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February 10, 2009

Whoopie Pies

Maine and Pennsylvania are the two natural habitats of the Whoopie Pie. Found in Maine in virtually every convenience and mom and pop grocery store in the entire state, and a great many other places as well, the Whoopie Pie is an integral part of many summer vacationers fond memories of time in Vacationland and snack of choice for lots of locals. But the origins of the Whoopie Pie are as much a mystery as who ate the first lobster.

The classic, traditional W.P. is two disks of chocolate sponge cake, about the size of an adult’s palm, spread with a frosting made of hydrogenated vegetable oil, Crisco to you, sweetened with confectioners sugar, and flavored with vanilla.

It seems that the Whoopie Pie has been around in Maine since the second quarter of the 20th century. It seems fairly likely that it has, oddly enough, Amish roots, and most Pennsylvania Dutch cook books will have a recipe for them. In Maine it was a commercial bakery product before recipes appeared for homemade versions. Labadies’ Bakery in Lewiston says that they have been making them since 1925.

Another common version of the W. Pie calls for a marshmallow filling traceable to the test kitchens of the Durkee Mower Company, manufacturer of Marshmallow Fluff who published a cookbook called Yummy Book in the 1930s, where a recipe for Amish Whoopie Pie used Fluff in the filling. It however post-dates the Labadies Bakery claim.

I suspect that either you love them or hate them. The breaking point seems to be about the frosting. That has led in the past ten years or so to the gentrification of the W. Pie, where butter frostings, or even other kinds of fillings replace the shortening ones, even differently flavored ones, strawberry, chocolate, or raspberry. Even the cake disks are subject to fancification: blueberry and vanilla, chocolate chip or pumpkin cake, you name it.

That raises the question of whether these variations, which are very popular, are a real W. Pie or not. My inclination is to say that they are not. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich made with almond butter, for instance, isn’t a PBJ, right?

Sandy Oliver, Food Historian, Author, MF&L columnist: The Way Things Were

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