Pennsylvanian Recipes

Pennsylvanian Recipes: Shoofly Pie

The sun setting on the Susquehanna river: another cornerstone of central PA life

The sun setting on the Susquehanna river: another cornerstone of central PA life

After an uncomfortably long hiatus from baking, researching, and digging into the history of the foods we enjoy every day, I’m overjoyed to be back and able to share another recipe with close cultural ties to the Pennsylvanian people. Since I’ve just moved to a small hamlet that holds many of my earliest, happiest memories, I thought I’d pay tribute to one of the favorite foods of the people who first founded this little river community: the enigmatically named shoofly pie. If you’re not familiar with this particular dessert, you’re not alone. From what I’ve been told, few communities outside of PA and parts of the south carry on the tradition of this rich and accessible dessert. At its core, shoofly pie is a dark, cake-like dish made with molasses that holds strong historic ties to the British treacle tart (a catch-all term for any number of sugar-syrup based pastries first popularized in the 17th century thanks to England’s access to roughly processed sugar). This British tradition followed the settlers to Pennsylvania as the earliest residents only had access to the supplies that could survive the arduous trek across the Atlantic Ocean; one such ingredient was the infinitely shelf-stable molasses, which formed the groundwork for great Pennsylvania Dutch recipes in the New World.

But before most visitors to the region even consider asking what shoofly pie contains or why it’s so popular, they usually want to know what’s going on with that name. Unfortunately, food historians can’t quite agree on the true origin of the name “shoofly,” however there are several popular theories to sate the curious cook. One of the simpler theories proffers that “Shoofly,” the name of an 18th century molasses company highly popular during the time of Pennsylvania’s colonization, simply lent its name to the recipe that relied so strongly on its chief export. But, the most popular theory looks back to the cooking methods of the early Pennsylvanian bakers. Cooking at this time was much more communal that it is today, with much of the baking being done outside in large community ovens. To produce a town-sized batch of shoofly pie required large amounts of molasses to sit outside awaiting use, attracting hungry crowds of humans and insects alike. With their natural affinity towards sugar, flies flocked to the sticky sweet molasses, which required that the townspeople to be on constant guard to shoo away the six-legged pests.

No matter the story you choose to believe, shoofly pie is a Pennsylvanian dessert that simply must be tried. So, without further ado, let’s dig into this sweetly dark and Dutch delicacy!

Shoofly Pie Recipe

 

Coffee and molasses are a perfect match for this historically dark dessert!

Coffee and molasses are a perfect match for this historically dark dessert!

Ingredients

  • 1 9 inch unbaked pie crust
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons softened butter
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup unsulfured molasses
  • 1/2 cup warm, strong coffee (the darker the roast the better!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350° F / 175° C
  2. Combine the flour, sugars, butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and baking powder in a medium mixing bowl, and mix with a pastry cutter or fork until crumbly. Transfer 1/4 of the crumb mixture to a small bowl and set aside.
  3. In a small mixing bowl, stir together the molasses and coffee until the molasses dissolves. Slowly stir in the baking soda until dissolved.
  4. Pour the molasses into the large bowl of crumb and fold until smooth and well-combined. Pour this mixture into your pie shell and sprinkle with the crumb you set aside.
  5. Bake in your preheated oven for 40 – 45 minutes, or until the filling has risen and has a cake-like consistency.
  6. Serve warm or cold and enjoy with a cup of strong coffee among friends!

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As always, thanks for stopping by for this week’s recipe! I hope to see you next week for another excavation into humanity’s communal storehouse of fascinating and delicious dishes!

Keep digging!
~Nate

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Categories: Baking, Dessert, History, Pennsylvanian Recipes, Year Round Recipes | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Winter Recipes: Amish Poppy Seed Bread

A Slice of Pennsylvanian Friendship

Besides providing the world with Hershey’s chocolate, central Pennsylvania is probably best known for being the home of the largest Amish population, colloquially known as “Amish Country.” At the heart of the Amish belief system, which dates back to the teachings of Jacob Amman in 1693, there exists a strong focus on family and community. And from this emphasis arose the culinary tradition of “friendship bread” that still continues today. Similar to traditional sourdough bread recipes, friendship bread begins as a bread starter, a mixture of yeast, sugar, flour, and water that is periodically “fed” to increase in size. When a friendship bread starter is big enough, it is typically separated into three portions, one for use in the household, one to store for the next week, and one to pass onto a friend or neighbor who will subsequently multiply their portion to pass to another member of the community.

In the non-Amish world, however, it is, unfortunately, quite difficult to find a community of friends and neighbors who want to continually make a loaf of bread every week. For that reason, the winter recipe we’re digging up today is not a true friendship bread, as it uses baking powder in place of the yeast starter. However, this recipe was passed on to us from an ex-Amish friend of our family, so, in true friendship bread spirit, I thought it only right to pass it along to all of you! What makes this recipe perfect for the Christmas season, is that it makes perfectly gift-able loaves that can be shared just like traditional friendship bread.

Amish Poppy Seed Bread

Poppy seed bread: a slice of central Pennsylvania's culinary history!

Poppy seed bread: a slice of central Pennsylvania’s culinary history!

Ingredients for Bread

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups oil (straight olive oil works well)
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons butter extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons almond extract
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons poppy seeds

Ingredients for Glaze

  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon butter extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 F / 175 C.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, beat together the 3 eggs, sugar, oil, milk, vanilla, butter, and almond extracts. Stir in the poppy seeds until evenly distributed.
  4. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients and mix until blended.
  5. Spray mini bread pans with olive oil or non-stick cooking spray. Pour batter into the pans until 3/4 full. Run a knife through each loaf to release any bubbles.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the loaves have risen and are golden brown.
  7. While the loaves are baking, mix together the orange juice, sugar, and extracts for the glaze.
  8. Immediately after you remove the finished loaves from the oven, pour glaze over the top of each loaf. Let cool for fifteen minutes, loosen loaves from the pan, and remove each loaf to cool completely.
  9. Enjoy a loaf with a mug of hot cider, or pass one along in the spirit of Amish friendship!

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As always, thanks for stopping by the dig! I truly hope you get a chance to try out this delicious piece of Pennsylvania food history!

Happy holidays, and keep digging!
~Nate

Categories: Baking, Bread, History, Pennsylvanian Recipes, Winter Recipes | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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