Despite its odd name, shoofly pie is to Pennsylvania Dutch households as pecan pie is to Southern homes. With its gooey syrup, brown sugar, and crumb topping, this delicious treat has been a longtime staple in Lancaster County for years. The sweet, sticky pie is a must-try for all pie enthusiasts, but what exactly is shoofly pie?

Whole shoofly pie from Bird-in-Hand Bakery & Cafe

What is in shoofly pie?

Shoofly pie is a molasses crumb pie. The star of the show is molasses, but shoofly pie is also typically composed of flour, brown sugar, water, spices, and sometimes egg. The pie is topped with crumbs and served in flaky pie crust. Shoofly pie is similar to coffee cake, but with a gooey molasses bottom.

There are two heavily debated variations of the pie: dry bottom and wet bottom. Using flaky or mealy crust for the pie dough determines whether the bottom of the pie is thick or barely there. The dry bottom version resembles a soft gingerbread or dry cake-like consistency, while the wet bottom, predominant in Lancaster County, features a tender molasses custard topped with crumbs. The dry bottom is guessed to be the original version, producing a pie meant for dipping in coffee. The wet variety came about later and is more prevalent in the Pennsylvania Dutch region.

The combination of molasses and spices in the batter creates an almost chocolate-like taste. The final product yields an intense sweetness and jamlike texture.

Shoofly pie history

According to historian William Woys Weaver, shoofly pie started as a crustless molasses cake or Centennial 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 generic British term for any syrup made during the refining of sugar cane. Later, refined sugar became more affordable and overtook treacle as a sweetener. However, 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.

Traditionally, the pie was a poverty food served up only for breakfast or in the evening with supper, or as a field break snack with coffee. Due to the absence of eggs, historians concluded shoofly pie was a winter dish. Hens generally did not lay eggs in the colder weather. A pie without eggs produces a longer shelf life. Instead, bakers leaven the pie with baking powder. The addition of eggs was made in the 1920s.

Slice of shoofly pie from Bird-in-Hand Bakery & Cafe

How did shoofly pie get its name?

Weaver, a 13th-generation Pennsylvania Dutchman, states the name “Shoofly” likely derives from Shoofly the Boxing Mule. Shoofly was a popular traveling circus animal in southeastern Pennsylvania at the time. The animal was trained to stand on his hind legs and wore boxing gloves on his front hooves. His frequent opponent was a horse. Shoofly was so beloved they named products in his honor, including a brand of molasses produced in Philadelphia. Shoofly’s name may have originated from a popular song at the time, “Shoo, Fly, Don’t Bother Me!”

Another less likely theory comes from author Patricia Brunning Stevens. According to Stevens, the unusual name of shoofly pie came from “the fact that pools of sweet, sticky molasses sometimes formed on the surface of the pie while it was cooling, inevitably attracting flies.” She suggests the pie’s invention stems from Pennsylvania Dutch farm wives making do with what remained in the larder during the late winter. However, she fails to answer the question of where all the flies came from in the winter season.

Where to find shoofly pie

Throughout most of American restaurants and bakeries, you’ll rarely find shoofly pie. But in Amish country, you’ll discover shoofly pie served in countless places drawing standing-room-only crowds. Bird-in-Hand is famous for Grandma Smucker’s shoofly pie. The bakery prepares the shoofly pie from an old family recipe handed down for generations and fine-tuned by Grandma Smucker. It is one of Bird-in-Hand Bakery & Cafe’s most popular items. You can also order Grandma Smucker’s classic treat online to stash in your freezer or share it with a friend.

While you can refrigerate your shoofly pie, it doesn’t need to be refrigerated. Shoofly pie will keep covered on the countertop for a few days at room temperature. One alternative is to freeze your shoofly pie if you don’t plan to eat it right away. To defrost, place the pie in tin foil and thaw it at room temperature.

If you’re looking for an authentic Pennsylvania Dutch shoofly pie, there’s no better place to look than Bird-in-Hand. Try a slice from the Bird-in-Hand Bakery & Cafe with a hot cup of coffee or tea and enjoy the mouthwatering combination of molasses, eggs, flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon.