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
- 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
- Preheat your oven to 350° F / 175° C
- 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.
- In a small mixing bowl, stir together the molasses and coffee until the molasses dissolves. Slowly stir in the baking soda until dissolved.
- 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.
- Bake in your preheated oven for 40 – 45 minutes, or until the filling has risen and has a cake-like consistency.
- Serve warm or cold and enjoy with a cup of strong coffee among friends!
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!