How Shoo-Fly Pie got its name

2006-03-29T00:00:00Z How Shoo-Fly Pie got its nameBy Max Hitchcock Auburn Citizen
March 29, 2006 12:00 am  • 

A good friend just returned from a visit to Lancaster, Pa. She loved the area and hopes to go back. I was not familiar with Lancaster, so I did a little research.

A trip to Lancaster is like stepping back in time. This is the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country.

The relaxing atmosphere, the peaceful scenery and the variety of its many unique attractions and family activities have made Lancaster County one of America's favorite vacation destinations. I am told that the shopping is great and the food is abundant.

Visit the Lancaster area of Pennsylvania and indulge in many Pennsylvania Dutch original foods. One of those is the Shoo-fly Pie. First time visitors to the area always comment on this pie and its strange name. Most of the area restaurants and bakeries sell this favorite dessert. The pie is more like a coffee cake, with a gooey molasses bottom. Some cooks put chocolate icing on top for a chocolate shoo-fly pie. Some use spices; some don't. Today, the biggest debate is whether to use a flaky or a mealy crust for the pie dough. The bottom of the pie can be thick or barely visible and is referred to as either a “wet bottom” or a “dry bottom.” Everyone agrees the shoo-fly pie is best when slightly warmed and with whipped cream on top.

When the very earliest settlers came to North America by boat, they brought with them the staples of their diet. They carried long-lasting non-perishable items, which would survive a long boat trip. These staples were flour, brown sugar, molasses, lard, salt and spices. Arriving in the new land during late fall, they had to live pretty much on what they had brought with them until the next growing season. The women, being master of the art of “making do,” concocted a pie from what was available.

This resourcefulness led to the creation of shoo-fly pie.

How did they get the name of this pie?

The most logical explanation is related to the fact that during the early years of our country, all baking was done in big outdoor ovens.

Pools of sweet, sticky molasses sometimes formed on the surface of the pie while it was cooling.

This always attracted flies. Thus “Shoo-Fly!” Pie was named.

Shoo-Fly Pie

Mix for crumbs: (reserving 1/2 cup for topping)

2/3 cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon solid shortening

1 cup flour


1 cup molasses (good and thick)

3/4 cup boiling water

1 egg beaten

1 teaspoon baking soda

Combine soda with boiling water, then add egg and syrup. Add crumb mixture (this will be lumpy).

Pour into unbaked pie crust and cover with reserved crumbs. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 35-45 minutes (until firm). When cut into, the bottom may be “wet.” This is okay, and is called a “wet bottom shoo-fly pie.”

This column has been a collaborative effort between Auburn natives chef Max Hitchcock and his mother, Susan Silverman. They can be reached at

Copyright 2015 Auburn Citizen. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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