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. 

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.

Whisking
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. 

Faschnachts: A Fat Tuesday Family Tradition

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This year at the Berks History Center, we are celebrating foodways, which culminates with our annual Berks History Conference on April 21, 2018 featuring four food and drink historians. I describe my culinary expertise as good PA Dutch cooking, from potato filling to pig stomach, chicken pot pie with homemade noodles and “millich flitche” (milk pie). If you think about family I am sure it includes a good home cooked meal.

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I have the greatest memories of making faschnachts every year since I can remember with my grandmother Carrie Kercher, fondly known to all as Gummy (because she always had a pack of Juicy Fruit gum on her). Making faschnachts using my great-grandmother’s recipe required two days so I always spent the weekend at my grandparent’s house. One year I decided I wanted to make the perfect faschnachts and we used a cup to make circular doughnuts; That is the year my grandfather ate the fewest because he said they didn’t taste as good without corners. Another year we played canasta into the early hours of Sunday, and my grandmother decided it was “time to make the doughnuts!” So at 2 in the morning we started making the doughnuts finishing around sun rise. I think that was the year we drank homemade dandelion wine, too! Every year we counted how many faschnachts we got from our one batch, usually somewhere between 10 and 12 dozen, all divided so that everyone got to take some home to eat. And for those of you who have not eaten a true faschnacht (which is one not bought in the grocery store) there is nothing like a warm faschnacht right out of the fryer rolled in granulated sugar.

This is the 15th year of not having my grandmother telling me what to do and I sure do miss her because I usually screw something up! Every year it is a different mistake such as the yeast was bad, or I used the wrong flour, the potato water was too warm, the wood stove too hot or not hot enough over night, etc. Still I have new memories of making them with my three children. Justin only eats the dough raw, Becca has never really liked eating them and Devon, well, LOVES faschnachts but he likes his with confectionary sugar.

This year I have the great pleasure of being the premiere baker for the first ever Berks History Center faschnacht tasting party being held Tuesday, February 13, from noon until 3 pm. I’ll be making them this weekend so unfortunately they won’t be warm out of the fryer. Hope to see you then!

Written by Vicky Heffner, Education Curator at the Berks History Center

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. 

A Cure for a Cut: PA Dutch Folk Medicine

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When we think about Halloween today, witches are one of the iconic figures of the holiday. Part of that image is the boiling cauldron, where the witch makes preparations for her spells and conjures up many of her evil potions. While the image of the witch is often viewed as frightening, real-life folk medicine has a long history in Berks County.

Often called “Pow-Wow,” this practice can resemble our modern conceptions of witchcraft. What if you lived in Berks County or another Pennsylvania Dutch area and you accidentally cut yourself? A document in the Berks History Center collection, and written in Pennsylvania Dutch, offers an answer. It reads:  “press the thumb on the wound and say that I should not die and the wound should not bleed, nor swell, nor fester until the mother of God bears her second son, until all the water flows up the mountain.” With this little “spell,” and a bit of pressure on the wound, the bleeding was supposed to stop. The BHC Library contains other documents on Pennsylvania Dutch folk medicine and folk religion.

Written by guest blogger, Sean Anderson as part of a project funded by the National Endowment for Humanities entitled: Metadata, Marketing, and a Local Archive: Creating Popular Interest from Archival Sources at the Berks History Center Research Library.

 

The Hexerai Letter: Supernatural or Super Strange?

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With Halloween approaching it may be interesting to explore some of the more supernatural beliefs found in Berks County. The manuscript collection at the Berks History Center Research Library holds a remarkable illustrated document from 1816 that fits this theme.

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Written mostly in Pennsylvania German, the letter prophesied that terrible events were about to occur based on the political news of the day. Called the Hexerai letter, its most striking feature is a myriad of hand drawn pictures inside. The author drew in vivid detail blood red moons, arch angels, demons, a mysterious clock, and a rendition of the day of judgment. One picture, in particular, tells the document’s story. The picture shows a devil with the number 666 written under its eyes and the name Jackson emblazoned across its forehead. That devil is General Andrew Jackson, who the author thought would soon bring doom upon the country. Produced during a time exploding with religious revival and emerging political individuality and expression, this document has much to offer researchers of the early nineteenth century.

Written by guest blogger, Sean Anderson as part of a project funded by the National Endowment for Humanities entitled: Metadata, Marketing, and a Local Archive: Creating Popular Interest from Archival Sources at the Berks History Center Research Library.

 

The Fabric of Daily Life: Museum Textile Collection

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Often referred to as “show towels” by collectors, these long, narrow pieces of cloth were originally known as “hand towels” to their makers. Most were made by Mennonite and Schwenkfelder women in Lancaster, Lebanon, Berks and Montgomery Counties from about 1800 to 1880. Meant for display rather than for actual use, such towels were typically hung on the door between the door of the Stube (parlor) and the Kammer (bed chamber) in a Pennsylvania German home.  The example pictured here, marked “M. B. 1840” is one of several attractive examples which we have found during inventory of the Berk’s History Center’s textile collections.

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While some items were strictly for show, other items intended for daily use were no less in quality and craftsmanship. During our inventory of the Textile Collection we also found a somewhat worn potholder with a date of 1855.  Despite its condition, it is a significant discovery which reminds us that the Pennsylvania Germans of Berks County had  a propensity for decorating very common, utilitarian items which they intended to use.  The artifact was donated by Dora Wanner of Shillington (1877-1967).  We believe it was made by her aunt, Lydia Wanner, (1834-1883).

Researched & Written by Bradley K. Smith

Scholla: These Dumb Dutch

These Dumb Dutch

The agents of the OPA are to be commended for their zeal in trying to enforce the various rationing restrictions fixed by the administration. But in all cases zeal should be tempered with judgment and human understanding. We wonder who was really at fault in the following altercation which took place in a farmer’s market in Germantown, Philadelphia.

A Pennsylvania Dutch farmer’s wife was selling bottles of homemade catsup. An agent of the OPA approached her stand and said, officiously:

“You can’t sell that catsup; it’s frozen.”

The farmer’s wife was puzzled a bit, probably remarking of herself:

“The big city has many queer people in it.” At any rate she went right on selling the bottles of catsup.

Sure She can Sell it

After a few hours the agent returned to her stand:

“I told you once before that you can’t sell that stuff,” he bellowed.

“Sure I can,” replied the saleswoman. “I can sell a lot of it. It is good. People are glad to buy it. It ain’t hard to sell.”

“I don’t mean it that way” stormed the agent while crowds collected. “That stuff is frozen.”

The poor woman was confused. The gathering crowds embarrassed her; but her wits came to her rescue. Taking a bottle of catsup from the shelf she handed it to the agent:

“No, mister. It ain’t frozen. Here feel it yourself. It ain’t even cold.”

What is Justice?

A creamery man in Lehigh County was selling butter at a price higher than the ceiling price. One of the law enforcers burst into his shop and demanded that he stop the proceedings. The Dutchman continued to sell his butter, explaining that it was the best butter in the world. Later he proved that his margin of profit was far less than he could have realized by selling inferior butter below the ceiling price. What does justice call for in this instance?

Cite Shillington Incident

The magazine “Business” in its December 1943, issue, calls attention to an incident which took place in the Shilliington Market, Berks Coutny, Pennsylvania. Two OPA men were disturbing the routine of business at a butcher’s stand. According to the account published in the magazine, the agents charged the butcher with accepting predated ration points we have no way of knowing whether this was true or not. But the agents then fell to making wisecracks about the way the butcher was cutting his meats. This was resented by the meat merchant, who took a natural pride in his skill and technique. Onlookers sympathized with the butcher and there was a disturbance in the aisles. Then the manager of the market, in order to preserve order, escorted or evicted the OPA men from the Shillington establishment.

“Business,” in commenting upon this incident warns that it might be wise for the agency to remember that the NRA “met its Waterloo” in the Pennsylvania Dutch County of York, Pennsylvania. To which we may add that the “sit down” strike came to ignoble end when the irate farmers of Dauphin and Lebanon evicted the “sitters” from the Hershey Company plant. That was the last strike of its kind anywhere.

Who’s Dumb?

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Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Office_of_Price_Administration#/media/File:%22Help_Your_OPA_Fight_Inflation%22_-_NARA_-_514468.jpg

Scholla: A Fishing Expedition (The Incident is True; Names are Fictitious)

A Fishing Expedition (The incident is True; Names are Fictitious)

The inland lakes of Canada had an especial lure for fisherman during the arid years when national prohibition was in force in the United States. Hotels bordering the angler’s paradise of Riddeau, Ontario, did a thriving business quenching thirsts and moistening the parched throats of American Izaak Waltons.

In 1928 a group of Berks County citizens, hungry for fish and thirsty for sudsy brews, registered at the Sunset Inn in the dusk of a June evening. John Lebo, of Birdsboro, was host to a large party of friends – eight in all. Val Busch, Joe Breneiser, Harry Rentschler, Rufe Dreibelbis, “Shorty” Gassert, Jim Krasnitz, Luke Clemens, and John Lebo’s broth, Louie, commandeered five rooms on the second floor of the hotel. Only four of the rooms engaged were designed as bedrooms, the fifth was to serve as the bar room where the keg and bottles reigned and where Louie was to preside as bartender.

After registering for rooms the party of nine strolled along the lake, intending to watch other men fish in the lowering twilight, but only one lone angler stood on the shore, quietly holding a line and rod. And yet that one fisherman provided a great deal of amusement for the Berks Countians. The fisherman wore a black derby hat collar with a rubber bow-necktie inserted. Nose pincers rested on the nasal bridge between his eyes while tufts of graying hairs concealed his ears.

Didn’t Mind Jibes

Intent upon his fishing the oddly attired one paid no attention to the men who watched him. Struck by his quaint appearance and chagrined by his snubs to their spoken advances, the men from Berks began to take a peculiar kind of revenge. Talking the Dutch dialect they fell to speculating aloud as to what kind of queer creature stood before them. Was he an escaped lunatic; a criminal in disguise; a spook or some demon escaped from the infernal regions?

Utterly oblivious to the bantering the stranger never paid any heed to the remarks of the jesting Dutchmen; never once did he extract his line from the Ontario waters.

Later that evening the smoke was thick in the bar room of the second floor of the inn, where Louie Lebo dispensed foaming tankards between games of cut-throat pinochle. The door of the room was open into the hallway and passing guests were free to poke their heads into the transplanted bit of Berks, so gaily celebrating their personal liberty. Nobody minded.

He Accepts Drink

Joviality reigned long before midnight and a good time was being had by all, when the man in the derby hat calmly stepped into the improvised bar room, took a seat and watched the pinochle game. When the drinks were passed he accepted one with the others, murmuring a soft “thank you.” He continued to sit, to watch, to drink with each round, and to quoth like the raven a mere “thank you” each time he drained his glass.

“Seller is ferdammt unferstannich” muttered Louis, after the fifth drink.

“Ich glaub, gewiss, das her Schrief ihn fange will,” remarked Rufe.

“Ach! Er Iss yuscht so’n loischer rumleefer” added Shorty Gassert.

“Siss eeens fom Deifel seine ferhexte Engel,” exclaimed Val Busch

Then He Gets Back

Each member of the party joined in the avalanche of abuse and insult heaped upon the unwanted guest while the object of their scorn sat quietly with his eyes riveted upon the card game.

An exciting hand was being played. The unwelcome guest sat on the edge of his chair as he watched the fall of each card. When the playing ended there followed a period of post mortems in which many joined in declaring how the hand should have been played. And then in the excitement, the visitor advanced his opinion:

“Er het Schippe Schpiele selle; noh het er’s gemacht!”

Consternation! The fellow had understood every word that had been said

“Yah,” he smiled. “Ich bin der Ed Yeager fon Bethlehem, Northampont Kaunti. Kummt ihr all mich mohl shen dort im Court House. Ich bin der Judge.

Big Rideau Lake, Riddeau, Ontario, Canada. Source: http://www.rideau-info.com/canal/img_big_rideau_lake_lg.html
Big Rideau Lake, Riddeau, Ontario, Canada. Source: http://www.rideau-info.com/canal/img_big_rideau_lake_lg.html