Growing up in the small rural town of Ono, Pennsylvania, I was in the presence of many hidden treasures of central Pennsylvania without even realizing it. For those who are unaware Ono is located in Lebanon County which is right next to Lancaster, Berks, and Schuylkill counties, home to some of the finest cooking know to these 50 great states. Of these amazing culinary masterpieces whoopee pies, galumpkies, shoo fly pie, ham and bean soup (with rivels), Lebanon bologna, hot bacon dressing, dumplings for any occasion, and red beet eggs are some of the most revered. Above all else, chicken potpie is the cream of the crop hands down, so to speak. The thick chicken gravy like broth covering every inch of the bowl and gently dousing the small skinned chunks of potatoes and those delicious thick squares of rich dough that almost stick to your teeth in a way when you bite into them all accompanied by large chunks of white chicken meat, seasoned to perfection. There really is no competition.
When I was young I often times took the common food to the area for granted and complained of the lack of diversity and the monotony of the cuisine. Once I began traveling, however, I realized just how lucky and attached to that monotonous cuisine I really was. After spending a significant time in the Deep South with the unique variety of fish and BBQ sauces I realized I enjoyed a less flamboyant menu with a more comforting food. Then I moved to Texas for a couple of months where I met the spiciest food on the planet and people who ate jalapenos like candy. I could not handle the heat, and I quickly learned I knew nothing about “good” Mexican food, which apparently does not come from Taco Bell. While living in Texas I also noticed they didn’t even have the foods I liked to eat available. They haven’t even HEARD of them. Such as Lebanon bologna, which is one of my favorite lunchmeats. With it’s special mixture of beef bologna and spices creating a taste that is tangy and a little spiced and just…. mmm. Delicious. When I asked a friend in Texas where they kept it in the store the only response besides from a blank stare was, “What’s that?” The horror! Three months without Lebanon bologna? Who could imagine! I almost called my parents and asked them to ship some out to me, but with the heat I knew it would cause a challenge.
Lunchmeats were not the only things the Texans have never heard of that I was used to eating on a regular basis, but I almost expected that. The one thing that surprises me everyday is the fact that people living down the street from me have never heard of one of my favorite foods; chicken potpie. After the first false encounter of a description of chicken potpie, I have made it a personal goal to set as many people straight about the delectable food as possible. Most people, when asked to describe chicken potpie state the following: “It’s like an apple pie only with chicken and vegetables. It has a crust. You cook it in the oven.” While this might be what many are used to this is not even close to what REAL chicken potpie is. That dish never sees a pot; it’s a poor wording choice and seems to be misconstrued all over the nation. Chicken potpie is more like a soup than anything. It has a thick, gravy like sauce that it is in, and there are no vegetables in it. It has chicken, noodles, and potatoes in a thick delightful broth. It is heaven in a bowl, and it is cooked on the stove like a stew not in the oven like a pie. It is a more comforting food than the chicken pie served in a crust. It brings a smile to my face and warms you from the inside out. Corn and applesauce can be served as sides when enjoying this dish but usually never mixed in. I often times get into arguments with friends, parents, schoolmates, and others that I meet about the rue of what some consider to be a good “potpie.” It is not right to call the crusted chicken pie dish chicken potpie and I make sure people know that. I wouldn’t say that it offends me when people misuse the term, but it definitely makes me uncomfortable. To see and hear the food I’ve loved so much for my entire life share a name with the food that is not even on the same level in my book is disappointing at best. Not to mention incredibly frustrating when eating out. To constantly have to curb my excitement after seeing they have chicken potpie on the menu and, after asking about it, realizing it was not what I was expecting. I can only hope that one day what is right will come to be.
I bet you’re wondering, “But what does any of this ranting have to do with the title?” Well here it comes! The greatest part about a good chicken potpie is the noodles! They are not what the typical person would consider to be your conventional noodle, however. They are typically square or rectangular and often times deliciously thick. Good potpies are made with homemade noodles, and if they are store bought you know right away. There is no way of fooling any good Pennsylvania Dutchman! The wool will never be thick enough to shade your eyes from that poor decision. It just isn’t the same. A good noodle is sticky and dough-like, in a good way. They are like a melt in your mouth middle of dumpling kind of taste, so good. Store bought noodles, however, are not even close. They are tougher and chewier and they just don’t satisfy. One bite and you know, one of those punch you in the face, this is not what I was expecting kind of thing. Similar to when you think you have a glass of water and it really sprite. But when homemade noodles are used there is no greater thing than that, the only downside is the filling capabilities of said noodles. In layman’s terms, potpie is a gut bomb.
After about a bowl and a half and you’re going to have to be rolled out of the fire-hall. Fire-halls, by the way, are where the monthly gatherings take place. Once a month the older women and exceptionally talented cooks get together and make dozens and dozens of gallons of potpie to sell for supper. People pack into that fire-hall and sit family style at long tables enjoying the company of neighbors. The sound of laughter and clanking dishware echo through the hall while the view of the kitchen can be clearly seen from your seat. The stressed faces of all the cooks and the numerous pots filled with the outstanding meal are seen everywhere, and behind it all are the dough presses and other machines used to make those addicting dough squares that now adorn the gravy broth on my plate. The cooks come in early and make the noodles so they can properly set and cook and can be simply added to the mixture the day of the meal, but the machinery is seen always. Even on off days the dough presses are still seen set up in the kitchen, a regular fixture. Real potpie is always good no matter what, but nothing beats those homemade noodles. In my opinion that’s what takes the dish to a whole new level. You just can’t touch it when you’ve done it right.
All in all I am not a picky eater and will try just about anything at least once. In Texas I tried a jalapeno popper, in Alabama I had catfish, and in Georgia I had grits for breakfast almost every morning and okra and hush puppies for supper. Oh and who can forget the sweet tea south of Tennessee, they just don’t make it like that above the Mason Dixon line. In the end, though I always find myself yearning for that “monotonous food” of my home. It is not only a comfort but also the things that I find most appealing. It is hard to replace the taste of local cooking when that is what you were raised on. To be completely honest, there is no way that I could ever go the rest of my life without eating anymore potpie, it just wouldn’t be right. I do really enjoy traveling, however, which is why I’ve started cooking lessons with my grandma. Don’t have the local cuisine everywhere you go? No problem! Take it with you!