Shoofly pie, don’t bother me in West Virginia

By Candace Nelson - 5:08 PM


My latest column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail:

West Virginia often joins other states listed under headlines like, “The Most-Iconic Food in Every State,” “The 50 Foods Each State is Known For” and “The One Must-Eat Food in Every State.”

Each time I see one of these listicles, I quickly click through the website’s slideshow, passing by Georgia and Virginia, until about slide 48 to see what condiment, candy or Superbowl food West Virginia is most like.

(It’s Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing, Oreos and buffalo chicken dip, respectively.)

Discovering West Virginia’s representation via food is intriguing because, whether scientific or not, the results often speak to preferences of the general population. It’s always fascinating to see if the results align with my personal preferences. Mentally, I give a nod of approval or shake my head and think of a better option than the one the writer chose.

What do you think of these?

Favorite Fast-Food Burger: Five Guys’ Bacon Cheeseburger (Mental Floss). OK.
Most Popular Grocery Store: Kroger (MSN). Absolutely!
Most Popular Liquor: Jack Daniels (Business Insider). I can see that.
If Every State Had An Official Dessert: Shoofly Pie. Wait, what?

Slate published a piece titled “The United Sweets of America: If every state had an official dessert, what would it be?” years ago, and it continues to be recirculated and shared in various formats across the web.

And West Virginia was awarded shoofly pie. Here’s their explanation:

“Shoofly pie is a colorful name for molasses pie. It seems to have been invented, like so many other desserts, by the Pennsylvania Dutch, but molasses is a beloved ingredient throughout Appalachia, as evidenced by the West Virginia Molasses Festival, held annually in Arnoldsburg, West Virginia, since 1967.”

To me, that seems a better fitting for ... well ... Pennsylvania (they received “banana split,” by the way). I admit, determining West Virginia’s signature dessert is no easy task, as I’ve explored this topic before. But, nonetheless, this designation piqued my interest. I had never heard of shoofly pie, so I turned to Saveur for guidance:

“Shoofly pie — a molasses-filled, crumb-topped concoction from Pennsylvania Dutch country — was supposedly given its name because its shiny, sweet, and aromatic filling attracted flies that needed to be politely asked to leave. The pie, which is sprinkled with buttery crumbs that sink into the molasses and give it a cakelike consistency when baked, is classically served one of two ways: ‘wet bottom’ (cakelike up top and still fudgy below) or ‘dry bottom’ (cakelike throughout).”

I made a mental note to pick one up if I ever saw one for sale. And, that resolution recently came to fruition.

A few weeks ago, I placed an online order with the Turnrow Appalachian Farm Collective, an online farmers market that features locally grown food from producers across Southern West Virginia. Among the offerings was shoofly pie from Ronceverte-based Walnut Hollow Farm. I quickly added one pie to my cart, checked out, and picked up my purchase at Capitol Market — one of the delivery spots — a few days later.

So, I discovered I like Shoofly pie.

It’s tasty. This one had a delightfully fudgy bottom, with a light, airy filling. The slightly salty crust provided an excellent contrast. It was perfect with a glass of milk.

Does it embody West Virginia? I can see an argument based on one that incorporates sorghum molasses. But, otherwise, not so much.

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