The History Of The Shoofly Pie Is As Fun As Its Name

Part crumb cake and coffee cake, part treacle tart, and part pie with a rich molasses filling, shoofly pie (also spelled shoo-fly, shoo fly, and even shoe-fly) is a unique pie and staple of Pennsylvania Dutch country, where it likely first developed. It was believed to have been derived from the centennial cake, created to mark the centennial of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, but with the addition of a pie crust to make it easier to eat without plates and silverware — originally a popular breakfast dish, it was typically enjoyed with (or dunked in) a hot cup of coffee, though these days it's also served as a dessert.

With a name like shoo fly, you would think that flies would have something to do with it. Based on one theory of how the unusual name came about, they did in a way: According to author Patricia Brunning Stevens, as the pies cooled, pools of molasses would form, which would attract flies that the pies' bakers would then have to shoo away. However, since it was also believed that these pies were frequently made in the winter (since they didn't require eggs and other perishable items), it's not clear where all the flies would have come from.

A circus mule, molasses, and a popular song

Food historian William Woys Weaver, a 13th-generation Pennsylvania Dutchman and director of the Keystone Center for the Study of Regional Foods and Food Tourism, has another theory: "The cake took its name from Shoofly, a famous boxing mule that was part of a Dutch Country traveling circus in the 1870s and 1880s," he writes on Facebook. Shoofly the Boxing Mule was so popular at the time that many products were named after him, including a brand of molasses made in Philadelphia named Shoofly Molasses, which may very well have been used to make shoofly pie.

Shoofly the boxing mule in turn probably got his name from a popular folk song at the time called, "Shoo, Fly, Don't Bother Me!" One of the lyrics to the song was, "the angels pouring 'lasses down," with 'lasses being short for molasses. Shoofly pie has also inspired its own song, made popular by Dinah Shore in the 1940s, "Shoo-Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy." Today, shoofly pie can still be found all over Pennsylvania Dutch country, while numerous recipes can be found online.