A Pennsylvania Dutch Tradition

Growing up, I can remember teachers having us write down our favorites–”favorite color”, “favorite activity”, “favorite food”, etc.  My answers always went something like this: blue, art/drawing, and potato filling.  What in the world was “potato filling”?  Most of my peers were writing “pizza” and I stood out, leaving others to question.  The best answer I could provide was that potato filling was a cross between mashed potatoes and stuffing, mixed together with additional yumminess and baked in the oven to golden brown perfection.  It is native to Pennsylvania Dutch cooking and is just about the best thing one could taste accompanying a turkey.

Year after year, potato filling is truly the end all, be all of my Thanksgiving.  I’m pretty sure I can say the same for my sister, who in years past would pile mountains of filling onto her plate.  Every year we would beg our mom to make a double batch to freeze so we’d have tons of leftovers.  Our husbands have now been indoctrinated with filling “fever” and we’ve been passing on the love to others over the years.  Even my mother-in-law, who often hosts our Virginia Thanksgiving gathering, knows, without question, this is the one non-negotiable on my list.  If you head most anywhere in Pennsylvania around the holidays, you can even be guaranteed to find this delicacy on restaurant menus.  If it tastes like my grandma’s, though, you’ll be lucky enough to try it.  Whether its too dry, too lumpy, too bland, or just right, to me it’s Thanksgiving and family and tradition all wrapped up into one.

Today I will don my apron and prepare our family’s treasured filling while the rest of my family drives hundreds of miles to be here in Virginia for the feast.  As my onions and celery brown and my home is filled with amazing aromas, my sister and her family will be trekking from Ohio and my parents, from their parents’ in Pennsylvania.  They will all arrive tomorrow afternoon to a home filled with family smells that mean only one thing–Thanksgiving is almost here and we are all joyfully together for another year.  Thanks be to God.

What foods are part of your family tradition?  Curious to try something new? Get out your potato peeler!  Pennsylvania Dutch potato filling is calling your name.

Mother’s Potato Filling

3 qt. pan almost full of peeled white potatoes, salted (placed in a larger pot to cook) (B notes: 5 large potatoes is enough)

5 slices of bread, lightly toasted and chopped 

4 stalks of celery, chopped finely

2 C. (liquid measure) top full of chopped onions

2 eggs

butter and canola/veg. oil

On low to medium heat, brown onions and celery in a lot of butter and oil.  Start out with 1/2 stick butter and some oil and keep adding so it doesn’t get dry.  While this mixture is browning, cook potatoes in salted water.  When onion mixture is very golden, add chopped bread and continue to sauté. Keep adding a little oil and butter to keep moist.  Smash up potatoes when cooked.  Add eggs and mix.  Now alternate adding a little warm milk and some of the onion mixture ’til all is used. Keep adding milk, if needed, to make mixture a little moister than for mashed potatoes.  Put into casseroles.  When ready to bake, put dots of butter on surface to help it brown.  Bake at 350F uncovered until slightly browned and warmed through.  Enjoy the deliciousness!!

  • Juris Mater

    Sounds AMAZING! My favorite food on the Thanksgiving table is cranberry sauce, and I usually make the traditional recipe plus another batch of a variety kind. And every year, the traditional wins out! Your post has made me hungry : )

  • http://www.buildingcathedrals.com/ Kellie

    I miss your family so much on Thanksgiving! You were all so welcoming to Mr. Red and I when we celebrated at your parents home for the years we were living in the midwest. A very Happy Thanksgiving to you all and please give your parents and sister a hug from me! Miss you all so much! Enjoy that delicious potato filling ;-)

  • Queen B

    We love family “secret” recipes! Don’t be surprised if this makes a Johnson Thanksgiving (or Christmas) meal sometime soon. Thanks for the great, yummy suggestion, B-Mama!

  • Kat0427

    This sounds delicious, Bethany, thank you for sharing!

  • Kathy

    Bethany, Thank you for posting this recipe and story. Today 11/30 for a leftover Thanksgiving feast, I made the potato filling according to your recipe. It was great. My Dad, husband and I loved it. A difference was that I pureed the ingredients as my husband and I are not “crunch” fans – onions and celery. We love the seasoning but not the crunch. Once I had all the ingredients in the pot, I used a hand blender and baked. It was great. Thanks again. I am sure you all enjoyed your potato filled holiday.


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