Shoo – Fly Pie

English: Shoofly pie Deutsch: Shoofly pie

English: Shoofly pie Deutsch: Shoofly pie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 The Amish/ Mennonite region is a unique part of the Mid – Atlantic.  Part of the practice of this particular sect of Christianity is the noninvolvement in the world at large.  They believe in a separation between religion and the world.  This belief was fostered during centuries of persecution in Europe before many immigrated to North America.  The Pennsylvania Dutch are one of the many groups of the Mennonite religion. 

                Their everyday lives are governed by an unwritten code known as the Ordnung and they are best known for their nonconformist dress and their preference to shun the labor saving devices of the modern world in favor of man power. 

                Jakob Ammann (1664 – 1730) was the leader responsible for the establishment of the Amish sect of the Mennonite religion.

                 Pennsylvania has the highest concentration of Amish anywhere in the world.  They believe in the emphasis of honest labor and noninvolvement in the world.  Their food is renowned in the region due to the fact that much of it is still made the way it was hundreds of years ago.  Many of the modern conveniences we take for granted are still carefully made by hand in the same traditions that were passed down for centuries.  Amish markets have popped up all along the Mid – Atlantic seaboard and are a popular shopping destination for high quality food and old world craftsmanship. 

                Shoofly pie may be an outgrowth of the English Treacle Tart.  It is a cross between a pie and a cake and is interchangeable in the description of the recipe.  Sometimes it is referred to as a cake and sometimes as a pie.  It is believed that the pie originally came about due to a thin pantry at the time between winter and spring. 

                The recipe is commonly associated with the Pennsylvania Dutch but there is no recorded mention of the name shoofly pie until 1926.  Until then it was referred to as molasses pie and was common in colonial times as well as a common dish in the south.  In the North, the common substitute for sugar was maple syrup, but further down the eastern seaboard the common substitute was molasses.  It was cheaper and easier to keep as well as far more nutritious then sugar.  Molasses contains high concentrations of Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium and Iron. 

                There are many kinds of molasses available on the market.  Sulphured Molasses is made from young sugar cane and needs a preservative to keep it.  The preservative most commonly used is Sulphur Dioxide.  Unsulphered molasses is made from mature sugar cane it does not require a preservative.  The three grades of molasses are Mild, Dark and Backstrap.  These are distinguished by the sugar extraction process, the first, second and third extractions of sugar from the syrup of the sugar cane.  Sweet Sorghum syrup is also a colloquial term for molasses.

                There are two variations of the Shoofly pie.  There is the wet bottom and the dry bottom pie.  The wet bottom is where the syrup is poured into the bottom of the pie pan and topped with crumbs and the dry bottom is where some of the crumb topping is mixed in with the syrup to absorb some of the liquid.

                The pie is considered a popular choice due to its heavy construction; it could be cooked in an oven after the bread had been baked at a high temperature.  Before the advent of kitchen appliances with standard measurement and heat holding capacity, shoo fly pie was an easy dessert to make and a sort of no fail recipe that does not require the finesse of a lighter or more delicate pie. 


Molasses Pie[1]



                Ne teacup molasses, one teacup sugar, one half pound butter.  Mix sugar and eggs together, pour in butter, and add molasses.  – Mrs. Dr. S.


                Molasses was one of the most common substitutes for sugar in the new world.  It was a great deal cheaper and the Mid – Atlantic region did not have the natural maple resources of the northeastern colonies.  Molasses was shipped from the West Indies in large wine barrels and used as a natural sweetener for many confections of the time.

Molasses Pie[2]



9 Tablespoonfuls of Molasses

6 Tablespoons of Vinegar

1 ½ Tablespoonfuls of Flour

½ teaspoon of Cinnamon

¼ of a Nutmeg, Grated

A Piece of Butter the Size of a Walnut


                Moisten the flour with the vinegar, add it to the molasses; mix until smooth, then add the spices, and the butter, melted.  Line a deep pie dish with plain paste, fill with this mixture, and bake in a quick oven for thirty minutes. 


                The first instance of the name shoo fly pie was in 1926.  It is believed that the name came about due to the sweet nature of the pie and its ability to attract flies, the cook had to constantly shoo them away.  It may also be an American slang term for Soufflé or it may also be from a French dessert in which the surface of the pie looks like Cauliflower or cheux – fleur which was misspoken to mean shoo fly.  Neither of these linguistic theories seems to have a great deal of merit.  It is more likely the frustration of keeping bugs away which turned the molasses pie into the Shoo fly pie of today.  


Shoo Fly Pie[3]



                One cup molasses, one cup boiling water with one teaspoon baking soda, one cup sugar, one cup flour, butter size of an egg.

                Mix water, molasses and soda.  Pour into pie crust, mix sugar, flour, and butter into crumbs.  Put on top of pie.  Season with cinnamon if liked. 

                Makes one pie.  – Mrs. George H. Birnie, Carroll County

The pie came into the national spotlight in 1946 with the song “shoo fly pie and apple Pandowdy.  It was originally sung by June Christy and then rerecorded and made into a hit single by Dinah Shore.   The song was written by Guy Woods. 


Shoofly Pie

Shoofly Pie (Photo credit: librarykitty)

Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pandawdy


If you wanna do right by your appetite
If you’re fussy about your food
Take a choo-choo today, head New England way
And we’ll put you in the happiest mood, with

Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy
Makes your eyes light up
Your tummy say “Howdy,”
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy
I never get enough of that wonderful stuff

Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan dowdy makes the sun come out
When Heavens are cloudy
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy
I never get enough of that wonderful stuff!

Mama, when you bake,
Mama, I don’t want cake;
Mama, for my sake
Go to the oven and make some ever lovin’

Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy
Makes your eyes light up
Your tummy say “Howdy,”
Shoo Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy
I never get enough of that wonderful stuff!

Molasses Pie[4]



1 Cup Molasses                                                                                               

1 Cup Bread Crumbs, Fine

6 Tablespoons Brown Sugar                                                       

1 Cup Seedless Raisins

½ Lemon (Rind Only)                                                                    

6 Tablespoons Flour

3 Tablespoons Flour                                                                      

4 Tablespoons Brown Sugar

1 Teaspoon Cinnamon                                                                  

2 Tablespoons Shortening


                Line a pie pan with pie crust.  Spread over it the bread crumbs, and over the raisins.  Then place all the rest of the ingredients listed in the first column above and mix.  Pour this mixture over the pie.  Then mix, in a second bowl, the ingredients listed in the second column above.  Make into fine crumbs with the fingers.  Spread over the pie.  Then make inch wide strips of pie crust and spread them criss-cross over the pie.  Bake in a slow oven. 

                This version is unusual in the fact that it contains raisins which are not a common ingredient in the standard recipe.  They do however make an excellent addition to the pie although it will be a little dryer since the raisins will swell while cooking and absorb some the liquid. Modify the recipe with about ¼ cup molasses added to the recipe.  Or soak the raisins in rum of a sweetened liquid before adding them to the pie filling.

Dutch Shoofly Pie[5]



1 Cup Molasses                                                                                               

½ Teaspoon Salt

4 Cups Flour                                                                                      

2 cups Sugar

½ Cup Butter or Lard                                                                      

1 Teaspoon Baking Soda


½ Teaspoon Cream of Tartar


                Dissolve the molasses in 1 cup of water.  Mix all other ingredients and form into crumbs.  Pour molasses mixture into pans lined with pie crust, then spread the crumbs evenly on top.  Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake in moderate oven.

                This version calls for the addition of cream of tartar, the tartaric acid is added to activate the baking soda.  This can be avoided if you use baking powder instead which already contains an acid to activate the second stage of levening. 

Molasses Shoo – Fly Cake (Molasses Crumb Pie)[6]



¾ Cup Flour

½ Cup Firmly Packed Brown Sugar

½ Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon

1/8 Teaspoon Ground Cloves

1/8 Teaspoon Ground Ginger

1/8 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg

¼ Teaspoon Salt

2 Tablespoons Shortening

1 – 9” Pie Crust, Unbaked

½ Cup Molasses

¾ Cup Boiling Water

1 ½ Teaspoons Baking Soda

1 Egg Yolk, Well Beaten


                Mix together the first seven ingredients.  Cut in the shortening with pastry blender or two knives until mixture is crumbly.  Set aside.  Line a 9 inch pie pan with pastry.  Combine four remaining ingredients.  Alternate layers of crumbs and liquid mixture in the pastry shell, ending with crumbs.  Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake about 20 minutes longer, or until firm.                                                                                            One 9 Inch Pie

                There are essentially two ways of making this dish.  One is the wet bottom method and the other is the dry method.  The main difference between the two is the inclusion of egg.  In the wet bottom version egg is added to create more of a custard effect, whereas in the dry method, only chemical levening is used to lighten the density of the pie. 


Our Talk

Our talk ain’t so for fanciness,

But plain, it makes just right.

It ain’t so good dressed up in print,

But from the heart it comes out bright.

It gets around to all the things

We know and have to say,

It sticks with us like boowalice,

It’s as rich as good red clay.

When people listen once they think

We don’t know English none,

But at the County Fair you see

The prize our Melly won.

You can’t red up the world and make

All people talk the same.

The Pennsylvania Deitsch is ourn,

And yourn is what you name.

Du konnst net mocha, sie geh net gleih,

Olla bleiwa so, gel net?

Die gaul geh zu die scheira hin,

Und ich zu Deitsch, you bet.

The Pennsylvania Dutch language is unique in that it is a combination of several languages from the Rhine Valley and the Netherlands mixed in with many colloquial terms.

Shoofly Cake[7]



6 C. Flour                                                                                            

3 C. Brown Sugar

1 C. Crisco                                                                                          

1 c. King Syrup

2 C. Boiling Water                                                                          

3 Tsp. Baking Soda


                Make crumbs with flour, brown sugar and Crisco.  Set aside 2 c. crumbs.  Put the soda and boiling water and add king syrup.  Mix crumbs with water mixture and pour into a heavy 9” x 13” aluminum pan.  Top with crumbs.  Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. 


                This cake has little to do with its professed ancestor.  It lacks the primary ingredient of molasses which it tries to replicate by using brown sugar and corn syrup.  It becomes more like the British Treacle Tart. 

Shoofly Pie with Molasses Glass

Christopher Gobbett



1 Whole 9 Inch Pie Crust                                                             

1 ½ Cups All Purpose Flour, Unbleached

½ Cup Raw Sugar                                                                             

½ Cup Unsalted Butter

1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon                                                 

½ Teaspoon Nutmeg, Freshly Grated

¼ Teaspoon Sea Salt                                                                      

½ Teaspoon Baking Soda

¾ Cup Warm Water                                                                       

¾ Cup Molasses, Unsulferated


                Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Work, flour, sugar and butter into a course meal, then add cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.  In a separate bowl, dissolve the baking soda in warm water and combine with molasses.  Pour liquid into pie shell, top with flour mixture.  Be certain that crumbs are spread evenly along sides, this will help prevent overflow.  Bake pie in center of oven for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and bake 35 – 40 minutes until center of pie is firm. 

                Shoo Fly pie is similar to the Montgomery pie which is the same except for the addition of lemon juice.  It is also similar to a chess pie which is common in the Southern United States, it uses corn syrup in place of molasses and does not have the distinctive layers like the shoo fly pie.  A pecan pie is also similar to a shoo fly pie in construction as well as a popular Maple syrup pie made in the Northeastern United States.   

                Like most desserts, the shoefly pie has seen little change over the years.  Except for the addition and invention of chemical leveners, this recipe has stayed the same since its inception and similar pies can be found in every part of the world usually only differing in the type of sugar used.  This pie is in essence a sugar custard.  The primary flavor is drawn from the molasses that is extracted from the sugar cane as it is heated.  

There are few things better than settling in for a warm slice of shoofly pie with a hot cup of coffee.  It is the regions answer to the breakfast pastries of Europe and a great way to start a cold winter day.

[1] Housekeeping in Old Virginia: Marion Cabell Tyree, John P. Morton and Company Louisville, KY. 1879

[2] Mrs. Rorer’s Philadelphia Cookbook: A Manuel for Home Economics by Mrs. Sarah Tyson Heston Rorer: Applewood Books 1886

[3] Eat, drink & be merry in Maryland: Frederick Philip Stieff, john Hopkins University Press 1998

[4] The Pennsylvania Dutch and their Cookery by J. George Frederick: The Business Bourse Publishers 1946

[5] The Pennsylvania Dutch and their Cookery by J. George Frederick: The Business Bourse Publishers 1946

[6] Pennsylvania Dutch Cookbook Edited by Claire S. Davidow & Ann Goodman: Culinary Arts Books 1987

[7] Simply Wonderful: a collection of recipes from the families of Henry Brook Community Church: Carlisle Publishing 2005


About midatlanticcooking

Chef in the Mid-Atlantic region for over 20 years. Painter, writer and traveler.
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1 Response to Shoo – Fly Pie

  1. Pingback: Favorite Mid – Atlantic Dish | midatlanticcooking

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