The Essence of Shoofly

Welcome back dear readers!!

A few a brief thoughts before the final draft of the awaited recipe...
(But if you want to scroll right down to the recipe I won't even be offended.)

Amish and Mennonite culture is most definitely a food culture, and it's synonmous with certain culinary delights which you'll see here in the coming months. But today is all about the Mennonite Shoofly Pie.
It's tempting to think all food cultures are "foodie" cultures. But the Mennonite food creators were not rural gastronomists. They were not "foodies". They were smart women on farms, cooking for large groups, asking:
1. What ingredients do I have access to? Answer: Lard, flour, molasses
2. What ingredients have a long shelf life? Answer: Lard, flour, molasses
3. What do I like? Answer: Pie
4. What feeds a LOT of people? Answer: A LOT of pie.
5. What does lard, flour, and molasses make? Answer: Shoofly pie.

The Shoofly pie is from Pennsylvania.
It's a pretty striking pie if you ask me. From the top it looks so aesthetically basic: A tan, monotonous brown crumb. No gleams about it. And then you cut in. There gleams this brilliant ebony profile. But then isn't this the beauty of most pies. Their unfailing modesty.

The construct of the pie is simple. By construct I just mean the formula, the idea - the idea of the final product, what you're moving towards. For a shoofly the basics are this:
Shoofly Pie.

From there, everything branches. The pastry is a total free-for-all. It can be done with all molasses. Or half molasses, half corn syrup. Some folks put an egg in for texture. Some do not. Some put spice in. Some do not.
The architecture of the pie: Wet bottom or Dry bottom or Layered

I did them ALL. 2 days: 4 pies, 1 tart, 4 tartlets.
It went something like this...

The pie made with all molasses was, how do you say, totally inedible. Indigestible. The molasses felt completely oppressive. Turns out Shoofly is a love/hate relationship.

But I'm committed so I experimented with the remaining pies and tarts to get something that I could not only eat, but love. What the whole process resulted was in part credited to my Honeyman...
The Honeyman is this lovely old fella who makes and sells the most exquisite raw honey out of his car on the Bridge of the Gods, right outside Portland. Sounds sketchy but it's worth it for that stuff. I adore this man and his honey. And that day Eric had brought some home!
So there it sat on the day of my shoofly pie testing. I couldn't resist. The molasses was oppressing me. And I did what some may call absolute heresy. And loved it! The honey's quality completely shone through and gave way to the perfect shade of molasses. The chopped walnuts added a whole new dimension to the texture.
I also had cute little tart pans and homemade vanilla ice cream. Insert them... there you go!
By the way: Tip of the hat to Curt Weaver for the name inspiration!

So welcome to what I'm calling...

Essence of Shoofly Pie
Heavily adapted from: Amish Cooking. LaGrange: Pathways, 1977.

Yield: 8 servings (4 if using 4" tartlet pans although they can be cut in half.)
Total prep time: about 1 hour

1 unbaked pie crust (We'll address pastry another time.)

You can use 9" pie pan, 9" tart pan or 4 - 4" tartlet pans. Up to you.

1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup hot water
1/2 cup honey
2 Tablespoons molasses
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten

3/4 cup flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 Tablespoons butter, cold
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fahrenheit.
2. Prepare pastry and freeze till filling is ready.
3. To prepare crumbs... In mixing bowl - combine flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
4. With a pastry blender or fork, cut in the cold butter till it's pea-sized (Note: cold butter cuts more easily.)
5. Stir in walnuts. (Note: reserve a few for the end.) Set this mixture aside.
6. To prepare syrup... In separate mixing bowl - combine baking soda and hot water and stir till dissolved.
7. With spatula, add honey, molasses and brown sugar and stir till dissolved.
8. In separate small bowl, beat the egg and temper it with the warm syrup. Temper just means you slowly pour a small amount of the syrup into the egg while whisking and then add the egg back to the syrup. If you simply add the egg you risk scrambling it. Trust me on this.
9. Add 1/4 cup of the crumb mix to the syrup and stir till combined.
10. To build the pie... Pour the syrup into the pie/tart/tartlet crusts. Do not overfill. The syrup easily leaks and makes a mess of your oven. Trust me on this.
11. Sprinkle the remaining crumbs on the top of the syrup. Add a few extra walnuts to the top for prettiness sake.
12. Place in oven carefully - it's a liquid. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and the filling is no longer jiggly.
For service...
A small topping of vanilla ice cream or whipped cream works wonderfully. A splash of red berry don't hurt much either.

Enjoy dear readers!
And do tell.... what you do think?!

My Essence of Shoofly Pie!



  1. I cant wait to try! I love the shoofly project! the perfect amount of food, humor and katie-ness. love it.

  2. Thanks Joleen!! Let me know how it turns out... Your added Joleen-ness would be amazing! :)

  3. I grew up eating shoo fly pie. I think I can understand your comment about the molasses being oppressive. It's probably an acquired taste. The molasses is quite strong! The funny thing is that when there are funeral dinners at the local Mennnonite church, there are always assorted pies to choose from for dessert. You can tell WHO baked the pie by just looking at it...is it dry...crumbly...moist and gooey? The really horrible shoo fly pies - IMO - are the dry ones...eww! BUT, the moist, gooey ones are amazing. I'm somewhat reluctant to try your recipe simpley because I love gooey, shoo fly pie and don't mind the strong molasses taste, BUT, 2 TB of molasses doesn't seem like enough..but I'm going to try it..because as you say: I like PIE!! :)

  4. Hi Teresa, Love your memories of shoofly pies at potluck! It really is a love/hate thing I think. :) Excited to see how your Essence of Shoofly turns out! You can definitely add more molasses... just cut back on the honey in the same proportion you add molasses. Let me know how it goes!
    Today we're having peach pie... So excited!

  5. It seems everyone associates shoofly with PIE! I grew up eating shoofly CAKE and since it is so easy to make, my mother encouraged us as children to "help" make it:

    Make Crumbs with:
    4 cups flour
    2 cups white sugar
    1 cup shortening
    1 teaspoon salt

    Mix in a big cake pan:
    2 cups boiling water
    1 tablespoon soda
    1 cup molasses (3/4 strong, 1/4 mild)

    Keep about 2 cups crumbs to sprinkle over the top and mix the other crumbs and liquid in the pan. Bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

    We used Brer Rabbit Molasses and mixed them because using all "strong" or "full flavored" seemed too overpowering for some people - Grandma's or other brands work just as well. The molasses "mix" can be adjusted depending on one's taste for molasses. Just remember that it is the baking soda's reaction as a base (alkaline) with the molasses (acid) which gives the cake or pie it's "rise" or levening.

  6. Thanks for the recipe!! I've read quite a bit about the Shoofly Cake and I'll most certainly give it a try soon. I love the childhood memories that it brings up... :)