the culinary delights of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.  So BHC Archivist, Stephanie Mihalik, turned the archives and dug up some groovy treats from the Berks History Center Research Library collection.

Do you remember any of these party favorites? The members of St. John’s Church in Reading, PA compiled this recipe book in 1979. We found that gelatin was a common ingredient in dishes from the 1970s, such as this recipe for crab mousse:

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Also, canned goods were wildly popular and were common ingredients in both party fare and daily lunch menus. Other fun finds included recipies for ham-liverwurst rolls and liver cheese spread.

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This article was written as part of the Berks History Center’s 2018 Berks County Foodways Project. Click here to learn more about Berks County Foodways. 

As Berks County as Shoo-Fly Pie

 

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When it comes to potlucks, M. Catherine Shearer has a go-to family recipe that wins every time – her great-grandmother’s shoo-fly pie! The Shearer family is no stranger to Berks County’s rich heritage; Catherine can trace her family’s lively and accomplished lineage back to Pennsylvania’s founding era.

Mary Sellers Shearer lived on Fritztown Road in Vinemont, PA with her husband, Solomon Shearer. The recipe was passed down to Mary’s daughter and eventually made its way into the hands of her great-granddaughter, M. Catherine Shearer, who was happy to share the recipe for this classic Berks County Foodway with us!

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Ingredients:

  • 2 cup flour
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 heaping TB. Crisco

Mix dry ingredients together and combine with Crisco until crumbly.  Set aside 2 handfuls for the top of the pies. Using the remaining flour mixture add:

  • 1/2 tsp. cloves
  • 1 cup molasses (Turkey Syrup)
  • 1 1/4 cup hot water
  • 1 tsp. baking soda

Fill 2 (8″ or 9″) pie shells with the molasses mixture and top each pie with the crumb topping.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.

The Berks History Center thanks M. Catherine Shearer for sharing her family recipe for shoo-fly pie with us! A native of Berks County, now living in Exeter Township, Shearer has been a Trustee of the Berks History Center for close to two years, and a is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Berks County Genealogical Society. Before her retirement, she was a well-known community leader. As part of her employment at the Berks County Chamber of Commerce, and the Berks County Career Link, she was involved in heightening the community’s Economic and Workforce Development efforts. 

Farm-Fresh: Farmers’ Markets are a Berks County Foodway Tradition

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Photo: Model of Downtown Reading, Berks History Center Museum. Photo Credit: John Secogies

One of our favorite things about living in Berks County is the abundance of local farmers’ markets that sell local, fresh produce and meat.  The history of fresh markets in our area is long-standing and dates back to the original deed from Thomas and Richard Penn, which proclaimed that two fairs be held each year on June 4 and October 22. The Clerk of the Market was directed to erect as many stalls as necessary at the two markets on Penn Street, which operated weekly. The open air markets, erected in the 1840’s on Penn Square, were torn down in 1871. In the following years there were as many as 10 neighborhood market houses, each an elaborate structure.

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Penn Square Market Buildings, looking West on Penn from 6th Street, circa 1870’s. From the BHC Library Photograph Collection.

The Crystal Palace Market on Penn Street took its name from the famous building at the World’s Fair of 1871. The South Reading Market House, considered one of the finest buildings in Reading, was built by Francis B. Shalters, the owner-editor of the Reading Times.  The window on the north side resembled a rose, similar to those found in a cathedral. The iron columns supporting the first floor porch were the original posts from the second market pavilion on Penn Square, built in the 1840s. An arson fire in 2005 collapsed the structure, which had stood for 135 years. Another fine market was the Northeast Market House at 9th and Buttonwood Streets. It was built in 1874 by the Reading German Building and Savings Association. The building was known in the 1920’s as the Eagle Market, then owned by Jesse Hawley, publisher of the Reading Eagle.

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In addition to seasonal open air markets like the Penn Street Market and the West Reading Farmers’ Market, Berks County has three large operating indoor farmers markets. Built in 1934 by Harold B. Ludwig (and later run by his son Ted), the Shillington Farmers Market was once an old cement block factory with a cement mixer in the middle of the building. The restaurant was added in 1948 as a lunch stand for market customers, serving hot dogs, hamburgers, and soda, and later hot roast beef sandwiches. The Farmers Market moved to a new location on Summit Avenue in Shillington in 2001. Hamid Chaudhry purchased the market from Jim Daley in 2017 (Daley is part of the family that had operated the Market since its opening). Today a Wawa occupies the original site at Museum Road and Route 724.

In 1946, LeRoy J. Weist and his wife Mary purchased 30 acres of farmland in Leesport. At first they thought about building homes, but they needed a place to sell their livestock. In 1947, they opened the Leesport Market Auction. In 1985, third generation owners Woody and Bill Weist took control and changed the name to the Leesport Farmers Market. The market has been opened year-round since 1947 and features cooked items and fresh produce. The flea market stands have been around since the beginning, but by the 1970’s, they became a large part of the business. There was a midway-like quality to the place, with entertaining pitchmen like Bernie Cohen who auctioned off just about anything out of his truck.

The Fairgrounds Farmers Market has an interesting history. It was once part of the Reading Fairgrounds Complex, established in the late 1940’s after the War Department relinquished control of the property. The first market building, mostly wooden, was located behind the back stretch of the racetrack and was built in the early 1920’s for fair and merchant displays. Back then some businesses sold goods out in the open. In 1969, a huge fire destroyed 3/4 of the market building, although the market was back operating the following Saturday. By then stock car races were promoted at the adjacent track. In 1970 the Fairgrounds Market, Inc. opened the new Reading Fairgrounds Market just north of the original structure. By 1980 the racetrack was replaced by the mall and owned by Albert Boscov. The size of the market increased to 50,000 ft and, in 2000, the former banquet facility reopened as an annex. In addition to fresh goods there are non-food vendors, a barbershop, wine retailer and several stands of antiques and collectibles. The market is open three days a week with 64 proprietors and up to 5,000 shoppers.

 

Bibliography:

Joseph N. Farrell, “Regal Relics,” Reading Eagle, September 5, 1979.

Jeff McGaw, “New Life for Shillington Farmers Market,” Reading Eagle, May 18, 2017.

Irvin Rathman, “Reading’s Market Life – a Brief Scrapbook,” 1980 (F10 MA Rathman 1980).

“A Scrapbook  on Berks and Lebanon Counties, PA,” Vol. 1.1 (F10 AG).

BHC Library Vertical File on the Leesport Farmers Market, VF F10 MA-29.

BHC Library Vertical File on the Fairgrounds Farmers Market, VF F11 MA-5.

Mountain Mary: The Medicine Woman of the Oley Valley

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Log channel that carried water into Mountain Mary’s milk house. The outbuildings are part of her hill farm. Photo: BHC Research Library Collection

Nearly 200 years ago, this would have been Mountain Mary’s favorite time of year as she worked around her farm in the Oley Valley. The Oley area reminded her of the Rhine Valley, where she and her family emigrated from. They came here at about the time of the Revolution. Her farm was a hill farm of about 42 acres. Her farm consisted of a log home, an outdoor bake oven, a milk house, a lean-to for her cows, several large meadows and a small cemetery plot where her mother and two sisters were buried. She was very proud of her milk house, which was cooled by a stream of mountain water channeled into the building through hand-hewn logs. The stream began as a spring high on the hill and flowed through the building continuing downstream to irrigate a meadow.

Mountain Mary supported herself by making butter from her cow’s milk and by keeping bees for honey. She would then give the butter and honey to a neighbor, who would take it to market to sell in Philadelphia. She would often send along some food for the poor.

Mary was very religious and would read her German Bible; Piety, faith and charity were central to her life. In addition, Mountain Mary used many of the native herbs and plants which grew on the hillside for healing and poultices. She would collect and dry the herbs over the years. Then she used them to make lotions and salves. Her neighbors came regularly to her cabin for help or medical advice. She often prayed with them and shared her knowledge and teas, etc. She used peppermint and spearmint to make tea. Bergamot would come a little later in the spring. Dandelions even were used to make a spring tonic to pick up spirits. Berries made excellent sauces and juice.

Mountain Mary died on November 16, 1819 at age 73. More than 1,000 people attended her funeral, which was quite an honor. Some people call her Pennsylvania’s first “visiting nurse.” There are a lot of legends about Mountain Mary, including some that developed after her death. The strangest story is that she was engaged to a man named Theodore Benz, who fought and died with George Washington’s army in the Revolution. This has never been proven, but as they say, in every legend is a grain of truth.

Hallie Vaughan is a Women’s History enthusiast, instructor and reinactor and longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center. As a guest blogger Hallie will focus on Women’s History in Berks County. 

#WomensHistoryMystery

Mystery Woman #6 Answer 

Rachel Carson

Berks County Foodways: It’s All Greek to Me

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Growing up I was vaguely aware that some of my family’s cultural traditions were different from those of my friends and schoolmates. In general, it came down to church, food and language. As far as I knew, no one else in my grade school class attended three-hour church services every Sunday. And many of them, to my surprise, didn’t eat avgolemeno soup when they were sick, nor did they even know what it was. They also didn’t have a Yia Yia or a Popou, just Grandmas and Grandpas. (It wasn’t until later in life that I began to notice some of the other oddities of being raised in a Greek household, such as superstitious behaviors like spitting on brides at weddings or never going directly home after a funeral.) Despite my childish ignorance, there was one notably different, and glaringly alienating, cultural tradition that separated me from my childhood mates: Easter. This is largely because Greek Orthodox Easter rarely falls on the same date as what we call “American Easter.”

So why is it that while my friends were spending their spring breaks celebrating Easter, I was still fasting (painfully from chocolate, which meant NO EASTER CANDY!), and I often didn’t observe the holiday until weeks, or sometimes a month, later? Well, according to a quick Google search (don’t tell my mother), “many Orthodox churches base their Easter date on the Julian calendar, which often differs from the Gregorian calendar that is used by many western countries. Therefore, the Orthodox Easter period often occurs later than the Easter period that falls around the time of the March equinox.”

This year, the timing wasn’t too far off. I celebrated Easter with my family this past weekend, only one week after my coworkers. Although I have always had to endure the discomfort of feeling like an outsider while my friends were celebrating American Easter, it was always worth the wait. Most Greeks will tell you that Easter is the most important holiday in the Orthodox faith. For me, it’s obvious that this is true, not only because Holy Week is a marathon of church services that ends with an all-night celebration (sort of like Mardi gras for reserved church goers) but because Easter food is always the best!

Easter dinner is when we pull out all of the stops and truly indulge in our best Greek dishes. The menu often includes: dolmades, spanakopita, pastitsio or moussaka, fasolakia (green beans), lots of feta and olives, and of course, LAMB, followed by an abundance of pastries and desserts including galaktoboureko, finikia, koulourakia, and the like. To all of my fellow Greek Berks Countians you may have noticed that there is one traditional Easter dish absent from this list. Margiritsa is a traditional Easter soup that we feel is reserved for the most “old-school” Greeks, mostly because its contains lamb offal – yes, the heart, liver, lungs and other organs of the lamb.

Like all holiday meals, my family and I got together with our extended family for Easter this year, with each family contributing something to the meal.  This year, I made spanakopita, a Greek but inherently Berks County foodway, because my family has been cooking and enjoying this dish here in Berks County since my great-grandfather emigrated to Reading from Greece in the early 1900s. As I prepared this dish with my mother this weekend, I imagined my ancestors in Agia Paraskevi (on the island of Lesvos), chopping fresh spinach and somehow rolling out paper-thin sheets of homemade filo dough, but thankfully, this recipe has been adapted over the years to consider some modern conveniences.

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Ingredients:

1 large onion, chopped

1 pound butter

4 boxes of chopped spinach (drained)

8 eggs (scrambled)

16 oz. cottage cheese (large curds) – or ricotta cheese

1 lb. feta cheese (crumbled)

pepper

1/8 cup parsley

1 lb. filo dough

Spanakopita is a surprising simple dish that involves mixing together a filling of spinach and cheese that is then baked into buttery layers of filo dough. The recipe begins by sauteing onions in 4 tablespoons of butter until they are tender, but not brown. Meanwhile, the spinach must be thawed and drained. This is a particularly important step because too much water will make for a runny spanakopita. Be sure to press out as much of the water as possible.

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Then, after prepping the other ingredients for the filling (chop the parsley, crumble the feta, and whisk the eggs), mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl.

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Next, prepare to assemble the dish with the filo dough. After buttering a 9×13 casserole dish, melt the rest of the butter in a saucepan. Begin to layer the filo dough in the bottom of the pan, brushing each layer with butter before adding another layer. Let the edges of the dough fall over the edges of pan. After about 8 layers, pour the filling into the dough and spread gently. Then repeat the layering process on top, covering the filling and buttering each layer before adding another. Cover the mixture with 6-8 layers until you can no longer see the spinach beneath. Fold and tuck the excess filo onto the top layer.

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Ideally, we should wait 5 minutes and then cut the spanakopita into pieces. Once the dish is cooked, the dough becomes very flaky. Cutting the dough before cooking helps to keep each piece in tact. Unfortunately, my mother and I both forgot this step! However, the dish was still tasty – just a bit messy. Before baking, use your fingers to sprinkle the top of the spanakopita with water. Bake at 350 degrees for about one hour, or until golden brown. Then, καλή όρεξη (enjoy your meal)!

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Growing up in Berks County I may not always have appreciated the uniqueness of my Greek heritage, especially when it came to the Easter holiday and feeling different from my friends and classmates. However, now as an adult, I truly welcome and celebrate my experience because I can see how it contributes to the beautiful, diverse and ever-changing cultural fabric here in Berks County. I may not have grown up eating pig stomach and clam pot pie but I do have cultural traditions and foodways that have persisted and flourished here in Berks County.

Written by BHC Communications Director, Alexis Campbell

This article was written as part of the Berks History Center’s 2018 Berks County Foodways Project. Click here to learn more about Berks County Foodways. 

Sime’s Hot Bacon Dressing: Easy as 1, 2, 3, 4!

As I recall growing up, there was always one traditional PA Dutch food that was always part of the holiday meal at my Grampop and Gramom’s home. Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter, Endive with Hot Bacon Dressing was always on the table!

Unfortunately, I never learned how to make hot bacon dressing from my grandparents, but rather, from my father, who learned to make it from a close friend of the family, Richard “Dick” Bortz. My Father told me that Mr. Bortz said; if you remembered the rule of thumb, 1, 2, 3, 4, you could make hot bacon dressing.

1, 2, 3, 4, refers to: 1 tablespoon flour, 2 large eggs, 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar and 4 tablespoons white granulated sugar, and of course, slab bacon. With that as our baseline, let’s begin!

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Ingredients for approximately 6-8 servings

¼ lb. slab bacon

1 table spoon white flour

2 large eggs

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

4 tablespoons white granulated sugar

1 bunch curly endive (sometimes call chicory or escarole)

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Cut bacon into ½” – ¾” cubes and fry until crispy brown. Remove the bacon from the pan with a slotted spoon, reserving 2 tablespoons of bacon grease in the pan. Drain the bacon pieces on a paper towel.

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Let pan and bacon grease cool to room temperature, otherwise you’ll have scrambled eggs further along in the recipe.

While the pan and the bacon grease cool, mix 1 tablespoon white flour with a tablespoon or so of tepid water and blend into a slurry.

Next, beat the 2 large eggs in a small bowl

Pour the flour and water mixture into the cooled pan with the bacon grease and begin to warm the mixture over a very low heat.

Add the 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar along with the 4 tablespoons of sugar to the pan and whisk until well blended.

Remember, keep the heat low, or this is where you’ll get the scrambled eggs.

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Whisking ingredients together

As the mixture warms, it will begin to thicken. Keep a small measuring cup of tepid water handy to thin the mixture as the flour cooks. I prefer hot bacon dressing to be a consistency that just coats a spoon. If you like it thicker, go for it, it’s your choice, just don’t add as much water.

Once the flour has cooked, add salt and pepper to taste and return the cooked bacon to the pan.

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That’s all there is to it! All you need to do now is spoon the hot bacon dressing over the curly endive and toss, or, serve the hot bacon dressing separately and let your guests dress their endive as they like.

Ess dich satt un hot en frehlicher Oschder! (Eat yourself satisfied and have a merry Easter!)

Written by BHC Executive Director, Sime Bertolet

This article was written as part of the Berks History Center’s 2018 Berks County Foodways Project. Click here to learn more about Berks County Foodways. 

Clam Pot Pie: A Local Twist on a Uniquely Berks County Dish

 

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So, we’re talking pot pie, and not just any pot pie, but, Berks County Pot Pie! When most people think or talk about pot pie they’re generally referring to the deep dish, crust on bottom, crust on top pot pie made famous by Mrs. Smith, Swanson, et al. While the homemade variant of that type of pot pie can be good, they haven’t nearly the complexity of sensory taste and texture that the unique cultural dish that those of us from southeastern Pennsylvania and especially Berks County call pot pie.

Berks County Pot Pie is a symphony of onion, potato, parsley, sometimes butter and those handmade, hand kneaded, hand rolled, squares or rectangles of dough that differentiate our pot pie from those of the rest of the country. There are many variations of pot pie and most people are familiar with chicken, turkey, beef and if there is a hunter in the home, squirrel, rabbit or groundhog. All of those recipes are excellent, but, the recipe that I will put forth in this blog is one that has been and remains a staple in my Bertolet Family repertoire. Clam Pot Pie!

I can’t even really tell you how I learned to make it. I “watched” my Gremmom and Grempop make it a hundred times and talked about making it with my Father and Uncle Herbie about the same number of times, but I can’t remember ever making it with them. I guess I just learned to make it by osmosis.

Let’s begin.

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Ingredients for 8-10 servings

Pot pie dough:

2 ¼ cups all purpose unbleached flour

3 large eggs

2 tsp salt

2 tsp baking powder

Remaining ingredients:

25 shucked top neck clams (cut clams in half and reserve the clam liquor/juice)

2 bottles clam juice

3 russet potatoes (cut into ½”-1” cubes)

3 yellow onions (chopped medium size pieces)

½ – ¾ cups (finely chopped parsley)

1-½ sticks (12 tbsp) butter

Dough Preparation:

Making you own dough is relatively easy, but it takes some practice, so make a couple of practice runs before you proceed to the main event.  It’s well worth the effort. (If you would like to begin by practicing with a smaller amount, I have found that a ratio of 1 large egg to ¾ cup of flour along with ½ – ¾  tsp salt and ½ – ¾  tsp baking powder works very well.)

Traditional dough preparation:

To prepare the dough, combine the flour, eggs, salt and baking powder in a bowl. Keep a small glass of tepid water handy if extra moisture is needed.

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Begin folding the above ingredients together until a dough ball forms (this may require adding 1 tbsp of tepid water at a time until the dough ball forms). About 3-5 minutes.

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After dough ball forms, knead the dough ball until it acquires a smooth texture/finish. About 8-10 minutes.

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At this point, cover or wrap the dough ball in a towel or plastic wrap and let it “rest” for 2-3 hours, or place the wrapped dough ball in the refrigerator if you are making it ahead.

Alternative dough preparation:

Now, mixing and kneading dough by hand is the reason our otherwise petite grandmothers were so strong. It’s work! So, I’ll offer an alternative method for mixing and kneading dough with the photos and directions below. (The ingredients and quantities remain the same.)

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This method of dough preparation is called modernity and if you have a Kitchen Aid mixer it really makes the job a whole lot easier. Begin by mixing all the ingredients using the unit’s mixing paddle (as shown in Alternate dough making photos 1 & 2) until the dough ball forms (again, adding 1 tbsp. of tepid water at a time if more moisture is needed) When the dough ball is pretty well-formed, switch out the mixing paddle with the dough hook (as shown in Alternate dough making photo 3). Begin kneading with the dough hook. The dough ball will form once and then break apart, this is normal, keep kneading with the dough hook until the doug ball reforms a 2nd time and continue kneading it until the dough takes on that smooth texture/finish.

Now that the dough ball has “rested,” begin rolling out the dough until you achieve the desired thickness.

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I gauge the desired dough thickness with the help of Stella, my Black Lab. When the dough thickness approximates that of Stella’s ear, it right!

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Now that the dough has been rolled out to the desired thickness it’s time to cut the dough. See photos below:

Now, a word about the clams. It used to be that you could purchase shucked clams in their liquor/juice from any seafood market, but not anymore. What I do now is purchase top neck clams in their shells and prepare the clams for use in the pot pie.

I start by scrubbing the clams under cold water to get the sand off of them and then cover them in cold water in the sink to let them purge. I change the water about 3 times until the last change of water remains clean, indicating the clams have purged all the sand they were holding.

Following the purging, I put the clams in the freezer for 24 hours until they are frozen. After the 24 hours, I remove the clams and let them sit a room temperature 4-5 hours until they begin to thaw slightly and I can open them easily with a clam knife. By shucking the clams this way the clams and all their liquor/juice remain in a nice frozen ball which can be placed in a bowl until thawed completely. When thawed, I cut each clam in half and drain them reserving the liquor/juice.

Next, cut/chop your potatoes, onions and parsley as described in the ingredients list. If preparing ahead of time, cover the potatoes with cold water to keep them from turning brown and cover the onions with plastic wrap.

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Assembly:

Now that we’re at the assembly line stage of the preparation, bring all the components within reasonable proximity to the pot you will cook the pot pie in.

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Put the clam liquor/juice in a large pot along with the two bottles of clam juice and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a fast simmer and when the clam juice begins to “froth,” skim off all the froth and discard. With the clam juice at a very fast simmer/near boil begin layering the potatoes first, onions second and a layer of cut pot pie dough last, repeating the layering until all the potatoes, onions and pot pie dough are used up.

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Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are tender.

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While the pot pie is simmering, begin melting the butter over medium heat until it browns. Don’t let it burn! The butter should be a “nutty” brown, not black.

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After the 15-20 minutes check the pot pie to make sure the potatoes are done and when they are, add the clams and mix well. Cover the pat again and cook until the clams are done.

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When the clams are done, add the brown butter and the chopped parsley and mix well.

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Well, that’s all there is to it. If you like pot pie and you like clams, you’ll love my Gremmom’ s Berks County Clam Pot Pie. Serve with pepper cabbage, cole slaw or chow-chow and you’ve got a Berks County Dutch dinner on the highest order.

Ess dich satt!

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Written by BHC Executive Director, Sime Bertolet

This article was written as part of the Berks History Center’s 2018 Berks County Foodways Project. Click here to learn more about Berks County Foodways.