A sticky sweet indoctrination

I am Mennonite. My grandfather was a straight-laced Mennonite Bishop, and my mother wore a covering (until some point in her wild college career when she decided to risk God’s wrath and toss it). I never wore a covering, but as a teenager I was baptized by the straight-laced Mennonite Grandpa, and I wrote a paper in highschool explaining why Mennonites don’t go to war (and then underwent an impromptu inquisition headed up by my teacher—my mother wrote an article about the experience—maybe I’ll reprint it here some time). I can play the Mennonite Game (or I would be able to if I could remember any names), and I can throw around Mennonite acronyms like it ain’t nobody’s business—proof: I attended/participated in MYF, EMU, VS, and MCC. (For the non Mennonite reading this, that would be Mennonite Youth Fellowship, Eastern Mennonite University, Voluntary Service, and Mennonite Central Committee, respectively.) And I love shoofly pie.

Mennonites have different opinions as to what a shoofly pie ought to be like. There have been many an intense conversation (but I’ll wager nobody’s come to blows over it because it’s not generally our custom to knock the daylights out of each other) over whether or not the pie ought to be wet or dry, dark or light. I hail from the wet-and-dark (but not too dark) camp. I like my pies to have noteworthy goo levels, as well as a pronounced molasses flavor. But those are just my preferences—I’ll eat and enjoy any shoofly pie.

My husband, Catholic that he is (or rather, was), does not like shoofly. This mortifies me, but I’ve tried to play it cool. I don’t bake shoofly pie all that often, and when I do and he only takes a small piece (shame! shame!), I try not to burn him at the stake for it. (Like his ancestors did to my ancestors, I might add.) (Though I don’t think they were being burned for eating too much shoofly pie.) But now we have children and I’ve discovered that if I don’t train my children up in the way of shoofly pie, nobody will. It is my duty to cultivate their Mennonite taste buds.

Here’s how the molasses training has gone down so far. We’ve got ginger cookies down pat. They like them in any form, soft and chewy, crisp and crinkly. But Mr. Handsome likes those, too, so the cookies don’t really count. Gingerbread is trickier; almost everyone will eat it, but they’re not crazy about it. But shoofly pie? Here’s where it gets dicey. Yo-Yo will eat it, Miss Beccaboo kind of will, Sweetsie won’t, and The Baby Nickel positively adores it (that’s my baby).

This past week I decided it was time to buckle down and solve the problem once and for all. I decided to approach the problem from a different angle—instead of shoofly pie, I’d try to snucker them in with shoofly cake. I made one recipe that touted itself as a shoofly cake but was nothing of the sort—it was just a gingerbread with crumbs on top. Good, but not the cake I was looking for. Then I called my brother, a shoofly afficionado, and after a bit of discussion involving two recipes he had in his files, plus some tweaking of my own, I created The Shoofly Cake Of My Dreams: buttery bottom crust that turns soft in spots and chewy crispy in others, a supremely gooey middle, and a moist, cake-y top.

Since the recipe makes a big pan, it’s the perfect recipe for molasses indoctrination. My methods are rather traditional, with a touch of charismatic flair. I serve the cake after meals, with lots of whipped cream (that’s the traditional part). I make no fuss if they don’t like it, but I do allow for seconds (that’s still traditional, I think). I eat it voraciously, sighing and moaning with pleasure and smiling most favorably upon the other appreciative eaters (that’s the flair part).

So far my ploy hasn’t worked, but fear not, I am not dismayed. Opportunities for making and eating shoofly cake abound. I may gain a little extra padding in the process, but really, what’s a couple pounds when I’m winning souls for shoofly? In these cases, it’s important to keep my priorities straight.

And she shall rise up, a shoofly cake in one hand and a bowl of whipped cream in the other! And verily, they shall say to each other, We best partake of the cake, lest this woman stuff it in our faces. And they shall eat and be satisfied. And she shall show them mercy and make apple pie for a change of pace.

The end, and amen.

One further note, or rather, a question (or two or five):
*Are there any Mennonites out there who don’t like shoofly?
*Are there any non-Mennonites out there who grew up with shoofly?
*Is there anyone out there (Mennonite, Hindu, or otherwise) who did not grow up with shoofly and liked it the first time they tasted it?
*Is anyone even out there???

If you’ve never tasted shoofly, then you know what to do: make the cake, find out what you think, and check back in with your response. Pretty please? The curiosity is killing me. (If you’re overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the cake, just halve it. The only tricky part is the one egg bit, but if you turn the egg on its side and whack it quick with a sharp knife, it splits evenly down the middle—it’s an old Mennonite trick.)

Shoofly Cake
Adapted from two recipes my brother had in his recipe box

A note about the syrups: The recipe calls for two cups of syrup; I use half molasses and half of some other thick syrup. You can use different proportions—less molasses and more thick syrup, or the other way around—depending on how much of a love relationship you have with molasses. Do not use blackstrap molasses (unless you’re sure you want to).

2 1/4 cups brown sugar
2 sticks butter
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup molasses
1 cup King syrup (or light corn syrup)
1 egg, beaten
2 cups boiling water
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
accompaniment: whipped cream

Using your hands, blend together the butter, brown sugar, and flours till you have a sandy, crumbly mixture. Set aside two cups of the crumbs to use for the topping. Press the remaining crumbs firmly (but not too firmly—I pressed mine down fairly hard, then raked the uppermost part of the crust with a fork to loosen the crumbs back up and then lightly pressed them down again) into the bottom of a greased 9 x 13 pan.

Thoroughly combine the molasses, syrup, and beaten egg. Add the boiling water, salt, and baking soda and stir well. Pour the liquid mixture over the crust. Sprinkle the reserved crumbs over top.

Bake the cake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes. Because the bottom part remains gooey, it does no good to check it with a toothpick—you’ll know it’s done when the top is set and the cake is pulling away from the edges of the pan just a bit.

Serve warm or at room temperature, with plenty of whipped cream.

About one year ago: Nana’s Anise Biscotti


  • marie

    My grandparents were Mennonite, and so we had shoo fly pie as a kid, and no, I didn't like it very much at the time, but now I miss it! I think it's our tastebuds getting older and needing stronger flavors. Btw, here is how my family went: grandparents Mennonite turned Methodist, Parents Catholic turned Episcopal, and me turned Muslim, but in my mind none of them is really thst different! Love God, love people, do good.

  • Janet

    I'm a non-Mennonite who grew up with shoofly; my mother was born and raised til the age of 14 or so in Lancaster, PA. SO going to make this cake SOON!

  • Marie M.

    1. I am not a Mennonite.
    2. I don't know what a "covering" is/means. Any pictures?
    3. I've never tried a Shoofly pie. I think I'd like to try one . . . but if it is like the overly-sweet sticky glop one gets in some Pecan Pies, I'll pass.
    4. I am mystified by the 1/2 egg trick. Are you talking about a raw egg? Is there a YouTube video? My trick: I break the egg open. Put in small bowl and scramble. Measure out two tablespoons. There are 4 tablespoons of egg in an extra large egg, 2 Tbs. in small egg. Works for me.

  • Anonymous

    I'm not mennonite, but married someone who grew up BIC (Brethren in Christ) which is apparently some kind of close relative. His family is PA Dutch, anyway. And he LOVES shoo-fly pie. I'm going to try this cake for his birthday, and I think I'll use 1 and 1/2 cups molasses and make the other half cup maple syrup. As for my opinion of shoofly pie…I'll take the dry-bottom kind and I'll definitely take a shoo-fly cake, but I've learned my lesson on the wet-bottomed kind: pass.

  • Amy

    I've never had shoofly pie or cake but I llllloooovvveee molasses cookies, but I don't see why I wouldn't love it, too!

    I wonder if my kids would like it….hmm…

  • Kris

    I am Mennonite, all the ancestors whose names can be known were Mennonite and yet I didn't grow up with shoofly pie, though I knew what it was and liked it, preferably dark and moist. Truth be told, I didn't grow up with very many pies at all, since my mom disliked making pie crusts.

    As for me, I am SURE that I like shoofly pie with blackstrap molasses and maple syrup. And whipped cream.

    And I like molasses (again, blackstrap) on cottage cheese. That, I grew up with. (Oh, more truth-telling: I grew up with sorghum molasses on store-bought cottage cheese. These days I prefer blackstrap on my homemade variety.)

  • Jennifer Jo

    Well, the sugar in the shoofly sure did bring out the sweetness in you all. Such kind comments—thank you! And to all you new people, thanks bunches for speaking up—one of the best parts of blogging is learning who my readers are.

    I am relieved to learn that people can learn to like shoofly—I will continue with the molasses indoctrination of my progeny.

    You who never ate shoofly with whipped cream? You poor, deprived souls! Whipped cream is PERFECT with shoofly.

    Aunt Valerie, You mean to tell me you don't cut your eggs in half like that? What's wrong with you? Where WERE you when they taught the lesson on egg splicing?

    Tori, Pecan pie without the pecans would be just like shoofly pie … but without the molasses. Add molasses to a pecanless pecan pie, and you're getting close (but minus the cake-y part). Are you following me?

  • Anonymous

    I was raised Baptist in a Catholic/Jewish neighborhood. Needless to say, my life adventured into some interesting food concoctions and I don't have a problem tasting just about anything served on a dish. During a 27-year sojourn in Georgia I ran into shoofly pie several times in several variations. I honestly appreciated each one. But then, I'm a molasses addict.

    While I'm here I have to say that your blog has a very calming, feet-back-in-reality effect on me. I'm glad you write almost every day. Don't give up. You never know who's lurking and gleaning.

  • Anonymous

    If you really want to play the Mennonite game (or not) explain how some of your first cousins are also your third cousins.

    Did I miss the joke or am I ignorant about how a Mennonite splits an egg in half.

    I along with all my clan just love shoofly pie. Except for the baby that is. I didn't grow up eating it though.

    Aunt V.

  • It's me ...Mavis

    I'm not a Mennonite and I have never had shoo fly pie… but I have OCD… does that count for anything? I was thinking about making this but then decided to save myself some time & instead will add it to my ever growing list of "to do/to eat" things while in Virginia…See what you've gotten yourself into?

  • Anonymous

    I am Mennonite and I DO NOT LIKE SHOOFLY PIE! I did not grow up with it (I grew up a GC Mennonite, so there!) and did not like the first time I tried it. I do not like it for breakfast. I do not like it for dessert. Not with a fox, not in a box! I DO NOT LIKE IT, Sam I am!
    However, having said all that, I DO like molasses and I DO like whip cream, so I just MAY like shoofly CAKE. I'll have to try it sometime and let you know!

  • Tori

    I'm Tori, aka Little Miss Lawyer Pants, friend of Mavis. I've really enjoyed reading your blog since I discovered it through hers.

    I'm a West Coast heathen, never baptized into any religion – but I did do three years hard time at Catholic High School. I never even HEARD of shoo fly pie until I was an adult.

    I've still never had it, but want to try it, and maybe now I will. I always thought pecan pie would be better without the pecans, and thought (hoped) maybe that's what shoo fly pie was like?

  • Anonymous

    I too found your blog from Thy Hand whose blog was recommended to me by someone who knows her. I love reading both of your blogs, about all your recipes, children, gardening, etc!

    (I'm the wife of an AMBS student, a former BCHS and GC student, therefore, I too can play the Mennonite Game and the acronym game and come from a looooong liniage of Amish and Mennonites. 🙂

    I never had shoofly pie until just a few years ago. I love it. I love molasses cookies (which I grew up with) and I love molasses in most any forms. And I'm going to love this cake once I make it, I'm sure of it!

    Thanks for sharing your blog! -erin

  • Mark Roth

    I'm a Mennonite (probably of the kind your aforementioned Grandfather was).

    I don't like shoofly pie.

    You may eat my portion today. Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    /Jodi steps up to the mike, takes a deep breath

    I'll confess. I'm Mennonite. And I really, really do not like shoofly pie. Shelby loves it, so he bakes it for himself (and for the Relief Sale most years). And only one of our kids likes it so far–not a great track record. It's probably my fault. /sigh

  • amanda maust

    I'm Mennonite! I'm out here!

    I found your blog off of my good friend Valerie's blog (the More with Less one) and have been enjoying reading about your cooking, family and adventures in life.

    I grew up eating Shoofly pie although my mother rarely made it. My next door neighbor always made a to-die-for shoofly pie every year for us for Christmas. I don't typically eat it with whip cream but rather with icecream or just plain with a nice cup of coffee. I am definitely a fan of the dark goey pie and don't even mess around wasting calories on a dry cakey one.

    I have some molasses sitting around that needs to be used and think I may just make a shoofly pie this evening. I live in the DRCongo and know that no one here has had it before, so I just may need to invite the neighbors over for a taste!

    Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Rosanna

    Cake looks amazing!

    To answer your questions from my own experience:

    My Episcopalian boyfriend, who did not grow up with shoofly pie, loved it the first time I made it.

    My Jewish housemates, who did not grow up with shoofly pie, loved it the first time, too. They even needed the recipe. But most non-Mennonites I've served politely avoid it.

    I'm sure I know Mennonites who don't like shoofly pie, but maybe they're shy about it around me!

  • You Can Call Me Jane

    I am Mennonite. I have always liked shoofly pie. As an adult, I have discovered I prefer shoofly cake. I have a recipe we love, but your version above appears to resemble true shoofly pie more than my cake recipe.

    A side note: I've never had shoofly with whipped cream on top. Interesting:-).

    A side question: How in the world can you bake up so many sweets and not have to roll yourself from room to room?!

  • Jess

    I don't know which (if any) questions this answers, but I grew up Mennonite (in Iowa), but never tasted shoofly pie until college. I don't think I liked it the first time I tried it, but I think the version I tried was too dry and tasteless. I've had it since then (but only a couple times), and I'm pretty sure I liked it. I love molasses and I love pie, so perfect combo!

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