Pennsylvania Dutch Holiday Foods: Old-Fashioned Sand Tart Cookies

Melissa Frost

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Photo by Sara Melissa Frost

One of my favorite things about living within the beautiful farmland of Lancaster County is the food. The diversity of it, the culture, heritage. There is so much to choose between, whether you want a traditional Pennsylvania Dutch meal or a modern vegan dish. Around the holidays the shelves are popping up with all kinds of items I've never heard of before. Old fashioned sand tart cookies are one of them.

Four ingredients

The sand tart cookie is unique and it's actually not really a tart. This simple cookie, with some recipes including no more than four ingredients: Flout, sugar, butter, and eggs, dates back to the Pennsylvania Germans of the mid-1800s.

The perfect sand tart dough must be properly mixed. Once mixed, the dough is rolled out ultra-thin. Bakers often use metal cookie cutters to make the dough into cookies with holiday shapes. Stars, snowmen, snowflakes, reindeers, you name it.

It is believed locally that these cookies were originally called saint hearts and later sand hearts. Some bakeries sell the cookies all year round but most only sell them around the holidays.

Once you've started eating from a batch of these cookies, it's hard to stop. The sand tart cookies are small, crispy, and sweet. Topped with colored sugar. How you eat them is sort of like chips, you just keep devouring them until it's gone. And it's usually empty before you realize it.

Local favorite

Sand tarts are a local favorite and several places are offering old-fashioned sand tart cookies in Lancaster, PA, these days. The county has a significant Amish and Mennonite population, and sand tarts are a favorite Christmas cookie recipe for them, and you'll see the cookies in most Amish bakeries and farmers' markets.

The Jam & Relish Kitchen at Kitchen Kettle Village in Intercourse, PA, have stocked up on the cookies and they're making the cookies all day in their kitchen. For a real holiday experience, this adorable village is worth stopping by.

A few standholders at Lancaster Central Market also started bringing their freshly made sand tarts to the market. Lancaster Central Market is the oldest, continuously running public farmers' market in the country. More than 60 local vendors call the market home three days each week, and a stroll inside this building will for sure give you a taste of the diversity of the food scene in Lancaster, PA, especially during the holiday season.

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Journalist and writer. I cover local stories + food, mostly from PA.

Lititz, PA
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