I have a deep relationship with soft pretzels. As does cookbook author and Simply Recipes associate editor Carrie Havranek. As, I am guessing, do many of you.
Carrie and I share something in common when it comes to pretzels— our favorite version comes from Pennsylvania. I went to college outside the City of Brotherly Love and I have vivid memories of traveling into the city for a day of museums and wandering along South Street. These trips always included at least one (maybe two) street vendor soft pretzels.
The buttery crust. The sharp crunch of the salt. The chewy middles. Even the cheap mustard the vendors always gave for dipping. It all feels very near and dear to my heart.
But enough about me. This is about Carrie and her fantastic new book Tasting Pennsylvania, which includes a recipe for Amish-Style Soft Pretzels (note: awesome melted butter on top!) that you can make at home without the price of a plane ticket.
The Cuisine of Pennsylvania
If the only cuisine you can name from Pennsylvania are Philly Cheesesteaks, you’re in for a treat. Yes, Carrie includes a recipe for those delightful sandwiches (another staple of my South Street visits), but Pennsylvania cuisine is so much more.
Did you know, for instance, that Pennsylvania is the #1 producer of mushrooms in the United States? And fourth in apple production? You can see this evidenced in recipes like Roasted Kennett Square Mushroom Soup and an Apple Pie Shortbread Tart.
You can also see Pennsylvania’s German and Polish roots in recipes like Pennsylvania Dutch Onion Tart (Zwiwwelkuche, say that five times fast), pierogis with potato and cheddar filling, and yes, scrapple. Pennsylvania’s history is rich with other immigrant groups, too— they’re represented with dishes like Double Chocolate Tahini Cookies, Old Forge-Style Pizza, and English Toffee Pudding.
Pennsylvania has also become something of a hot bed for star chefs and trendy restaurants. Try Beet-Cured Salmon from High Street on Market or Braised Pork Cheek Tacos from Victory Brewing Company at your next party! Also, I suspect the Pennsylvania Mushroom Ramen from Mister Lee’s Noodles will be high on my meal rotation this winter.
Let’s Hear from Carrie!
I could read you the names of tempting recipes all day. Before we get to that recipe for Amish-Style Soft Pretzels, I thought you might like to hear a bit about Pennsylvania and this cookbook from the author herself!
Tell me about YOUR Pennsylvania. I love how you describe it as a “place of opposites” in your introduction. What do you mean, and how does this relate to the food of Pennsylvania?
We have three metro areas that are densely populated (Philly, Pittsburgh and, where I live, the Lehigh Valley), but the state is enormous and full of rural communities, too. We have cities with James Beard Award-winning chefs, many of whom have contributed recipes. And then we’ve got tons of great mom and pop cafes and family-run restaurants. The food, then, is both progressive and traditional, chef-driven and homey. The best of PA food manages to conjure those juxtapositions, but that’s not easy to pull off. We haven’t gone haute, yet!
What is something about Pennsylvania cuisine that you want everyone to know?
It is more than cheesesteaks, pierogies, and pork products!
What are the major flavors of Pennsylvania? The ingredients that you see come into play again and again?
Pork, cabbage, mushrooms, beets and, quite honestly, Italian food. Oh, and beer. And, often, pork and beer together. We have a strong craft beer culture here.
What are the three recipes from the book that you think capture the breadth of Pennsylvania cuisine the best
Pennsylvania Mushroom Ramen, Pittsburgh Salad, and Shoo-Fly Pie.
Be honest: how many Philly cheesesteaks were eaten in pursuit of your recipe for it in the book.
Fewer than you think. I actually ate more of them when I was writing about cheesesteaks for Serious Eats several years ago!
What’s the weirdest thing you ate while doing research for this book?
Scrapple. It’s not really that weird—it is quintessentially Pennsylvanian—but it’s not something I eat on even an occasional basis, so to me it feels “weird.” It was also one of the hardest things to photograph.
What recipe gave you the most challenge to get right, and you’re so proud that you did?
Oh, that’s easy. The Chocolate Bread Pudding from Hershey. It’s not a complicated recipe, but it definitely required a lot of back and forth to get the amounts right.
I feel like every cookbook author has that one recipe in their cookbook that they know isn’t going to be super popular, but they loved it so much that they just couldn’t bear to cut it. What is that recipe fore you?
The Indian Breakfast Bowl. I could eat this for breakfast or lunch every day. Scrambled eggs or tofu, over spinach and roasted potatoes, topped with two chutneys and pan fried mustard seeds. It’s not for everyone!
What recipes do you still have on regular rotation in your kitchen, even now that the book is done?
The Pittsburgh Salad is genius. It’s salad with grilled chicken, french fries, and homemade ranch dressing on it. I don’t ever have to choose between French fries or salad with this dish. It’s all on one plate, on purpose! Also, any of the veggies-on-toast dishes (summer corn tartine, spinach and leek toast, peas and bacon on toast… you see where this is going.)