Pennsylvania Dutch Pot Pie
Monday, August 4, 2008
Also known as Aunt Alice Ann’s pot pie. Or you might think it’s not a pot pie at all. And you might even be right. Pennsylvania Dutch’s “pot pie” is not a normal pot pie as we know it–you know, the kind with chicken stew topped with pie crust and baked? Uncle John, Aunt Alice Ann’s husband, explained to me that the Pennsylvania Dutch name “pot pie” is actually a bastardized form of the original German term bot boi. It refers to a thickish chicken soup (usually with corn kernels) with homemade noodle (typically cut into squares.) I’m sure the noodles are there to stretch the soup much farther than it otherwise would be.
Still curious about the term bot boi, I texted Thomas the (real) German boy to see if he knew what it meant. “Potpourri”, he replied instantly. Hmm. Odd. “How about something regarding food, or perhaps something phonetically similar but not the exact spelling”, I tried again. “Ah, it’s an antiquated expression for a thick stew, which in modern German is eintopf”, he explained. Eintopf, according to Thomas, has a starch element from mashed beans, peas, potatoes, or lentils, which are cooked with chunks of meat to make a thick stew. I suppose when the Pennsylvania Dutch migrated here from Germany they imported the idea but adapted it to the more readily available ingredients, namely flour and corn. So what they now call pot pie is typically a thickish stew of chicken or other meat, with corn and homemade noodle made with plain flour, eggs, and butter. Ron, David’s dad, told me when he was growing up they had bot boi with pretty much every meat or game imaginable.
David’s aunt Alice Ann took charge of turning this Thai girl “Dutch” by teaching me how to make “pot pie” in her gorgeous kitchen in a farmhouse dating back to the 1800′s. Every family has their own pot pie recipe, Alice Ann said. Hers came from her husband John’s mother Sally. She also has recipes from other people–like her own mother and her Amish cleaning lady–but she likes the one from John’s mother best so it is the one she uses. This recipe calls for a bit of milk to bind the dough, and also an addition of saffron to the broth. According to Alice Ann, though pot pies are common throughout Lancaster county and Pennsylvania, the use of saffron in the broth is specific only the town of Denver, where she and most of the family are from.
Alice Ann made the first batch to show me, then let me do the rest so that I could get the feel of the dough myself. I needed that too, as it turned out. When I watched aunt Alice Ann do the work, the dough looked pretty dry and tough to my eyes, but once I tried with my own hands, it was much softer than I expected.
Once the dough is mixed and lightly kneaded, it’s then rolled into very thin sheets, and cut into about 2-inch squares. John’s mother also liked to insert the tip of a pairing knife into the middle of each square and, with a flick of a wrist, twist the blade and cut a short slash into it, probably to make sure the middle bit is also cooked through in the pot. The noodles go into a boiling pot of chicken broth with some potatoes, onion, and saffron in it.
Aunt Alice Ann’s Pot Pie (Bot Boi)
- 1 egg
- 1/2 tablespoon butter, soften
- about 2-4 tablespoons whole milk
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- about 10 cups of chicken broth
- about 2 cups of chicken meat
- one onion, roughly chopped
- 3-4 medium potatoes, cut into large chunks
- a pinch of saffron
- 3-4 ears of corn, slice off the kernels and discard the husks
- more salt and pepper to taste
In a large bowl, beat the egg, butter, milk, and the half teaspoon of salt until well combined. Add the flour all at once, stir to mix with the tines of a fork. Once the dry and wet ingredients are combined into large crumbs, knead the dough until everything comes together into a smooth ball.
Break the dough into thirds, and roll each into a thin rectangular sheet. The noodles will puff up after the cooking so roll as thin as you possibly could if you think you’ll like it on the thin side. Let the sheets of noodle dry out for about fifteen minutes before cutting into about 2-inch squares. Insert the tip of a pairing knife into the middle of each dough squares and cut a tiny slash into it.
In a 6-8qt pot, bring the chicken broth to a roaring boil. Add the onion and the potatoes (we used freshly dug potatoes from the garden) and let cook for about ten minutes. Keep the pot at a rocking boil, add the noodle squares, one by one, right into the middle of the boiling pot. Add a pinch of saffron, salt and pepper to taste, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the noodles are done (15-20 minutes.) Add the chicken meat and the corn kernels about five minutes before everything is done.
Serve on a rimmed plate, not in a soup bowl (as I mistakenly did to myself before realizing my mistake). This is pot pie, not chicken soup!
P.S. When she taught me how to make this pot pie, Alice Ann had already prepared her homemade broth and cooked chicken meat. You can make your own by simmering a whole chicken in a large pot (filled with enough water to cover the whole chicken) with some carrots, onions, and other aromatic veggies you like. When the chicken is cooked through, remove it from the pot and pick out all the meat and set aside. Return the chicken carcass back into the pot and simmer for another hour. Strain, set aside the broth and discard the rest. You probably won’t need the meat from the entire chicken for the dish, keep some to make chicken salad sandwich later perhaps? After all, the whole point of something like pot pie is to stretch the rare commodity like meat with the cheaper filler like noodles. Some of the world’s best dishes are driven from the same necessity.
P.P.S. The pot pie aunt Alice Ann made that day was simply marvelous and absolutely perfect for that day. Every one had their fill and decamped to the patio for some delicious wild blackberries ice cream, homemade, of course. You expected no less from her.
A propos of nothing, here’s a shot of Jaiden, David’s little niece,
riding off to the sunset hauling Harry the cat, dazed and bewildered, off to the sunset.