Sometimes, as an Eastern Pennsylvanian who has moved to North Carolina, I forget that people down here don't understand Pennsylvania Dutch terms. Of course, I'm not surprised that Southerners are unfamiliar with the blatantly "Dutchy" turns of phrase (Obviously, nobody here parts ways with, "Y'all come back now, vuntz!") but I was surprised to learn how many of the things I grew up saying without a second thought are actually part of a very specific regional vernacular. Admittedly, most of these linguistic lightbulb moments came to me when I was teaching. In a moment of frustration, I once scolded a group of restless pupils, telling them, "Stop rutsching and just do your work," only to have them respond with blank stares. (Hey, at least it shut them up momentarily.) Just the other day, I discovered that no one here says, "It's spritzing" when the rain comes down in fine droplets. I've also learned that "Hush your fussin'!" is the South's version of the "Stop grexing!" that my Mom-Mom sometimes hissed at me and my sister if we whined too much.
But I miss the colorful local language of Lancaster and Berks County. Each time I go home, I hear less and less of the true Dutchy accent, as in "Meet me dahn at the Ranch Haas," or "I'm from Berks Cahney." Pennsylvania Dutch is, of course, not actually Dutch but a corruption and modernization of German. It's characterized by unique words and phrases but also for the order of words, as in, "Throw the cow over the fence some hay." (That one always makes me giggle.) As with modern German, Pennsylvania Dutch has some situation-specific, difficult-to-translate words. Some of my favorites are "nix nootz" to describe a trouble-making but good-hearted child, or "schusslich" to describe hasty, sloppy, last-minute actions.
However, the PA Dutch word I most miss, simply because it describes the action it names so well, is "fress." To fress is eat, but it's a specific kind of eating; fressing is like grazing or snacking leisurely throughout the day. We fress on holidays, when we're already stuffed so full of gustatory goodness but we don't want to hurt the host's feelings, so we pick at the cheese plate. We fress when it's hot outside and a heavy meal would make us lethargic, so we just eat a few bites of whatever we can find in the fridge. We fress at picnics and holidays, where there's so much temptation that choosing one or two main dishes is too difficult, so we take bits of this and that and load up our plates until they start to bow. In my understanding, fressing isn't so much about the quantity or type of food; it's more about a variety of small samples, often spread out over time.
Bryan and I are most likely to fress at the end of the week, when energy levels are low and leftovers are diverse. Usually, by the end of the week, I have an assortment of ingredients sitting around, either due to purposeful exclusion ("I don't feel like putting tomatoes in this dish tonight") or accidental amnesia ("What the hell did I buy this leek for again?") and "Fressing Friday" is a wonderful (wunnerful goot?) opportunity to use up those things. Friday evening is a time for dressed-up finger foods, dips, side dishes, and cut-up fruits. It's a chance to relax and unwind without going to any extra trouble. And one of my favorite last-minute fressing dishes is Smitten Kitchen's garlic butter roasted mushrooms. I halved Deb's recipe since it was just two of us.
(I know, I know -- you were just starting to think, "Soooo... is there a recipe in all this, or are you just waxing nostalgic this week?")
You will need:
- 1/2 pound medium sized button mushrooms, cleaned and stemmed
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
- salt and pepper
- 1 1/2 Tbsp butter, cut into small chunks
- Parmesan cheese
- Preheat the oven to 450° F. Coat the insides of a small baking dish (you could even use a round pie plate) with a little non-stick spray or oil and set it aside.
- Place the mushrooms in a resealable plastic bag; add the garlic, vegetable/canola oil, and a dash of salt and pepper to the bag, too. Toss gently to combine.
- Place the mushrooms, gill-side up, in the baking dish. Spread the butter pieces out on top of the mushrooms and sprinkle with a bit of parmesan.
- Roast the mushrooms for 15-20 minutes, or until the mushrooms are tender and the buttery sauce around them is bubbling. Top with chopped parsley, if desired, and serve warm.
These mushrooms are chewy, dense, and earthy. The garlicky-buttery juice they roast in is flavorful but not overpowering. I served this two Fridays ago with a sliced Fuji apple, some leftover roasted green beans, chunks of warm pretzel bread (Thank goodness for the Elysium that is A Southern Season), whole-grain mustard, and salty hunks of cheese. At the end of a long week, it was a feast for all the senses and a welcome respite!