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Shoofly Pie a unique Pensylvania Dutch staple

America has its fair share of strange dishes, but few can compare to Shoofly Pie, a gooey, sticky concoction of molasses and flour, baked into a pie crust. It’s a product of Pennsylvania Dutch country, the southeastern region of the state. Comprised mainly of the Amish and Mennonites, these people deliberately pursue a simpler pace of life, eschewing most modern conveniences, and holding tightly to a strong sense of community.

The origin of these settlements can be traced back to 1730, when William Penn, founder of the state, decided to conduct a “holy experiment,” whereby he would invite the most fervent Christians to come to the area and create a godly and virtuous society. He didn’t have to wait long — almost immediately, pilgrims from Germany and Switzerland came flocking to their new home. The largest of these groups settled around Lancaster County.

These guys were really into pies. I mean, they ate them for breakfast, supper, and even when they were out in the field, with a cup of coffee.The problem was, fruit wasn’t available all year round, and they had to come up with something that could be assembled from whatever was in the larder. For inspiration, they went back to their European roots, and looked to that old English staple, the Treacle Tart.

Now, treacle is one of the most rudimentary sugar products. It was developed in the 17th century, and remained a popular sweetener until the end of the next century, when refined sugar became readily available.

On the side of the pond, the closes equivalent was molasses, and it was frequently used as a substitute in these old recipes. (As an aside, I should probably mention that I have four tins of English treacle sitting in my pantry right now.)

The actual origin of Shoofly Pie dates to 1876, with the invention of the Centenary Cake, baked in commemoration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. This was a crustless concoction, meant to be eaten off a plate with a fork. The problem was, the locals really just liked to eat pie with their hands, and so the pastry made a comeback, making it even more like its predecessor.

As for the name of the pie, this is where it gets weird. It’s actually named after a famous boxing mule, which would stand on its hind legs, wearing a pair of boxing gloves. He was generally pitted against a horse, and pretty much always prevailed. He moved around the state in a traveling circus, and became quite a celebrity, with games and toys using his image. It seems almost inevitable that they would name a pie after him.

So, for a taste of old-fashioned gooey goodness, give this one a go. Just have plenty of napkins on hand.

SHOOFLY PIE

1 (9 inch) pie shell

1 cup molasses

¾ cup hot water

¾ teaspoon baking soda

1 egg, beaten

1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 cup packed brown sugar

¼ cup shortening

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

To Make Bottom Layer: In a medium bowl combine molasses, hot water, and baking soda. Stir well. Whisk in beaten egg. Pour mixture into pie shell.

To Make Crumb Topping: In a medium bowl combine flour and brown sugar. Mix well, then cut in shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle on top of molasses layer.

Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes. Lower temperature to 350 degrees. Bake an additional 30 minutes.

Recipe adapted from Allrecipes.com.

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