A Look Back in History: A unique acculturation of English food

The 1852 historic Landmark Salmagundi Club House at 47 Fifth Avenue in New York City where early culinary artists in the 1800s served a stew named Salmagundi for starving residents.  Washington Irving also had named his political and satire papers published in 1807, “salmagundi.”
The 1852 historic Landmark Salmagundi Club House at 47 Fifth Avenue in New York City where early culinary artists in the 1800s served a stew named Salmagundi for starving residents. Washington Irving also had named his political and satire papers published in 1807, “salmagundi.” Submitted photo

Ever since the Colonial period, PA Dutch farmers in Berks, Lehigh and Lancaster counties have counted on imports from the English port of Philadelphia, and in return, we sold our food and grain products etc. to trade with the rest of the world. But instinctively, our Rhineland ancestors relished their Germanic culinary diet making scrapple, cottage cheese, and apple butter, which was easily traded at the Philadelphia markets among the Quaker English neighbors of William Penn.

Inevitably, acculturation occurred between these Colonial pioneers. However, I prefer not to use the popular term “Philadelphia Scrapple,” especially because homemade recipes in the East Penn Valley are my favorites. Ironically, among some Pennsylvania Dutch families of generations past were unique PA Dutch dishes not popularized such as a zesty salad dish called Salmagundi.

This dish appealed to those Deitscher grandmothers who craved additional garden delights such as “Swiwala cooka” (onion pie), and would include in this Salmagundi because the spring onions gave it a fresh taste. Generally, families preferred hot bacon dressing on their salads and also bought sweet bologna to cut up with vinegar in salad, or less popularly sugar water with onions, radishes in addition to lettuce. In reading various trade magazines and keeping up with PA Dutch antiques and rare American treasures sold over the auction block, I came across an article a few years back where Americana expert, David Rago spoke to the American Appraisal Association at New York City where they had a prestigious Salmagundi Art Club.

Realizing that many Americana treasures are sold at Sotheby’s and New York City’s Christie’s auction houses, our early Americana PA Dutch antiques have been known to bring top dollar among national collectors and museums. Living among the PA Dutch people, rarely does one here about a sweet and sour salmagundi salad, which perhaps achieved its zesty taste from the diced onions in this concoction. However, when I read the headline about this influential body of distinguished people meeting at the Salmagundi Club in New York City, I became proud of our less popularly known dish considered partly in the realm of a peculiar PA Dutch cooking habit.

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The 1871 Salmagundi Club in New York (City) was founded by Johnathan Scott Hartley and features American art in their beautiful 1852 brownstone townhouse club. A historic New York landmark listed on the United States National Register, David Rago spoke at their headquarters and was a prominent TV Antiques Roadshow expert and the head of the Rago Arts and Auction Center in neighboring New Jersey. Curious about the origins, I e-mailed Alan Keyser, a food expert on the PA Dutch people, to ask him about the traditional PA Dutch recipe for Salmagundi, but Alan simply responded by saying he knows of no Salmagundi recipe among our PA Dutch people. Puzzled, I contacted some of my older kin, and unfortunately not asking my “Nana” while she was alive, we pieced together our family’s culinary background.

Yes, she was a staunch PA Dutchwomen and a good cook who lived for a time in Ephrata, Lebanon County. Still deeply puzzled, it turns out to be the heritage of old Quaker-English Philadelphia was where an ancestor of mine became acquainted with the art of making a good Salmagundi salad, which became part of my family’s cooking legacy. Relatives who lived nearer to Philadelphia, therefore, English food dishes were merged with our PA Dutch home cooking together with Philadelphia cream cheese on homemade bread topped with locally made apple butter, a true regional favorite.