When Chef Jason Lewis, a culinary development chef for Aramark, visited the Pennsylvania Kitchen, we weren’t sure what kinds of dishes he’d bring along to share. After all, Aramark, an innovative global company that provides food to schools, hospitals, ballparks and other large-scale institutions, makes pretty much every kind of cuisine, and we can only imagine that Lewis has access to thousands of recipes. Plus, his professional background is in fine dining, so Lewis also has a deep wealth of knowledge about classical cooking techniques and methods.
What a surprise it was when he brought along the ingredients for one of the most humble, Pennsylvania Dutch home-style specialties: shoofly pie. This sticky-sweet, completely unfussy dessert has deep roots in Pennsylvania’s history. It was originally developed as a crust-less cake called “Centennial Cake,” developed in 1876 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. After Centennial fever passed, bakers began adding the crust to make it less messy — traditionally, it was eaten out of hand at breakfast, alongside a strong cup of coffee (how do we make this a thing again?).
Due to the absence of eggs in most shoofly pie recipes, food historians surmise that it was most often made as a winter treat, when chickens aren’t laying. As baking powder entered home pantries, it was added in, which helped lighten up the pie’s texture … a little. It’s still a dense, moist, rich treat, unapologetically sweet, boasting a unique flavor that, for many Pennsylvanians, is tied to strong childhood memories. Lewis is one of those people — the handwritten recipe he brought to us is actually from his Nana’s recipe box, in her careful writing on an index card. A Gettysburg-area resident, Lewis’ Nana would make shoofly pie often when he was a kid, and we were honored that he wanted to share it with us — and we can’t wait to share it with you!
Watch the video to learn more, and then check out the recipe to try making shoofly pie at home!
- Video and photo: Dish Works