Pennsylvania Dutch Foods: Shoofly Pie - Shoo!

Melissa Frost
Photo by Sara Melissa Frost

You might wonder what on earth is a wet bottom shoofly pie? Doesn't sound very appetizing, right? The story of this Pennsylvania Dutch food staple goes way back. This is a pie with a sweet taste and rich history, celebrating independence.

According to history, this pie started as a crustless molasses cake. It was baked in 1876 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Shoofly pie was a variation of the treacle tart. Treacle is a British term for any syrup made during the refining of sugar cane. Later on, refined sugar eventually became affordable and overtook treacle as a sweetener. Still, colonial Americans often substituted molasses for treacle in their recipes. A crust was added to make it easier to enjoy without needing a plate or fork.

Two debated versions

Locals know there are two heavily debated versions of the shoofly pie: dry bottom and wet bottom.

Using flaky or mealy crust for the pie dough determines if the bottom of the pie is thick or if it's barely there. The dry bottom version resembles a soft gingerbread or dry cake-like consistency, the wet bottom pie, predominant in Lancaster County, PA features a tender molasses custard topped with crumbs. The dry bottom is speculated to be the original version, producing a pie meant for dipping in coffee. The wet variety came about later and is more widespread in all of the Pennsylvania Dutch region.

Still, what's with the name of the pie?

Made by the Pennsylvania Dutch colonists, this dessert pie was often baked in outdoor ovens and placed on windowsills to cool down. Not surprisingly the sweet aroma of this delicious pie would attract flies, many of them, causing bakers and housewives to shoo them away so the pies could cool down in peace.

Shoofly pie today

These days, you'll find shoofly pies in almost any farmer's market within Lancaster County and Pennsylvania Dutch Country. They're also a frequent sight at Amish roadside stands. You'll also find shoofly pie in some grocery stores.

A popular spot to get shoofly pie is located a few miles east of Lancaster city. Here, you'll find Bird-in-Hand. This place is known for Grandma Smucker’s shoofly pie. The local bakery prepares the shoofly pie from an old family recipe handed down for generations and fine-tuned by Grandma Smucker. Over time, it has become one of Bird-in-Hand Bakery & Cafe’s most popular menu items.

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Journalist and writer. I cover local stories + food, mostly from PA.

Lititz, PA

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