Posts Tagged With: Pennsylvania

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!


  • 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


  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!

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

Autumn Recipes – The Alchemy of Apple Butter

The Orchards

The Orchards I Love

Every October for the past three years, I’ve celebrated the setting of summer and the dawning of autumn with a fresh batch of apple butter, using local apples picked from the orchards my grandfather once tended in central Pennsylvania. By returning to the same trees and recipe each year, I feel that, if only for a moment, I can form a fleeting connection with the man I never met, and with a local heritage that is ever-present, but so easily ignored.

If you ask the locals about apple butter’s origins, you’d undoubtedly be told that this sweetly tart and autumnally complex condiment/side dish/ingredient was invented right here in Pennsylvania Dutch country. And, while I (a lifelong advocate for local apple butter pride) would love for this to be true, a little kitchen excavation would show that apple butter’s history extends quite a bit farther than the arrival of Germanic immigrants to the Americas. In fact, many historians believe that the magical art of slowly transforming fruits into spreadable

Stirring Apple Butter

Traditional Apple Butter Making

preserves actually dates back to our friends the Greeks and Romans (though whether they preserved apples is up for debate). From what we can know for certain, apple butter was undoubtedly devised (or perfected) in Europe during the Middle Ages. The Deutsch settlers in Pennsylvania brought this fantastic autumn recipe with them in the early 18th century CE, where apple butter making became a community event. During the apple harvest season (usually in October) large copper pots were filled with apples and cider and had to be continually tended, stirred, and fussed over for days at a time! Now, several hundred years later, the invention of the slow cooker (or crock pot) can save us some of the time and much of the hassle  when it comes to making apple butter (not having to stoke a fire for several days is more than fine by me)! Now, bear in mind that the alchemical art of making apple butter is, even now, a slower process than most modern bakers are used to. But, once you bear witness to apples melting before your very eyes, you’ll understand why Pennsylvania Dutch apple butter is worth the wait!

Crock Pot Apple Butter

Yields approximately 3 pints of apple butter


The Final Product: So Worth the Wait!

The Final Product: So Worth the Wait!

  • 6 pounds of peeled, cored apples (any baking apples will do – try experimenting with different varieties to find the blend that you like best!)
  • 2 cups of sugar (depending on your apples, this amount can be increased or decreased to taste)
  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


  1. Thinly slice the apples and place in a large bowl.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and salt together until well blended.
  3. Pour the sugar and spice mixture over the apples and stir until the apples are evenly coated.
  4. Place the apples in a slow cooker that can hold at least 4 quarts. Cover and cook on high for 1 hour.
  5. Reduce heat to low and cook for 10 – 12 hours, stirring occasionally.
  6. When the mixture is a thick, dark brown sauce, uncover and cook for at least 1 more hour, or until it has reached your preferred consistency. Allowing the butter to cook for additional time will result in a thicker, more buttery spread.
  7. If you are canning your apple butter, scoop the mixture into sterile jars and submerge in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
  8. If you aren’t canning your apple butter, scoop the mixture into sterile containers and refrigerate or freeze.
  9. Enjoy an unmatched taste of Pennsylvanian autumn!

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s look into Pennsylvania’s traditional autumn delight. Hopefully you’ll join in and celebrate this fantastic season with a taste of fresh apples that will last all the way until next October! And be sure to stop by the dig this Tuesday for a breakfast recipe that just might incorporate some of this fresh autumnal apple butter!

Keep digging!

Categories: Autumn Recipes, Baking, History, Odds and Ends | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Preparing Pumpkins

Piles of "Unique" Gourds

Piles of “Unique” Gourds at a Local Farm Stand

Growing up surrounded by fields in the farm country of Pennsylvania, it’s no wonder that I love autumn as much as I do. Seeing crops that were no more than “dead” seeds only months before being harvested and transformed into food always struck me as a fantastic, if not somewhat magical cycle. Now, as we slowly sink into the cool evenings and chilled rains of October, my heart is warmed by the roadside stands piled high with vibrant globes of orange, red, green, and blue, which silently call to passersby, asking that they slow down, admire, and perhaps take a flicker of autumn home with them. Far from the farm, in our grocery stores and supermarkets, the light of the pumpkin, a light which has been burning since the time of the Ancient Greeks (who gave the first written name to these large gourds, “pepon”), is processed and hidden inside rows of metal cans. So today, I hope to show you how easy it can be to abandon canned pumpkin, and instead tap into the “ancient” skill of transforming fresh, seasonal pumpkins into purée that will last well into next summer!

Picking Pumpkins


For our first excavation into the world of autumnal artistry, we’ll be focusing on pumpkins best suited to baking: varieties such as the New England Sugar Pie Pumpkin (an adorably tiny heirloom), the Fairytale Pumpkin, and the Long Neck Pumpkin. These cultivars have flesh best suited to baking/roasting, and the smaller varieties (such as the New England) will have a much higher sugar content, making them great for use in pies, muffins, cookies, and any other fall treats you’re looking to conjure!
It just so happened that a family friend had a bumper crop of long neck pumpkins this year, so that’s the variety I’ll be using for today’s recipe. Whatever pumpkin you use, though, the process will remain the same.

Pumpkin Purée


  • Pumpkins!


  • Preheat your oven to 400 F / 205 C
  • Using a sharp knife (Our old bread knife worked perfectly), cut off the top of your pumpkin.
  • If your pumpkin has a neck (like you’ll see in the images below), cut the neck into equal sized chunks.
  • If your pumpkin is neck-less, cut the body of the pumpkin in half, and scoop out all of the seeds and strings (But don’t throw the seeds away! We’ll use them later!)
  •  Cut your pumpkin sections into chunks small enough to fit onto an ungreased baking tray.
  • Bake for 40 minutes, or until the pieces are fork tender (solid pieces may take longer)
  • When your pumpkin pieces are tender, remove them from the oven and begin removing the skins when you can safely handle them.
  • Put the cooked and skinned pieces into your choice of food processing device (potato masher, food mill, electric food processor), and process until smooth.
  • Congratulations! You’ve just puréed a pumpkin!
  • To store, divide your purée evenly (I measured mine into cups) into airtight, freezer-safe bags, and freeze for future use. Conservative sources say that the pumpkin will stay fresh this way for up to 8 months, but other sources indicate that their pumpkin survived over a year of freezing!

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Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Hopefully you saved your seeds from your now puréed pumpkin, because there’s no greater fall treat than simple, roasted seeds, fresh from a local gourd!


  • Raw pumpkin seeds
  • Olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt, plus additional for sprinkling


  1. Preheat your oven to 325 F / 160 C
  2. If using seeds from a fresh pumpkin, first separate the seeds from the flesh, and rinse the seeds in a colander. Try to remove as much of the orange stringiness as possible.
  3. Add seeds to a medium sized pot of water with the teaspoon of salt.
  4. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce to medium-low heat, and let simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. After simmering, drain the seeds in your colander and pat dry (don’t worry about the seeds being completely dry, you just don’t want them dripping when you put them in the oven).
  6. Place the seeds onto an ungreased baking tray, then drizzle with olive oil and sea salt. Stir the seeds to coat.
  7. Roast the seeds in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, then stir the seeds and return to the oven for 8-10 more minutes. During the last few minutes of roasting, remove a seed and crack it open – if the inner flesh of the seed is starting to turn black, remove the seeds from the oven – this is a sign that the seeds are starting to overcook.
  8. Let the seeds cool, and then enjoy one of the greatest tastes of autumn!

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Pumpkin Seeds, Juice, and Purée!

Pumpkin Seeds, Juice, and Purée!

With all of your pumpkin roasting, puréeing, and processing complete, your home will be aglow in the sight, smell, and taste of seasonal, autumnal cooking! I hope you’ll return to the dig next Tuesday for a recipe that will be implementing some of our fresh purée, and may include a special drink concoction using the pumpkin juice that was unexpectedly created with the food mill!
Happy Excavating!

Categories: Autumn Recipes, Odds and Ends | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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