Shoo-fly, don’t Amish me

If you’ve never passed through the great swath of countryside between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, you probably have never heard of shoo-fly pie. As far as I know it’s a pie you can only find in central Pennsylvania, at roadside stands and farmer’s markets, tucked between Amish quilts and local bologna. I grew up there, just north of Lancaster, between the suburbs and the fields, where in the summer we pick strawberries two miles from our house and buy fresh corn from the neighbors. The area is heavily influenced by the distinct culture of the Pennsylvania Dutch. It’s a culture influenced by German traditions and German cooking, but altered to fit Pennsylvania’s terrain, climate, and multi-ethnic community. To me one of the most iconic Pennsylvania Dutch dishes is shoo-fly pie, simply because I have never encountered any similar pie anywhere else. Its closest relative is probably the pecan pie, because it also uses corn syrup, but the molasses and crumbs of the shoo-fly pie give it a dark, sticky, sweet flavor, completely unlike that of a nut or fruit pie. If a trip to the Pennsylvania countryside doesn’t seem to be in your near future, indulge your curiosity with this smooth molasses pie.

PA Dutch Shoo-Fly Pie

1 cup flour

3/4 cup brown sugar

4 Tbsp butter

1/2 cup molasses

1/2 cup corn syrup

1 tsp baking soda

3/4 cup boiling water

1 beaten egg



Simple Pie Crust

1 cup flour

1/3 cup butter or shortening

1 tsp salt

1/3 cup – 2/3 cup cold water



1. If you are going to make the pie crust by yourself, you should start with that. Combine the flour and salt in a bowl. Add the butter, and using whatever you have available, two knives or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into tiny little pieces, the smaller the better. When you are satisfied, or tired of the busywork, pour some of the cold water into your dry ingredients. Use a fork to incorporate the water, and add it little by little until your dough starts to clump. When it seems just wet enough, use your hands to press it together. If you can form a single ball with the dough, leaving no pools of flour behind, it is ready. Roll it out on a floured surface (if you don’t have a rolling pin you can use a bottle of wine or rum), aiming to create a thin, round disc slightly bigger than your pie pan. Gently drape it over the pie pan, then trim the edges so that the dough doesn’t extend beyond the rim. Crimp the edges if you like, or just pinch the cracks together to make it uniform. If all of this seems to be too much work, feel free to use a premade crust.

2. Mix flour, brown sugar and butter together. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the pieces are very small. Split the mixture in half, setting one half aside.

3. Pour the molasses and corn syrup onto one half of the crumb mixture. Mix the baking soda into the boiling water. It should fizz dramatically. Pour the newly fizzy water into the molasses mixture, then add the beaten egg.

4. Pour into unbaked 9-inch pie shell and top with remaining crumb mixture. A deep dish pan works well here because there is a good bit of filling. Two 8-inch pans can also work, in which case double the pie crust recipe. Do not fill the crusts more than two-thirds full. The pie will rise.

5. Bake in preheated 325-degree oven for 30 minutes or until pie is dark brown and mostly set. If you would like the pie to be a bit wet, take it out of the oven when it still jiggles a little. If you would like the pie to be moist but less of a sticky mess, allow it to set. If you opted for two shallower pies, reduce cooking time by 10 minutes or so.

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