Tuesday, May 18, 2010

“Here's to you, Harold Jamieson" Shoo Fly Pie

Our first pie comes from Sallie.

Sallie was one of our few non-bloggers entries. So unfortunately I don't have a blog to link to for more of Sallie's recipes. However, after reading the fantastic email she sent me... she should really consider giving it a go.

Anyone who writes well and makes their family endure countless iterations of a single dish to perfect a recipe, is a born food-blogger.

Let's get to the pie...

Long before the internet put information at our fingertips, I baked my first Shoo Fly Pie because of a quirky old gentleman from Pennsylvania who knew my father-in-law. Harold Jamieson missed his Shoo Fly Pie. His mother had made it. His ex-wife had made it. His sister made it. However, they had either passed on or still lived in Pennsylvania. So armed with Harold’s mother’s recipe, his daughter-in-law’s recipe, an antique booklet from the Dutch Pantry in Selinsgrove, PA and a version of the pie from the Farm Journal Pie Cookbook, I baked and tweaked for weeks. By the time I had Shoo Fly Pie the way I liked it, my family was Shoo Fly Pied out. But I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the syrup and molasses based breakfast pie. Yes, you read that correctly, it’s a breakfast pie so guilt no more about eating “dessert” first. I love the Pennsylvania Dutch’s addiction to pies for every meal. It made perfect sense when you consider the convenience of anything in a crust. Actually, those hardy colonists drawn by William Penn’s promise of religious tolerance weren’t Dutch at all, but were from Germany (Deutsch) and Switzerland. The pie, too, had its roots in Europe, a relative to treacle (syrup) tart.

The Shoo Fly Pie was created when colonists in the early 18th century found their baking supplies running low late in the winter. The ingredients left in the pantry were usually flour, lard and molasses or refiner’s syrup. Many have presumed that the unusual name of the pie was due to it attracting flies as it cooled near an open window. However, the name “Shoo Fly Pie” did not appear in print until 1926. I agree with John Ayto in his An A-Z of Food and Drink when he states . . . “the fact that it originated as a Pennsylvania Dutch specialty suggests the possibility that shoofly is an alteration of an unidentified German word.” I totally agree with this conclusion because one of those antique recipe pamphlets that Harold Jamieson loaned to me mentioned that the pie had been associated with the name “Schuuflei Boi”.

One thing is clear, however, when baking Shoo Fly Pie--the syrup makes the pie. An all molasses pie has a very strong flavor and it is critical to me to use a molasses with as little bitterness as possible. In Shoo Fly Pie country, cooks use King Syrup or Golden Barrel Table Syrup sometimes blended with molasses. I prefer the Pennsylvania Dutch table syrups, but I usually have to order them online since I am stuck in The Middle Of Nowhere, WA. Some of the table syrups have some molasses in them; others do not. Some recipes call for both corn syrup and molasses. In lieu of golden table syrup, I have used combinations of corn syrup, light molasses and very light honey*. Even in its birthplace, the pie has a split personality. Berks County, PA is known for the “dry” Shoo Fly Pie while neighboring Lancaster County prefers the “wet bottom” pie. This is all a matter of how deep of a gooey moist zone develops underneath the cakelike layer. While browsing the internet, I found a few recipes similar to mine, but I prefer the one I developed using the four recipes given to me by quirky old Harold. So, in memoriam to Mr. Jamieson I give you the following recipe:

“Here's to you, Harold Jamieson" Shoo Fly Pie

Crumbs & Crust:
1 c. flour
½ c. brown sugar
2 T. shortening (or butter)
½ t. cinnamon
1/8 t. nutmeg
1/8 t. ginger
1/8 t. cloves

1 8"-9" pie crust

Preheat oven to 400°. Line an 8” or 9” pie plate with pastry and flute edges. Whisk together all of the above dry ingredients then cut in shortening or butter with pastry blender until it has appearance of crumbs.

¾ c. King Syrup or Golden Barrel Table Syrup
¾ c. hot water
1 well beaten egg
1 t. vanilla
1 t. baking soda

Combine the syrup and hot water then stir in the baking soda, vanilla and egg. Place a third of the crumbs in a layer on the bottom of the pie shell. Pour about half the syrup over the crumbs. Layer in another third of the crumbs followed by the remaining syrup. Scatter the remaining crumbs over the entire top. Bake at 400° for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350° and bake for 20-25 more minutes. Remove pie from oven and let cool on rack.

Conventional wisdom prescribes letting the pie cool, but I am of the persuasion that this is best eaten while still warm. In fact, when having gone without Shoo Fly Pie for any extensive length of time, I take it out of the oven, pretend to wait a couple of minutes and cut into it while piping hot. It is possible to burn your tongue if you don’t wait, but that has only happened to me once and it was worth the momentary pain.

One account reports that the use of whipped cream to top the pie is how it is served to tourists. In contrast to that belief, I have discovered recipes online that advocate whipped cream or ice cream or clotted cream. Personally, I eat my Shoo Fly naked---or rather the pie is naked, no dressing it up in the whipped cream. I do like to sip an accompanying café mocha or latte, however. But if the topping appeals to you, go for it.

*Notes on substitutions for King or Golden Barrel Table syrup using cornsyrup, light molasses and honey:

'As for the combination of syrups, it's like adding salt and pepper--you discover what personally suits you and it depends on each component. I don't particularly like Karo syrup; it has salt in it, but sometimes there is no alternative. The lighter the honey the better is the general rule; ditto for the molasses although a few cooks use a touch of blackstrap molasses. I started by using a third of each and then taste the syrup and make adjustments. There is room for great creativity and scores of combinations. One recipe added instant espresso to the filling. I didn't go there, just didn't seem right. Eventually, I used 1/2 corn syrup, 1/4 light molasses, 1/4 light honey."


  1. I think that Sally needs to start a food history blog. Nice pie. Nice post.

    Ms. Humble I think you should make if for me and maybe serve it to me with tea in the morning. Possibly you could bring it to me on a pretty tray while I am still in my comfy bed. It is probably time for you to take care of me in the manner to which I wish to become accustomed in my old age.

  2. LOL! I always enjoy Ms. Humbles comments. She reminds me very much of my own mother :) Lovely old-timey pie. I just adore timeless, yet often forgotten recipes such as this!

  3. Interesting pie...never heard of it before.

  4. love that sally researched so much about the pie and developed such an appreciation for it

  5. That pie looks amazing, and I'm impressed by Sally's thorough research and engaging write-up! Start a blog, Sally!

  6. So, the "let cool on rack" is optional? I like that.

    I also like the idea of breakfast pie, and the little song that is now playing in my head. Extra points, I say.

  7. That looks fabulous. Darn this low-carb diet!

    Have a great time in Europe and North Africa. Take lots of pictures of Morocco-- I may never get there in person, so I intend to enjoy it vicariously through you, just as I do the desserts.

  8. mmm. Looks tasty. I love the idea of a breakfast pie. Makes me feel less guilty eating sweets in the morning if they are intended for it.

    For some reason I really want this pie to have a lot of brown sugar in it. It looks like a brown sugar pie. Yum. I guess the syrup will have to satisfy my sweet tooth.

  9. oh yumm. I remember ShooFly Pies from my childhood in Pennsylvania, and can almost taste the gooey super sweet filling.
    ...and the little song playing in my head too.."Shoo Fly don't bother me, Shoo Fly don't bother me....
    thanks for the memories.
    ... and Cheers Harold Jamieson, a baking I intend to go.

  10. I love the sound of this but Help! We don't have King syrup or Golden Barrel Table syrup here in the UK. Is golden syrup a suitable substitute?

  11. what a great first pie contest post!
    i agree w/mother h...sally should start a blog w/history related "tidbits" to her recipes! great job & i for one will be trying this recipe....sounds delish!!

    hi ms. h ...are you in morocco?

  12. Girl Foodie,

    Golden syrup is a suitable substitute, yes.


    Not quite yet, I believe we leave for Morocco early Saturday or Sunday.

  13. Totally want to do Shoo Fly Pie for the POTM May.

  14. OMG lol! I only heard from Shoo Fly Pie when I sang in a choir and we sang a song about it (yes, a song about pie. Isn't that awesome :D). Though I can't quite recall the lyrics I remember singing it because our teacher baked us Shoo Fly because none of us had it before. I loved it! Therefore I absolutely love this recipe^^

  15. I am SO EXCITED the first pie is a shoo-fly pie! I'm PA Dutch and go to college in Berks County, and always wondered why the pies seemed more "dry" around there. Now I know why!! Om nom nom I am SO buying one at Rices flea market this weekend though!! Major craving now.

  16. I'm so glad that your first pie post featured a pie from my past. Being Mennonite, it has graced many a breakfast table in my life time. I prefer mine with 100% molasses (though not 100% blackstrap)...the bitterness pairs well with coffee. Another good Mennonite breakfast pie is apple crumb with a slice of cheddar cheese melted on top...mmmmm.

  17. Yum! That looks delicious. I'm definitely going to have to make that. Cute blog, I'm glad I came across it!

  18. Do you know how Lyle's Golden Syrup would work in this pie? Would I need to add in some molasses?

  19. I am from Lancaster County, PA. My home town is Lititz....Shoo Fly Pie is NOT a breakfast pie and we do not make nor eat pies as a rule for breakfast..! My grandmother always had a freshly made pie of some sort and it was ONLY eaten as dessert after "supper". The recipe listed here is NOT an original Shoo Fly Pie for the PA Dutch. The "Dutch" is for the Language of the Amish/German decent who spoke the PA Dutch Language to which the Amish still do. Never is Honey an ingredient for Shoo Fly Pie...Please do not pass this recipe off as a "Shoo fly Pie".....you will find wet bottom and more "cake" like bottoms in Lancaster as well...it depends on the recipe, not the location. And, there are no spices in a original Shoo Fly Pie....The pie looks very yummmy, but it's not a ShooFly Pie..!!

  20. It IS a Shoo Fly pie because the creator of the recipe termed it so.

    I would remind anyone who is rigid in their ideas regarding a particular dish or recipe, that recipes evolve as they pass through cultures, regions, and families. Adaptation, modification and variations in cooking are inevitable. These variations might not be to our liking or fit our own baking dogma, but this does not make these recipes any less valid as recipes.

    This is a Shoo Fly Pie, Harold Jamieson's pie, and a mighty tasty pie at that.


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