Wet bottom or dry? Shoofly or shoo fly? Shoofly pie is a traditional PA Dutch dessert whose key ingredient is molasses. The more popular, wet bottom version has a soft, gooey center while the dry bottom recipe renders a dense, cake-like texture. While folks in Pennsylvania’s Americana Region may spar over their favorite form of the pie or the spelling of its name, no one will dispute that shoofly pie is an American classic.
There are two notions of the origins of shoofly pie. Some say the early Anabaptist settlers who came to our region in search of religious freedom invented it. They traveled to the new world from Germany and Switzerland as early as 1730, bringing non-perishables like flour, brown sugar, molasses, lard, salt, and spices on their long journey. Once here, the women had to be resourceful. Their ingenuity created a dessert with the limited ingredients available to them – our beloved shoofly pie. The name shoofly is thought to be the result of shooing flies from the sweet molasses that pooled on the pies as they cooled after baking.
A less colorful version of shoofly’s history takes us to the 1870s when a crust-less, molasses Centennial Cake was created to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In the 1880s a crust was added to make the cake easier to hold when eating by hand. Historians believe shoofly pie was usually baked in winter when eggs were scarce and molasses stored well. Finally, the use of baking powder places the pie’s creation after the Civil War, when PA Dutch bakers began using this ingredient in their recipes. Even this account of the pie’s name is less imaginative, Shoofly is the name of a brand of molasses used to make the treat.
Interestingly, both accounts of this humble pie’s origin have to do with freedom; religious freedom and our country’s struggle for freedom from England. Either way, it seems like Pennsylvania’s Americana Region is the perfect place to sample this truly American pie.