The United States of Desserts: Shoofly Pie

Photo by sisterbeer
Shoofly Pie

In this series, we examine the history and origins of famous sweets, confections and desserts associated with American states.

I can't write about the pie without hearing the song in my head.

Shoo, fly, don't bother me,
Shoo, fly, don't bother me,
Shoo, fly, don't bother me,
For I belong to somebody.

I didn't realize that shoofly pie was a regionally specific (Pennsylvanian) dish until I went to college in New England and mentioned casually to a roommate from Michigan that I prefer that type of pie over most others.

"Is that some sort of new, trendy dessert?" she asked, wrinkling her nose. (I think she had interpreted the name as "Shoe-Fly!")

Widely considered to have originated in the Pennsylvania "Dutch" (actually, German -- Deutsch) community, shoofly pie is actually fairly old in terms of American desserts. A recipe can be found in the 1915 edition of Mary at the Farm and Book of Recipes Compiled During Her Visit Among the "Pennsylvania Germans."

(Side note: Aren't old book titles the best?)

Photo courtesy of Michigan State University
Mary was definitely impressed by the cuisine of the 'Pennsylvania Germans.'

Shoofly pie derives its name from its heavy molasses component, which in theory attracts flies that need to be shooed away. As you might surmise from the recipe, shoofly pie is very sweet. The combination of brown sugar and molasses gives it an earthy, sugary flavor and a slightly chewy texture that contrasts nicely with the buttery crumb topping.

Because shoofly pie verges on cloying, it requires some sort of dairy to cut the sweetness. A glass of two-percent milk will do just fine, but I prefer a large scoop of buttermilk ice cream.

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