Thanksgiving Shoo-Fly Pie

Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Art (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Art (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. In fact, if I could have one holiday all year long, I’d take Thanksgiving in a heartbeat. Thanksgiving is a low key celebration of  gratitude marked by a home cooked meal shared by family, which is what, in an ideal world, I think every meal should be. I am drawn to simplicity, and I can always use a reminder to count my blessings. We all can, right?

I am grateful that on Thanksgiving, nobody needs a costume. There are no piles of candy to distribute or midnight egg hiding sessions or gifts to purchase and wrap. Thanksgiving is a holiday that is almost completely ignored by retailers, lost as it is between Big Bird costumes and fake pine garland on the store shelves.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I am grateful for my family and friends. Matt and I had our first conversation on a dorm ski trip to Crested Butte on Thanksgiving 1993 and our first kiss on Thanksgiving 1996. We have roasted turkeys for the various people who enrich our lives every year since. This makes the holiday almost an anniversary for us and provides our kids with lots of old pictures to ridicule. “Why is Daddy’s hair so long? Why is the gravy green? Why are you wearing that dopey hat?”

I am grateful for a menu that is both deeply rooted in tradition and thoroughly soaked in butter. Like a lot of families, we make the same beloved and delicious recipes every year, which means my Aunt Sue’s sticky buns and Matt’s mother’s shoo-fly pie are pretty much obligatory. I hadn’t heard of shoo-fly pie until I met Matt. I hadn’t heard of scrapple, either, having had no reason to explore the regional food traditions of the Pennsylvania Dutch. In case you also haven’t heard of shoo-fly pie, here is a brief history.

When William Penn settled the area, he invited the most persecuted religious groups to come start a colony of tolerance. Mennonites and Amish and others started coming, bringing with them a lot of staple foods that wouldn’t perish aboard the long journey to the new world, like molasses and brown sugar and lard. When they arrived, they had to make do with those things for a while, and they invented shoo-fly pie, which is basically a molasses coffee cake baked into a pie shell. The origins of the name are not proven, but if you’ve ever baked the sticky sweetness that is this pie, you can see how it may have attracted a problematic number of insects in the age before window screens. I am grateful for these people and the traditions (the nation, really) that they left us.

It seems possible that some version of shoo-fly pie might have been around at the first Thanksgiving, or at least, I like to imagine it was.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Shoo-Fly Pie


1/4 cup butter

1 1/2 cup flour

1 cup brown sugar



3/4 tsp. baking soda

1/8 tsp. nutmeg

1/8 tsp. allspice

1/4 tsp. salt

3/4 cup molasses

3/4 cup hot water


Into an unbaked pie shell, combine the crumb part and the liquid part in many alternate layers, starting and ending with crumbs. (Matty’s note: make the bottom layer of crumbs a bit thicker and go light with the liquid in first half). Bake 15 minutes at 450 and 20 minutes at 350.

2 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Shoo-Fly Pie

  1. Yummy! And I, too am a lover of this week’s holiday. I love the cooking, especially the fact that it’s always the same and it smells and tastes so good. I love the fact that there’s no pressure to do anything besides be at home together (well, once we’ve convinced our extended family that yes, we really do want to just have our own quiet celebration at our own house). And I love that there’s so little commercialism involved. Oh, and that I have Wed., Thurs., and Fri. off every year! 🙂 -Amy


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