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Part pie, part coffee cake, and absolutely delicious. If you’ve ever been in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, chances are you’ve probably had a slice of Shoo Fly Pie (or more than one!)
On my most recent trip through Lancaster, I sampled Shoo Fly Pie at two different smorgasbords. Both slices were delicious, but I found myself wishing I could try a real food version of the pie, one where the crust wasn’t made with Crisco and the filling was made with just molasses and no other sweeteners like corn syrup.
So, I decided to try making a traditional Shoo Fly Pie myself so that I could use real, old-fashioned ingredients and so that I could have a taste of Amish country without having to drive eight hours to get there.
A Bit of Shoo Fly History
Where does the name come from? Well, from what I’ve read, one theory is that the name comes from the fact that the sweet and sticky molasses attracts flies. Another theory is that the pie is named after Shoo Fly Molasses, a popular molasses brand from the late 19th century.
Shoo Fly pie also comes in two different versions – wet bottom and dry bottom. The dry bottom version is baked until fully set and results in a more cake-like consistency throughout. The wet bottom version is set like cake at the top where it has mixed in with the crumbs, but the very bottom is a stickier, gooier custard-like consistency. The wet bottom version is the one you usually find at restaurants in the Lancaster area (and it’s also the version I made for this recipe.)
Shoo Fly Pie wasn’t traditionally a fancy special occasion dessert. Because it doesn’t require any eggs or milk, this pie would have been a frugal dessert for time when eggs and milk were scarce, especially during the winter months.
In old cookbooks, Shoo Fly Pie is sometimes referred to as Centennial Cake or Granger Pie. Somewhere along the way the name transitioned to Shoo Fly as we all know it today. For more information about the history of Shoo Fly Pie, check out this article and this one.
I wanted to try a recipe that was as close as possible to an old-fashioned traditional Shoo Fly Pie, so I adapted a recipe found in Pennsylvania Dutch Country Cooking, written by William Woys Weaver. This recipe comes from an original 1870s Centennial Cake recipe by Mrs. Miles Fry of Ephrata Pennsylvania.
Traditional Shoo Fly Pie Recipe
Note: As with all recipes, organic and natural ingredients are best if possible (eg. butter from grass-fed cows, unrefined sugar and salt, pasture-raised animal-products, etc.). I’ve included links to some of the brands that I like to use and would recommend.
If you use lard for your pie pastry like old-fashioned recipes call for, I would only recommend using lard from healthy, pasture-raised pigs and NOT the lard you might find in a grocery store. The grocery store lard is usually partially hydrogenated and comes from unhealthy animals. If you can’t find good quality lard from a local farm, I would suggest using butter or coconut oil instead.
Pie Pastry for One 9 inch Pie Plate
- 1 cup flour (I like using spelt)
- 1/2 tsp salt (You can find my favorite sea salt here)
- 1/3 cup lard (or 1/3 butter, or half butter half lard, depending on what you have on hand.)
- 3-4 Tbs cold water
(Note: The ingredients here are for my favorite pie pastry recipe, but any pie pastry will work here, so just use whatever is your favorite.)
- 1 1/4 cups flour
- 1/2 cup whole cane sugar (or rapadura or sucanat)
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp nutmeg *
- pinch salt
* The original recipe calls for only 1/2 tsp of nutmeg, but since nutmeg is one of my favorite spices, I used a full tsp. If you’re not a nutmeg fan, though, you can use less.
- 3/4 cup warm water
- 3/4 cup molasses *
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
* I would recommend using regular unsulfured molasses rather than blackstrap molasses for this recipe. Since the molasses is the only sweetener for the filling, blackstrap would make for a pretty bitter filling. If all you have on hand is blackstrap, though, you could replace a couple of spoonfuls of molasses with a couple spoonfuls of pure maple syrup for a molasses flavor that’s not quite as overwhelming.
1) Preheat your oven to 425 degrees and prepare your pie pastry. If you’re using my favorite pastry recipe (above), mix the salt in with the flour, and then cut the lard (or lard/butter combo) into the flour with a pastry blender. Then add the cold water and mix until a soft dough forms. Roll the pastry out and line a 9″ pie plate with it.
2) For the crumb topping, combine the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl. Then cut the butter into small pieces, and use a pastry blender to combine the butter with the dry ingredients until the mixture forms into delectable buttery crumbs.
3) For the filling, heat up your water in a sauce pan until it is warm (but not boiling.) Then take the water off the heat and stir in the molasses until fully blended. Next, add in your baking soda and stir well to combine. The mixture will look frothier as the soda reacts with the acid in the molasses.
4) Pour the molasses mixture into your pie pastry shell, and then sprinkle the crumb topping all around, adding a little extra to the sides. (Since the filling tends to slosh around a bit and absorb the crumb filling when you pick up the pie to put it into the oven, it might be a good idea to save aside a handful of the crumb topping mixture and sprinkle it around the pie after it has been in the oven for a few minutes to make sure you have an even distribution of topping.)
5) Bake the pie for 15 minutes at 425 degrees, and then reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another 35 minutes or so until a knife inserted into the center will come out clean.
NOTE: It’s best to prepare the pie pastry and the crumb topping before you mix up the molasses filling. Since the reaction between the baking soda and the molasses is the only thing making the filling rise up, if you let it sit out on the counter while you take the time to roll out a pie crust and mix up the topping, you might end up with a flatter pie.
This pie is quite similar to the ones I had in Lancaster, but I can definitely see and taste a difference in the filling of the pie. The filling of the ones I had at the smorgasbords were quite a bit lighter in color and much, much sweeter than my own homemade filling. I’m guessing that there might have been something else besides just molasses in those smorgasbord pies.
This pie is absolutely delicious, and I love the combination of pie crust and the cake-like crumb topping. If you love pie and you love coffee cake, this pie truly is the best of both worlds!
Other Pie Recipes to Try:
This post is shared with: Party Wave Wednesday at Holistic Squid, Natural Living Link-Up at Jill’s Home Remedies, Frugal Days Sustainable Ways at Frugally Sustainable, Real Food Friday at It’s Your Life.