The Pennsylvania Dutch

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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The Pennsylvania Dutch culture of “sweets,” which includes both confectionery (Zuckerwerk) and pastry (Backwerk), represents one of the richest regional cuisines in the United States. Referred to as “Dutch” by the colonial English, a medieval term for anyone from the Rhine Valley, this group created a hybrid food culture that evolved out of three basic eighteenth-century immigrant components: the Palatine, or Pelzer Drittel (which also includes German-speaking Alsatians); the Swabian, or Schwowe Drittel (largely derived from the German state now called Baden-Württemberg); and the Schweizer Drittel, or “Swiss Third,” represented by the Swiss Reformed, Mennonites, and Amish. Added to this hybrid mixture are influences from larger British-American cultural patterns. The Amish, who compose about 5 percent of the total Pennsylvania Dutch population, have since the 1930s been a tourist icon for the whole culture, yet the Amish have in fact had very little influence on the overall development of sweets among the Pennsylvania Dutch.