Shoofly pie: All the spice, without the pumpkin
Last week I saw a cartoon in the New Yorker magazine that made me giggle. Two traditionally dressed farmers are standing in front of their pumpkin patch. A man driving a sleek BMW-type sports car pulls up. The man says to the farmers, “Pumpkin spice has been very good to me.”
What’s the story with the fall craze for pumpkin-pie spice flavoring in everything? Unlike fresh herbs, spices are available dried all year round. Is the pumpkin-pie spice mania a marketing gimmick, or do people dare not use these spices until autumn rolls around?
Pumpkin-pie spice is a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and allspice. Although it is usually associated with pies made from fall squash, this spice blend is also used to flavor a York County tradition — shoofly pie.
Although we tend to associate Pennsylvania Dutch food with blandness, early bakers followed their German and Swiss heritage and were not skimpy in their use of spices in baking. In a time when physical labor was the norm, pies were eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In my grandmother’s diary, I was amazed to read that she baked three pies every morning before the rest of the family had gotten up for breakfast.
When the early settlers arrived in Pennsylvania, shoofly pie was often on the menu because it could be made all year round with the staples they had on hand — flour, brown sugar, molasses, lard, salt and spices.
Shoofly pie comes in two versions — wet bottom and dry bottom. Below is my grandmother’s recipe for the wet bottom version. Perhaps you will add it to your Thanksgiving table for family members who crave the flavor of pumpkin-pie spices but aren’t fans of the big orange fruit.
1 9-inch pie crust
For the crumb part:
¼ cup butter
1¼ cups flour
1 cup brown sugar
For the liquid part:
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
pinch each of ground ginger, cinnamon and cloves
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup molasses
¾ cup very hot water
Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, work the crumb ingredients together. In a separate bowl, mix the liquid ingredients together well, and then add the hot water. Mix again.
Into an unbaked 9-inch pie shell, combine the crumbs and liquid in alternate layers with crumbs on bottom and top.
Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees, then 30 minutes at 350 degrees or until a tester comes out clean.
— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section.