SSoP Podcast Episode 23 — Pennsylvania: Political Player, Potato Chip Maker

SSoP Podcast Episode 23 — Pennsylvania: Political Player, Potato Chip Maker

Monday, 25 January, 2021

Every four years, when presidential elections roll around, Pennsylvania is a big deal: It’s a swing state with 20 electoral votes. But it’s been a power player in politics since the beginning.

Pennsylvania was one of the original 13 colonies. During the Revolution and Civil War, Philadelphia was the capital, and two documents that are still making news, 245 years later — the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution — were drafted and ratified there.

Fast forward to the 19th century, and you land smack in the heart of The Gilded Age with captains of industry who inscribed on institutions throughout the state: Carnegie, Schwab, Rockefeller, Heinz, and Hershey. (Thank you, Milton, for the chocolate kisses!)

Which brings us to food. Pennsylvania is snack food heaven! You’ve got your cheesesteaks and hoagies and stromboli. Funnel cake, whoopie pies, Twizzlers, Tastykakes, shoofly pie, and oh, yeah… scrapple.

Not only does it lead the nation in potato chip production, it’s also tops in pretzel bakeries, mushroom growing, meatpacking plants, rural population, the number of licensed hunters, State Game Lands, and covered bridges. Bonus shout-out to Crayola Crayons; they’re all made in PA.

In this episode, we discuss the state’s unusual tourist attractions, romp through its history, and name-drop some of the best-known and best-loved Pennsylvanians. Then we recommend five books we love that took us to the Keystone State on the page: two memoirs that go deep into the unique culture of western and eastern Pennsylvania, two novels set in Philadelphia (one dark, one light), and a literary thriller starring, perhaps, the world’s biggest introvert.

Books, Transcript, and More

For a complete roundup of all the books we recommend, plus a full transcript and the other cool stuff we talked about, visit the Episode 23 show notes.


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Pennsylvania history features coal mining, farming, big industry, and political power. It also leads the nation in potato chip production, pretzel bakeries, mushrooms, and meatpacking. All hail the Keystone State.
Is it a cookie? Is it a cake? A whoopie pie is two large, soft chocolate cookies held together with a luscious buttercream filling. Its origin may be in dispute, but we can all agree that it's a truly American treat.
Tucked onto a side street in Pottsville's center is a gem of a coffee shop that serves books alongside its crepes and cappuccinos. The coffee is rich. The food is delicious. The music is chill. The vibe is welcoming.
Andrew Carnegie built 59 libraries in Pennsylvania, and the Braddock Carnegie Library near Pittsburgh is an eclectic medieval-style masterpiece. But other libraries found throughout the state are equally stunning.
In the early 20th century, Pennsylvania experienced a gilded age of dramatic architecture and elaborate decor. These photographs of now-discarded and nearly-forgotten sites are a moving, melancholy, magical tribute.
Pennsylvania leads the nation in potato chip making! It's also tops in pretzel bakeries, rural population, and covered bridges. It's also an inspiring setting for thrillers, family stories, and historical fiction.
In this episode, we're excited about two new books — Where There Was Fire by John Manuel Arias and The Heaven & Earth Grocery Store by James McBride — then Mel serves the story of the Philadelphia cheesesteak.

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