Depression Food

In my head, one of my favorite foods had its genesis in the early 1930s.

A nameless ancestor struggled with limited means to put dinner on the table. The cupboard was nearly bare: some flour, some salt and baking powder. The icebox held a small pot of milk and an egg. From these sparse supplies, she created pot pie. The family was saved.

Okay, that’s not at all how my favorite food got its start, but it’s a lovely story.

In truth, Pennsylvania Dutch Pot Pie likely came about years before the Great Depression. The Internet has a variety of origin stories for the dish. None of them really matter. What’s important is that this pot pie is not baked in a pie shell. Marie Calendar does not make a frozen version.

In my family, the recipe was handed down from my father’s grandmother, known as Mom Mom. My dad said he used to help her make it, and it was one of his favorite meals.

It became one of mine. Partly, I’m sure, because my mom and sister weren’t fond of it. And for good reason. The dish I make can best be described as having no flavor. It tastes of warmth, of living room windows fogged up by a boiling pot.

It can’t be healthy. After two platefuls at dinner, my stomach feels bloated and I don’t think I need to eat again this week.

The Dotts family recipe is below. You may know this dish can be made in chicken or ham broth or have meat added to the noodle-broth mixture at the end. Don’t do it. That messes with the purity of the experience. Add a can of butter beans because I’m convinced it adds some flavor, even if I pick most of them out and they end up in the trash.

2 cups flour (at least)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1 can butter beans

Mix ingredients and knead into a firm mixture. In other words, keep adding flour once you have sticky mixture until it’s something you’re not afraid to touch.

Halve the ball of dough and roll out on a flat surface you’ve coated with flour. You want the thickness to be something you can just see through. Maybe 1/8-1/16 of an inch. Or more. I eyeball it.

Sprinkle the rolled out dough with flour and cut into large squares. Whatever size you want. Try for uniformity. Stack the squares into little piles while you boil a pot of water. How much water? No clue. Fill a dutch oven about halfway and that could work.

Roll out the other half of the dough and cut it into squares.

By now the water should be boiling. Drop the squares in one by one. Stir when the pot looks crowded. Cook for about 15 minutes. Stir a lot to prevent the noodles from sticking or burning to the bottom. This is especially important if you’re using Le Creuset which holds heat very well. True story.

Add the beans (your call on whether to include the can’s liquid) and cook for another 15 minutes. You’ll know the pot pie’s done when you pull out noodle to taste it and decide you want another one.

The flavorless nature of the dish means you want to put salt, diced onions and celery seed on it. Yes, celery seed. That strange container you have in your spice rack that you’ve previously used only for cole slaw.

If you end up with leftovers, you can microwave it the next day. Just be aware the noodles don’t hold up that well, and you’ll be changing the origin story from the Depression to Goldilocks.


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