What’s Chow-chow? Lafayette College Team Introduces PA Dutch Cuisine to International Students

Chef stands next to an orange tractor in a field

Campus Executive Chef John Soder at the Lafayette College Farm

Of the many regional cuisines that are celebrated throughout the United States, the food of the Pennsylvania Dutch does not tend to get much attention.

Concentrated in the southeastern corner of Pennsylvania, the PA Dutch are predominately descendants of German religious refugees who fled the Thirty-Years War in the early 17th century. After settling in Pennsylvania, these communities of German farmers began to call themselves the PA Deitsch, or PA Dutch, and developed a distinctive culture, linguistic dialect, and a cuisine that draws heavily from ingredients that would be grown on a typical yeoman homestead.

On a cold day in February, Bon Appétit at Lafayette College’s Campus Executive Chef John Soder was on a mission to bring this sometimes-overlooked cuisine to a new audience, and in doing so, maybe even create a chow-chow fan, or two.

Chef holding thank you sign

John holds a thank you sign presented to him by Lafayette College’s International Students Association

John held a virtual cooking demonstration highlighting typical PA Dutch dishes, as part of Lafayette’s International Orientation, when first-year students from around the world spend a few days learning about Lafayette, the United States, and each other’s cultures. John kicked off the demonstration by making chow-chow, a sweet and vinegary pickled relish of beans, corn, peppers, carrots, and cauliflower. After quick-pickling the chow-chow, John showed the students how to make potato pancakes, chicken pot pie, and apple dumplings, noting that while the PA Dutch are stereotypically generous with their use of butter, lard would more often be used when making flaky crusts.

“Every year, partnering with Chef John to offer creative and educational programming is a highlight for me and the International Students Association leadership,” said Janine Block, International Students Association Advisor and Director of Intercultural Development. “This year we decided to try something new during International Orientation and though our hands-on PA Dutch cooking event changed to a demonstration due to COVID restrictions, he was awesome about quickly adjusting to our needs.”

After John’s demonstration, the students stopped in to the Lower Farinon Dining Hall, where the culinary team had made and packaged up each dish for them to take home. The students appreciated the time and effort that John put into the demonstration, and presented him with a thank you sign!