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Shoofly Pie

Perhaps no other single dessert is so identified with Amish Country as is the shoofly pie. First-time visitors always want to know what it is.

We might say it is more like a coffee cake, with a gooey molasses bottom. This bottom can be thick or barely visible, hence we refer to pies as wet-bottom or dry-bottom. Some cooks put chocolate icing on top for a chocolate shoofly pie. Some use spices; some don't. There does seem to be agreement that they are best slightly warmed with a major dab of whipped cream on top. There are even recipes for shoofly cake.

Shoofly pies can be tasted in most of the area restaurants, where you can usually buy one to take home as well. Most people find them very sweet, what with all that molasses and brown sugar. If you like sweet desserts, you'll probably love shoofly pie.

But how did these pies get their name? The most logical explanation seems to be that the sweet ingredients attracted flies when the pies were cooling. The cooks had to "shoo" the flies away, hence the name shoofly pie.

Another story claims that this is really a French recipe, and that the crumb topping of the pie resembled the surface of the cauliflower, which is "cheux-fleur" in French. This was eventually pronounced as shoofly. Locals have a little problem with that explanation, and most of us have never seen this pie served up in the fine restaurants of Paris.

No less an authority on things Pennsylvania Dutch than John Joseph Stoudt states clearly that shoofly pies "are soundly Pennsylvanian, made in the earlier days with sorghum, later with molasses, and with brown rather than granulated sugar." Phyllis Pellman Good, in her book Amish Cooking, feels that these pies may have been common because "this hybrid cake within a pie shell" faired better in the old style bake ovens after the bread had been baked. With modern kitchen stoves, temperatures could be controlled and the more standard, lighter pies developed.

Who cares? The important thing is to try some. Here is a "classic" recipe, which uses New Orleans molasses (French after all?). Be sure to use a good, thick molasses….

Mix for crumbs: (reserving ½ cup for topping)
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 Tablespoon solid shortening 
1 cup flour

1 cup molasses (good and thick)
¾ cup boiling water
1 egg beaten
1 Teaspoon baking soda

Combine soda with boiling water, then add egg and syrup. Add crumb mixture (this will be lumpy). Pour into unbaked pie crust and cover with reserved crumbs. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for an additional 35-45 minutes (until firm). When cut into, the bottom may be "wet." This is okay, and is called a "wet bottom shoo fly pie."

Amish Country News Article by Brad Igou

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