In the early 1970s, I read in the New York Times about a newly published cookbook that I sought out and have treasured ever since.
It is called “The Grass Roots Cookbook,” written by Jean Anderson, at the time a freelance writer and a contributing editor to Family Circle Magazine. If you check Amazon, the “Grass Roots Cookbook” can be yours for $4.19.
Jean Anderson traveled the country, not to visit restaurants but to sit down and talk with real cooks from the heart of America. In her introduction, the author advises that the recipes contained therein were often those she found scribbled on notepaper and passed down from generation to generation. There are no “mixes” or prepared ingredients like “phony whipped cream from an aerosol can.”
There are recipes from the South like sweet corn pudding, country ham with red-eye gravy, and Carolina coleslaw. From the Plains and Southwest, we can learn how to prepare chicken in salsa and creamed shredded cabbage. I have loved making zucchini stuffed with sausage and one of my all-time favorite desserts, Marsala peach pie. Both recipes are from the Napa Valley.
But some of my best-loved recipes in this cookbook originate from an area very close to home—Lancaster County. Anderson offers wonderful recipes from Pennsylvania Dutch country including the very best red beet (pickled) eggs, pea soup with rivels and chicken potpie. But my favorite recipe is for shoo fly pie.
Thanksgiving is coming. Pumpkin pie is a staple on my holiday table. But I always look for additional dessert items, such as cranberry apple pie, pecan pie or a small mince pie, which I love (I am usually alone in that love.) I was thinking that, this year, perhaps shoo fly pie would be perfect. It is arguably sweet but absolutely delicious.
The recipe that follows is what is known as a “wet-bottomed” pie, which means that it has a thick layer of molasses and corn syrup. I have tried many shoo fly pies from various bakeries and farmers markets. Most are dry and more like cake. None is as good as this one.
Lancaster County Shoo Fly Pie
- 1 unbaked 9 inch pie shell (I make my own, but a prepared one is fine)
“Bottom Part” Ingredients
- ¾ cup dark corn syrup
- ¼ cup molasses (I use “light”)
- 1 cup boiling water
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
“Top Part” Ingredients
- 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons cold butter cut into small cubes
- 2/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
- In a medium bowl, combine corn syrup, molasses and water, stir in baking soda.
- Beat a little of the molasses mixture into the beaten egg, then stir back into the mixing bowl.
- With a fork or pastry blender, mix together flour, butter and sugar until the mixture has the texture of coarse crumbs.
- Mix 1 cup of the crumbs into the molasses mixture and pour into the unbaked pie shell. Scatter the remaining crumbs on top.
- Bake in a pre-heated, 400-degree oven for 25 minutes until the crust is lightly browned and the filling puffy.
- Remove from the oven and let cool before cutting.
This pie will fill your kitchen with wonderful fall aromas. It is not a low-calorie dessert and so, if not for Thanksgiving, maybe try it for a soup and salad Sunday night dinner. A little piece is a delight with a cup of tea on a blustery November day. I guess fewer people are doing much of their own baking anymore, based on the lines I see at the bakery. But this pie is not hard to make, and it’s a true taste of Pennsylvania Dutch cuisine.
Let me know if you need a recipe for pickled eggs!