love thursday: hearts in the hex

I’ve mentioned before that my mom is Pennsylvania Dutch, which means that she is a descendant of Germans (Deutsch) who settled in Pennsylvania centuries ago. Some people confuse the Pennsylvania Dutch with the Amish, which is understandable as many Amish are also Pennsylvania Dutch–however, most Pennsylvania Dutch are and were Protestant in one form or another, usually Lutheran or Reformed.

My mom’s Pennsylvania Dutch heritage comes through in some of her fabulous recipes from sauerkraut to breaded veal cutlets, but from an artistic standpoint, the Pennsylvania Dutch are widely known for their folk art design, especially as it appears in hex signs like the one on the left, which my mom sent me for my house in Italy.

One of the things I love best about Pennsylvania Dutch art is the use of symbolism–especially the heart, which of course represents love. The “double distlefink” (two birds) offers a double dose of good fortune, the tulip represents faith, and the red rosette protects from harm.

Quite ironically, my Italian grandmother always had a tea towel hanging from the oven door that was Pennsylvania Dutch in design. As far as I know, my mother hadn’t given it to her. When my grandmother asked me what I wanted of hers once she was gone, one of the few things I asked for was that towel. To me, it was the centerpiece of her kitchen–our family’s room of love.

And yes, it’s in Italy with me, and that’s it up there on the right: lovingly used and therefore faded, but anchored by hearts in each corner.

Happy Love Thursday everyone!

22 Beans of Wisdom to “love thursday: hearts in the hex”
  1. Gil

    Beautiful job! Did your Mom ever make purple pickled eggs? It seems to me that the Pennsylvania Dutch make purple pickled eggs by adding a beet or two to the jars.

    Absolutely Gil! We just call them pickled eggs, and the recipe couldn’t be simpler: get a jar of your favorite red beets (as we call them), pour them and the juice into a larger container, and then add hard-boiled eggs and let them sit for at least a day….YUM!!!!!! These were always a must whenever we had potato salad ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I used to see those hex signs all over New Hope, Pennsylvania which was right across the river from Lawrenceville (sp) New Jersey. My friends and I used to go to that area for the great food and the furniture. It’s a beautiful area.

    nyc/caribbean ragazza’s last blog post..Helpโ€ฆIโ€™m addicted to San Carloโ€™s Rustica potato chips.

    The food and furniture are definitely great in PA Dutch country, I agree ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. 10.09.2008

    Hey, I’ve got a bless this house hex too! Imagine that…..
    And yumm, pickled eggs. My Nana used to make them all the time. I made them here in Italy once and O actually liked them.

    Mary’s last blog post..I couldnโ€™t have said it betterโ€ฆ.

    I’ve only found beets once here…and I still have the juice, so I’m thinking to drop a few eggs in there ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. 10.09.2008

    I just learned something new… I did not know about the Pennsylvania Dutch, nor was I familiar with their beautiful art. Thanks.

    Beatriz’s last blog post..La Cucina di Nicola: Pancakes

    Happy to oblige Beatriz ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. joanne at frutto della passione

    How lovely to have something so meaningful of your grandmothers, and that sign is just beautiful.

    joanne at frutto della passione’s last blog Website of the Month October 2008

    Thanks Joanne ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. 10.09.2008

    Beautiful sign and towel. I visited the Pennsylvania Dutch area when I was a child. My mom bought a sign that we had in our kitchen. I loved the designs. I am now wondering what happened to it. Thanks for the wonderful memories.

    By the way, don’t miss Jon Stewart’s review of the debate. I was in tears laughing so hard.

    Thanks for the tip ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. 10.09.2008

    I must admit that when you wrote Pennsylania Dutch I was thinking ‘is Michelles family Amish?’ but then I finished the sentence and read that you are indeed not of the Amish clan. How funny too that your nonna somehow had that tea towel and your mum did not give it to her…Where on earth did she get it from? Guess you’ll never know.

    Leanne in Italy’s last blog post..Rome airport taxi fees

    There’s a lot of PA Dutch art around us (not surprisingly) so I’m sure she just picked it up somewhere along the way. It did match our avocado green kitchen nicely ๐Ÿ˜‰

  8. 10.09.2008

    I visited Pennsylvania many times when I was a kid as I had cousins there but I didn’t know anything about the Pennsylvania Dutch. It’s great that you keep both sides of your heritage alive in this way.

    Milanese Masala’s last blog post..Happy Birthday John!!

    It really depends what part of PA you were visiting–it’s a rather large state (as I learned in 4th grade) ๐Ÿ˜‰

  9. 10.09.2008

    I loved to read that you wanted a kitchen towel as a memory of your Grandmother. It really is those simple, little things that define a person.

    running42k’s last blog post..The vacation Day 1

    Agreed ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. 10.09.2008

    We had a ‘Bless this House’ sign in my house just like that when I was a kid! We have lots of relatives in PA, and we used to go to Amish country when visiting them.

    Thanks for the bit of family history this Love Thursday ๐Ÿ™‚

    My Mรฉlange’s last blog post..Love Thursday: Morning Coffee

    My pleasure Robin ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Ha! I used to have a double distelfink over my house in Hawai’i… where they’re as rare as they are in Calabria, I’d bet. I always loved Dutch Country growing up, but last time I was down there it’s changed: weird to see horses and buggies darting in and out of suburban traffic around Lancaster.

    paul of the clue-by-four’s last blog post..erev Yom Kippur: atonement and โ€œat-one-mentโ€

    Actually my mom is from Berks County, where there haven’t been horse and buggies for a very long time…but lots of her older relatives still have a great German dialect and accent (and those families have been in the States since the 1700s at least).

  12. 10.09.2008

    Ciao Bella,
    ‘Dutch’ people are not ‘deutsch’ but from Holland, the Netherlands. This is very different! (especially for the Dutch !)
    I am a bit confused here in Germany (Deutschland) as your Mum must know from where she is…
    So tell me, how come that Dutch is Deutsch for her & you ?!
    Am I re-defining your history?
    very curiously waiting in Stuttgart

    Suzie’s last blog post..Outside In

    Yes Suzanne, I’m aware that the Dutch are from Holland; this is a common misconception about the Pennsylvania Dutch…they’re not Dutch, i.e, from Holland, at all, but from Germany, Deutschland, which is where many believe “Dutch” came from in the name (the English language mangling “Deutsch”).

    It’s not just my mom and me who call these colonies of Germans who settled in Pennsylvania “Pennsylvania Dutch”; that is just what they are called (incorrectly as the better term is Pennsylvania German). Anyway, you can read more about Pennsylvania Dutch history, language, and culture here ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. 10.09.2008

    I have a few items of flatware passed down to me from my paternal grandmother that are very special to me. Her father was a Swedish glassblower, a master craftsman actually, and I have some items that he designed. It doesn’t really matter what the items or the heritage are, but having something that ties me to my family’s past makes me feel more at home in the present.

    saretta’s last blog post..Br-reakdown service

    What lovely remembrances! My mother’s uncle did a lot of woodwork, and I have a bowl and two candle holders that he made ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. 10.09.2008

    I grew up about 40 minutes from the dutch country. Sometimes on a Saturday or on a day off, my mother and I go out that way for shopping. I love the chicken corn soup and whoopie pies! There is something so comforting about the PA Dutch cuisine. So basic and simple and good for the soul.

    Jane’s last blog post..Listen

    Couldn’t agree more Jane; my mom has recently sent me some PA Dutch cookbooks, and I’m looking forward to sharing some recieps here ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. Aimee Eck

    We are from a little town called Youngsville PA.My dad is German or “Pennsylvania Dutch” and my mom is Italian. What is surprising is that my Dad’s Mom never had any kind of hex signs in her house let alone any attempt to make any.She sure did have a house that smelled like sauerkraut though!
    My Mom’s Mom used to make lots of these quilts.She is Italian or Scilian,thats still being debated,lol. (Mazzuca was her maiden name). She has made a quilt for every grandchild in the family and they all have some kind of hex sign incorporated..I thought I would share the irony here lol!

    That is so funny Aimee! See, PA Dutch folk art is worldwide ๐Ÿ˜‰

  16. 10.09.2008

    Speaking of the distlefink, I have a photo I will email you! P#2’s second grade field trip was to a wagonworks at the Hertitage center with a huge one in the front.
    I still see the buggies around Bethel, which is closer to Lebanon county and when I go to Myerstown (in Lebabnon county).
    Surprisingly, when we went to Cleveland this summer we saw some Amish at the Zoo! Must be the Amish that live in Ohio.

    jmisgro’s last blog post..Love Thursday

    Yes I know that Ohio also has a big Amish population. Looking forward to the photo ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. 10.09.2008

    That’s a beautiful tea towel! My mother, too, was Pennsylvania Dutch stock, she grew up in Lancaster, PA and she loved her some sauerkraut, shoofly pie and lebanon bologna!

    Janet’s last blog post..Snapshot: September 2008

    Oh you’re speaking my language now, Janet…talk about comfort food. Lebanon bologna sandwich with butter and mayo and a big ole glass of milk please! I have to make a shoofly pie one of these days…if only I could find molasses.

  18. Sandy

    Hey Michelle, I have a tablecloth from my mom, who is Italian, from PA that looks very similar to your tee towel. I love that tablecloth. My mom is from a family of 10 – 8 married PA Dutch – 2 married Italians – my dad being one of the 2 Italians. We have great family reunions with lots of great Italian and German food.

    Mmmm sounds great to me Sandy ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. 10.10.2008

    When I was 8 or so, we took a vacation to Pennsylvania Dutch Country, and I had a wonderful hex sign on my bedroom door for years and years. I still have a guide book that we picked up on the vacation and still remember the deliciousness of Shoofly Pie. It was one of my all-time favorite vacations. My grandmother was German and I came back spouting all kinds of “Pennsylvania Dutch” expressions and my Grandma got a laugh out of them, because, of course, she knew all of them, too.

    We also used to say “outen the lights” all the time growing up. I think it was our way of holding on to that lovely trip.

    jen of a2eatwrite’s last blog post..World Hunger Day, pt. 2 – How you can help

    Yes! Outen the lights! Awesome Jen…and all this talk of shoofly pie is torturous!

  20. 10.10.2008

    This is wonderful! I love the story behind the photos!

    Kyla’s last blog post..Love Thursday ~ A Walk in the Park

    Thanks Kyla ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. 10.10.2008

    thanks for a journey back home!!!!

    qualcosa di bello’s last blog post..i sure hope so….

    Any time QdB:)

  22. Chel

    My late grandfather was Penns Dutch, too, and I remember those Hexes all over their house. Wish I still had one now.

    Chel, if you really want one, I’m sure there are places online where you can find them; I also have my own large one at home that I bought after college–two unicorns with a heart in the middle ๐Ÿ™‚

Michelle KaminskyMichelle Kaminsky is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer who lived in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy for 15 years. This blog is now archived. 

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