Thursday, June 19, 2014

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Saturday, June 7, 2014

A short lesson in Amish history, which none of them will read.

With spring and summer vegetables starting to show up at farmers markets and grocery stores I've been thinking of making a shoo-fly pie.  The connection is that I associate great summer fruits and veggies with trips to Amish country, where I always try to enjoy a slice or two of shoo-fly pie.  If you don't know what that is, all will become clear.

Looking up recipes something which I should have realized quickly became apparent.  With the exception of eggs and possibly flour, not a single ingredient in shoo-fly pie is indigenous to Amish country.  I suppose some families might make their own vinegar or even shortening but the main ingredients, molasses, brown sugar and (in some recipes) spices all come from far, far away from Lancaster, PA.

It turns out that there's a reason for that.  It turns out that shoo-fly pie was probably invented by the Amish when they had little or no fresh food at all!  The Amish were a group of German settlers invited to help populate the new world by William Penn himself.  Penn wanted to create a religiously tolerant utopia in the land he was given by Charles I after England got control of the place from the Dutch.  (Pennsylvania Dutch is really Pennsylvania Deutsch, for Germans).   By religious utopia he meant that you could be any sect of Christianity you want, but that's a whole nother blog entry.  At any rate, when the first large groups arrived in the 1720s or 30s, they apparently arrived at the beginning of the winter.  There would be no fresh food until the spring so they lived off of what they brought.  And what food do you bring on a life-defining trip across the ocean to a strange land?  Things which last at room temperature.  Flour, molasses, lard, brown sugar, salt and spices.   And like a lot of Europeans, they had a sweet tooth.  Combine that with an existing English concoction called a "treacle tart" also made from molasses and there you go.  Shoo-fly pie is a pie made from flour, molasses, lard, brown sugar, salt and sometimes spices.  Sweet sustenance to get families through a Pennsylvania winter.  Leave a slice outside on a hot summer's day and the origin of the name will quickly become apparent.

Here is a recipe for shoo-fly pie which purportedly matches that made by Mary Jo Hess at the Central Market in Lancaster, PA.  If I go ahead and make some, I'll probably spice it up a bit.  That's apparently less authentic but I don't much care.  I don't know whether to go the obvious direction with cinnamon, nutmeg and/or allspice or take it in a different direction with ginger, cloves, cardamom or something else.