Simple living. Plain dress. Aversion to modern conveniences. All words that decidedly do not describe me at all. iPhones, short shorts, and speaking LONG before being spoken to…those are a little more “me.” Which is why it may surprise you to find out that I hail from Amish country. Pennsylvania Dutch–that’s me. Or, at least, that’s part of me. The other part is Nordic Viking, which seems to be my prevailing genetic line. Pillaging? Plundering? Wearing horned helmets and drinking mead from flagons? Hellz yeah.
My extended family still lives amongst the Amish, though, and pretty much every vacation I took as a child landed me smack-dab in the middle of Amish farmland. Which didn’t suck because Amish children are incredibly cute in their stern little overalls and severe hats, and also because Amish food rocks your face off. Their candy comes in paper bags and has comical flavors like “horehound” and “teaberry.” Their desserts are filled with apples and custards and thick, gooey goodness. They like their krauts and their relishes, and they’ll not say no to a biscuit. Who wouldn’t get behind that? I ask you?
Also, they ride around in horse and buggies. I LOVE horse and buggies, and love the respect with which they always seemed to treat their animals and their farmland. Pollution? No way. Pesticides? Nope. Factory farming? Not on your life. They treat the land and its bounty with reverence that probably explains why their food is so delicious and homey, and also why they’ll probably outlast the rest of us on this planet. All warm and cozy in their gorgeous quilts, eating shoofly pie and canning pickles.
One of the side effects of growing up around these influences is that I have a healthy craving for their vittles. And why, when it’s chilly outside and I want comforting things in my belly, I go immediately to PA Dutch food. The stuff that Grandma used to make. Well…some of it.
Because Grandma used to alternate between making delicious, garden-fresh tomato sauces and beautiful homemade mac and cheese and apple crisp and chicken pot pie and rivel soup, and making mean tricks for children. Like “pigs in a blanket,” which were actually some kind of cabbage roll. Do you know what it’s like to be a young child and be told you were getting pigs in a blanket for dinner? Exciting, right? I mean, hot dogs in biscuits—what could be more fun? And then, when you’re sitting at the table, hiding your grubby hands under your legs in hopes that nobody will notice, somebody comes out with cooked cabbage? Tiny citizens revolt!
On nights like those, I’d tell the grown ups that I was going out to catch fireflies, and instead would sneak around my Grandpa’s incredible garden, sucking the teensy drops of nectar from honeysuckles for nourishment. Also, if I waited until the grownups had had a few “health drinks” on the front porch, I could sneak into the bread box and spirit away a few slices of raisin bread. And I’d wash the raisin bread down with birch beer, which was another PA luxury that we didn’t have in Colorado. Oh, and lard-fried potato chips. Hmm….I wonder if I could get those delivered here…
Answer: Yes, we can. I know, because we just DID. You can order the Grandma Utz’s lard chips on the Utz website. Score one for the big guy!
Okay, but back to the point at hand, which is that I have several chickens in my freezer that need to be used, and I have a craving for PA Dutch food. And that means chicken pot pie. And it means a phone call to my momma for the recipe.
Make no mistake–this isn’t chicken pot pie as you know it. Amish chicken pot pie is a whole different animal. It’s a thick, rich stock with vegetables and boiled, pastry-like, thick, square noodles. It’s damned good, and you’ll thank me for posting this if you give it a try. And if you’re a vegetarian, just make a rich vegetable stock and kick it old school. You don’t need to eat meat to enjoy this. Oh, and I’d omit the salt pork, too. I just have a lot of cubed salt pork in my freezer.
Step One–A lecture about stock
One of the important parts of this pot pie is that you need to have a pretty large amount of really rich, flavorful, full-bodied stock. You can accomplish this several ways, and not one of those ways involves using pre-made, undoctored stock. A good stock will turn into jello when you refrigerate it. That’s because it’s chock full of the collagen that comes from simmering real meat bones for long enough to extract said collagen. That collagen is responsible for the rich mouthfeel and flavor that you get from a good, homemade chicken soup.
I make mine by saving chicken bones in a plastic bag in the freezer. When I’ve got a good number of them saved from various meals (not chewed on bones, obviously), I simmer them in water for 4-6 hours, with carrots, onions, celery, and bay leaves until the bones are soft enough to crush with plastic tongs. Then I strain and save the stock. It turns into a firm gel in the fridge. When it comes time to make a good soup, I use this stock and it turns out perfectly.
Another method is for you to simmer a whole chicken until the chicken is cooked. Then pull the meat off, set it aside, and continue to simmer the bones with the veg and herbs until the bones are soft. You can simmer the chicken IN commercial stock for an even deeper flavor when you do it this way (since you have fewer bones, thereby less flavor).
Never, EVER salt your stock until you’re cooking the final product with it. Otherwise, when it reduces or is added to other foods, it can end up making everything taste overly salty. Good stock doesn’t taste salted, just rich and chickeny (or whatever other kind of meaty).
For this recipe, you need AT LEAST 6 cups of good stock. Make it one of the above ways.
So now that you’ve got your chicken stock put together, and you’ve strained it well, and you’ve set aside some diced chicken (either from making the stock or from something else if you’re using only bones to make the stock), you’re basically ready to go. But there is a special piece of equipment you need now, according to my mother. A Dutch oven.
No, I don’t mean that old school frat boy move. I mean (also as my mother put it) “a heavy-bottomed pot.” The Dutch love heavy bottomed things. This is a great explanation for the size of my butt. And the size of my mom’s butt. And the size of my sister’s butt. And the size of all of my cousins’ butts. Actually, if you ever see a thin white girl with a big ol’ bubble butt, chances are she’s related to me. And also chances are that she’ll make a good vessel for simmering pot pie noodles.
So you now have a Dutch oven (or heavy-bottomed pot) filled up with 6-8 C of good, rich stock, right? It should go about halfway up the sides of the pot, or a touch more. You want enough room for the noodles to simmer around.
The Recipe–This is what my mom sent me, verbatim, in regards to a recipe:
Chicken pot pie pastry:
3 cups flour (doesn’t need to be sifted)
1 large egg
1 T shortening (Grandma used lard)
1/2 cup water or more as needed
mix first three ingredients and then add a little water at a time until it reaches a nice consistency. Roll out 1/3 at a time to about 1/8 inch thickness – they will expand in the broth. Cut into about 2 inch squares and allow to dry for 20-30 minutes before dropping into the broth.
Grandma put carrots, potatoes, celery, parsley, salt and pepper in her broth, along with the chicken of course. Not a lot of other seasonings – no poultry seasoning, sage, etc. That’s fancy folk stuff. Love you. Momma
A couple of things I gleaned from this were a) I should be using lard to make my noodles and b) despite living in Colorado for the better part of 30 years, it is NOT HARD to get my mom to roll on back to her PA Dutch roots. Calling me a fancy folk. Pshaw.
Now the recipe as I’m going to write it:
Amish Chicken Pot Pie
6-8 C good chicken broth
1.5 C chicken meat, diced or shredded
.5 C onions, diced
.5 C carrots, peeled and diced
1 C potatoes, peeled and diced
.25 C parsley, chopped
3 C flour
1 large egg
1 T shortening or lard
.5 C cold water (more as needed)
salt and pepper to taste
Bring stock to a simmer in a heavy-bottomed pot. Taste it and add salt and pepper as needed. Add potatoes, onions, and carrots and cook until potatoes are tender.
Meanwhile, in a food processor or mixing bowl, whisk flour with a pinch of salt. Cut in shortening or lard until small pebbles are interspersed throughout the flour. Stir in the egg, then add water as necessary to make a dry but cohesive dough.My Grandma uses a fluted pastry wheel to cut these, and does so precisely. I couldn’t find my fluted pastry wheel, and I had to rush my cutting because my husband was starving to death
Allow to dry for 20-30 minutes.
When potatoes are tender but not mushy, bring stock to a fast simmer and add pastry squares. Stir gently to ensure they don’t stick to one another. There are a LOT of pastry squares for the broth, so if it starts to look too crowded, you don’t have to use all of them. Cook for 5-7 minutes to tender, then stir in the chopped parsley. Taste one more time for seasoning and serve.
It ends up looking something like this:
Note: I cheated a bit and used a couple cubes of frozen Heritage turkey glace that I had leftover from Thanksgiving. That gave it a solid golden hue and a lip-smackingly assertive poultry flavor. God bless us, every one.
And little individual peach-blueberry crumbles for dessert, topped with scoops of homemade vanilla ice cream that I found in the back of the freezer after a ham fell on my foot. I was going to make apple crisp (know to my family as “apple crunchy wunchy woo”), but I didn’t have any apples other than the ones I’ve canned (go Amish or go home, is my motto), and those are a little too soft for apple crisp. Plus, using up some of the frozen peaches and blueberries meant that the next time I open the freezer, I’m less likely to have major pieces of meat fall on my extremities. Win-Win.