The Great Pot Pie Debate

Written by Michael Cassidy
Despite an Irish surname, a large, or even the largest, chunk of my DNA is old family Pennsylvania German from what is now Blair County. To help cement those “PA Dutch” credentials, I married a Lancaster descendent of Hans Herr, empowering me to take on one of the great culinary disputes of our time.
Family and Pennsylvania “Dutch” German ancestral honor demand refutation of the most common misrepresentations of what constitutes “Pot Pie” or “Bott Boi”. Chicken and vegetables cooked in a pie crust as a meat pie may be delicious, but it still is not Pot Pie. Even some Lancaster County restaurants serve chicken pies with a baked pie crust and shamelessly call it Pot Pie on their menu. Basically, if the dough is not boiled in a pot with meat and vegetables, it’s NOT Pot Pie. Period. You might as well say that whoopee pies come from Maine.
Pot pie was often a dish to use leftover chicken, turkey, or ham. In Lancaster County and east, chicken seems to be the only meat used, but west of the Susquehanna River, ham is also very popular with Pennsylvania German folk — certainly with my Grandma Florine (nee Harker) Cassidy (b.1908, d.1996) and the family living in Newry, PA where the Appalachians meet the Allegheny Mountains. There was absolutely no controversy on what constituted Pot Pie there. The only matter of serious contention was whether egg should be added to Pot Pie dough. My grandmother Florine (nee Harker) Cassidy (b.1908, d.1996) scoffed at the practice by some to put an egg in the dough. “That’s egg noodles.” Florine’s actual recipe for traditional pot pie dough, as passed down through her from previous generations, follows:
“To a pile of flour, add less shortening than for a pie
crust, little salt, and enough water to work (it).”
Roll out the dough –not too thick– flour generously and cut into squares. Let dry overnight. (Commercial pot pie square noodles, all too often with egg as an ingredient, are available and some have even suggested store-bought refrigerated pie crust as a cheater.)
In a large pot, boil leftover ham or fresh chicken until falling off bone. Remove meat and debone, reserving the broth. Boil broth or stock with coarsely chopped celery, onion, carrots, and potatoes, until done and add meat back in. While mixture is at full boil add the floured noodle squares one at time to prevent sticking. Add parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Added saffron is favored at fire hall suppers. The Herr family omitted most all the vegetables except potatoes because my father-in-law didn’t like the onions that would otherwise seem to be an essential ingredient.
I hope that this article will finally and definitively settle any lingering Pot Pie disputes.