Getting in dutch turns out to be not such a bad idea when it's Pennsylvania Dutch and what you get into is their way of eating. Although it's still too early for local produce, the farm markets of Lancaster County offer the smoked meats, local cheeses, pastries and perserves that verify the reputation the plain people have of setting a not-so-plain table.
Early spring is a nice time to combine a day trip through the Pennsylvania Dutch country with a dinner where you serve the foods you bought at market. Later in the year the roads will be thick with tourists lining up for Abe's Amish Buggy Rides or a trip through Dutch Wonderland. Now, if not exactly unspoiled, the countryside is uncrowded. Another reason to go now is that later some of the meats will be withdrawn from the stands; high temperatures cause them to spoil.
On the unlikely chance that floods or plague have stripped the markets bare, there should be food waiting back home. In our case, it was homemade soup and sourdough bread, which our enterprising hostess had taken with her in the car so it could get in its risings while she shopped.
The markets were not bare and dinner was augmented by platters of dried, smoked beef, hickory smoked sausages, beef jerky, local cheeses -- cheddar and Lancaster Swiss -- horseradish sauce, homemade butter, shoofly pie, and an assortment of cookies made by a Mennonite woman who confided the peanut butter was best (she was right). There was also asparagus which, though not local, was good served cold with a mustard-mayonnaise sauce. Except for the soup, they were finger foods, easy to eat and providing a delightful assortment of tastes and textures.
The more people you invite, the greater the variety of things to buy and try. Mustards and relishes and pickles, jams and perserves to smear on plain cakes, pretzels and funnel cakes and a wide assortment of cheeses and sausages. There is a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition that decrees that each meal should be served with seven things that are sweet and seven that are sour, a goal easily achieved with a larger group.
Most markets are best visited early in the day; by midafternoon the food is picked over and many of the stalls have closed. To locate the markets in Lancaster and the surrounding countryside, call or write to the Pennsylvania Dutch Visitors Bureau and ask for their official tour guide and map, as well as the Pennsylvania Dutch Sampler, which gives hours for the markets. The Bureau is located at 1799 Hempstead Road, Lancaster, Pa. 17601, and the phone number is (717) 299-8901. The Bureau is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day but Sunday, when it is 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.