The Pennsylvania Dutch are descendants of German-speaking people who settled in and around Pennsylvania. Most of them came from Southwest Germany between the late 1600’s and late 1700’s, fleeing devastation caused by the French invasion of this region, abnormally harsh winters, and for some sects, religious persecution. Some of these German-speaking immigrants also came from other areas, such as Switzerland and some parts of France.
Pennsylvania Dutch people have their own dialect, although many of us no longer know it or know only a handful of words. One thing that causes confusion is the word “Dutch.” At the time, “Dutch” referred to a variety of German-speaking people, including those who lived in what is now modern-day Germany. Germany as a nation did not exist yet. Pennsylvania Dutch people are not Dutch in the current sense of the word, because they did not come from the Netherlands. This is why some people now prefer the name “Pennsylvania German.” I don’t use that name very often because: 1) my ancestors did not come from Germany per se, because the nation didn’t exist at the time, and they may have even been German speakers from France or somewhere else; and 2) most non-Pennsylvania Dutch people know us by the name “Pennsylvania Dutch,” so I use the name they’ll recognize. To each their own!
Many people think that Pennsylvania Dutch means Amish, but only some Pennsylvania Dutch people are Amish. Others are Lutherans, Mennonites, Catholics, and many other sects (my grandfather and his mother were Christian Scientists). There are Pennsylvania Dutch people in Pennsylvania of course, but there are other communities living in certain areas of Indiana, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina.
Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine is famous for its decadent pies and simple, hearty meals. Potatoes and apples are important in many Pennsylvania Dutch dishes, and we have great relishes and filling soups. Last but not least, we have extremely cute names for things–as this blog grows you’ll see dishes like chow-chow, shoofly pie, and milk flabbies!