There’s no denying that life today has become rather hectic. We’re constantly on the go and are continually being inundated with technology and nagged by sound notifications from our smartphones that are never beyond arms reach.
Sometimes you just need a break from it all and finding a destination that allows you to unplug and return to a simpler way of life is just what the doctor ordered. Look no further than Lancaster in Pennsylvania, a place best known for its Amish community that offers a glimpse into a traditional way of life.
Lancaster’s surrounding countryside offers plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, and kayaking. And In addition to strolling through picturesque farms as horse-drawn buggies pass you by, Lancaster also offers the chance to taste some good old-fashioned American culinary delights.
7 Culinary Creations from Lancaster You’ve Got to Try
A Brief Introduction to Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Lancaster is one of the oldest US cities and actually served as Pennsylvania’s capital for a single day during the American Revolution. Its downtown area is characterized by well-preserved 18th-century architecture and leaving downtown gives way to a large Amish community that provides a glimpse into a simpler and more traditional, agrarian way of life.
The countryside is dotted with farmhouses, rolling fields, horse-drawn buggies, and covered bridges just dying to be photographed. Lancaster offers a range of museums and galleries to explore, along with The Fulton Theatre which is one of the oldest continuously operating theaters in the US.
Walking or biking the area’s trails along places like the Susquehanna River will definitely work up an appetite and thankfully Lancaster offers a diverse culinary scene, ranging from Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine to international flavors.
Lancaster is located in the heart of a fertile agricultural region, and many restaurants take advantage of this by serving farm-fresh, locally sourced ingredients. You can find farm-to-table dining options that showcase the region’s seasonal produce and artisanal products.
Must-try traditional dishes and treats include shoofly pies, whoopie pies, scrapple, and Wilbur buds. There really are so many delicious sweet offerings that you may be crying out for a dentist in Lancaster by the end of your trip.
Must-Try Dishes and Treats in Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Photo By: F_A from Ostwestfalen, Germany, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
A Pennsylvania Dutch classic, the whoopie pie is a delicious dessert made from two cake-like cookies stuffed with creamy filling. Lancaster is famous for its whoopie pies. In fact, the Lancaster County Whoopie Pie Festival draws thousands of visitors every year.
Whoopie pies were initially made from leftover cake batter and were a staple dessert during the Great Depression. When locals used to find them, they’d shout “Whoopie!”, giving them their name.
The cookies are often sizable, being roughly the size of a hamburger, and can come in flavors like vanilla, chocolate, pumpkin, red velvet, gingerbread, and even peanut butter. The most common filling consists of butter, confectioners’ sugar, and marshmallow fluff, giving it a fluffy and smooth texture.
Stroopies or Stroopwafels
Lancaster-made Dutch stroopwafels are known locally as stroopies, and you’ll find them at The Lancaster Sweet Shoppe where they are made fresh daily. These crispy, caramel-filled delicate waffle-like cookies are a Lancaster specialty. Stroopies are made by sandwiching a layer of homemade gooey caramel syrup between two thin waffles and pressing them together. The result is a sweet, chewy treat that’s perfect with a cup of coffee or tea.
Stroopies are often served warm, which enhances the gooey and comforting qualities of the caramel filling. To enjoy them this way, you can warm them for a few seconds in a microwave or oven. Look for specialty stroopie options in Lancaster like honey-infused, gluten-free varieties, and Wilbur chocolate coated versions.
Dutch immigrants brought stroopwafels to the United States, and over time, Stroopies evolved into a distinct treat with local variations. In Lancaster County, the tradition of serving warm Stroopies at community events and fairs has persisted now for generations.
If you’re a chocolate lover, you have to try Wilbur Buds when visiting Lancaster. These bite-sized chocolates have been a local favorite for well over 100 years and are made from the highest quality cocoa beans, the recipe remaining virtually unchanged for over a century.
This classic American candy originated in Lititz which is just a few miles north of Lancaster and where you can still visit the Wilbur Chocolate Retail Store today. Wilbur Buds are small, button-shaped chocolates. They are usually around the size of a nickel or dime, making them perfect for popping into your mouth one at a time.
Wilbur Buds are known for their delightful combination of sweet, creamy milk chocolate with a subtle cocoa flavor. The milk chocolate is rich and not overly sweet, and the chocolates are often used for baking or garnishing cakes and cupcakes.
Chow Chow is a type of condiment and relish that has its roots in the American South, particularly in regions such as the Appalachian Mountains and the Carolinas, but you’ll also find it throughout Pennsylvania. This sweet and tangy relish is a staple at many Amish and Mennonite meals and is often used as a topping or side dish for a variety of dishes.
Chow chow is made from various vegetables, including green beans, cauliflower, sweet peppers, and onions. The vegetables are finely chopped and mixed with a sweet and sour vinegar marinade. Chow chow is the perfect condiment for hot dogs, hamburgers, or many sandwich varieties.
This unique dish is a Pennsylvania Dutch creation not for the faint of heart. Scrapple is made from pork scraps originating from the head, heart, liver, and other offal of pigs, alongside cornmeal and spices that collectively form a loaf. Scrapple is then sliced and pan-fried until crispy.
Scrapple, although a somewhat acquired taste, is an integral part of American culinary heritage. It remains a cherished local regional food of Pennsylvania and is a product of American culinary tradition, particularly associated with rural and farm communities. It’s a classic comfort food that reflects the resourcefulness of using every part of the animal.
A mixture of seasonings is added for flavor, which typically includes salt, pepper, sage, thyme, and other spices. The exact blend of seasonings can vary by region and personal preference. Scrapple has a unique texture that is firm and sliceable when cooked. It is somewhat like a meatloaf but with a grainier texture.
Staying with pigs, hog maw is a dish made from a pig’s stomach stuffed with potatoes, onions, browned pork, sausage, and cabbage. The stomach is sewn shut and simmered until tender.
The cleaned pig’s stomach is typically parboiled or blanched briefly to soften it and make it more pliable. This helps ensure that it can be stuffed more easily and that it will become tender during cooking.
Hog maw is usually accompanied by a rich, flavorful gravy made from the cooking liquid or broth. It’s especially a popular dish during the fall and winter months since it’s a hearty and filling meal that’s sure to leave you satisfied.
Shoofly pie is a traditional and iconic American dessert that hails from Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine, particularly from Amish communities. This molasses-based pie is characterized by its sweet, gooey filling and crumbly topping.
There are two primary types of shoofly pie based on the consistency of the filling and they include a wet-bottom pie which has a gooey, molasses-rich bottom layer and a crumbly top layer, and then the dry-bottom pie where the molasses is evenly mixed with the crumbs to create a uniformly moist texture.
Shoofly pie has a long history in Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine, dating back to the 19th century. It’s often associated with the practice of keeping pies on windowsills to cool, leading to the name “shoofly,” as the sweet aroma attracted flies and other insects.
Bonus Treat: Apple Butter
Photo By: Alan Levine from Strawberry, United States, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
I know we said we would only talk about 7 culinary delights from Lancaster you’ve got to try, but we thought we’d sneak in one more. Made from freshly picked apples cooked down with sugar and spices, apple butter is a delicious spread perfect on toast or biscuits. Though the recipe doesn’t actually call for butter, the name apple butter comes from the creaminess and spreadability of this delicious treat that resembles butter.
Apple butter is a popular Lancaster specialty, and many families have passed down recipes for generations. Apple butter is the perfect way to enjoy fall flavors all year long.
So be sure to add Lancaster to your foodie destination bucket list. Whether you’re in the mood for a sweet treat like whoopie pies and Wilbur buds or prefer savory dishes like chow chow and hog maw, you won’t be disappointed.
Just be sure to brush and floss those teeth between meals, since the last thing you want is to have to seek out emergency dental care while on your culinary adventure of Pennsylvania.
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