Until a reader who had just finished AWee Christmas Homicide, third book in the Liss MacCrimmon Scottish-American Heritage Mystery Series, wrote to ask me what a whoopie pie was, I had no idea this sweet treat was so rare outside New England. To answer her and others who might not know, I created a whoopie pie page at my website. The photo I used as an illustration was taken of the batch of whoopie pies my sister-in-law made to go with the 2010 Super Bowl.
Lo and behold, come January of 2011, the state legislature began to entertain the notion of making the whoopie pie Maine’s state dessert. As might be expected from a body that can’t agree on how to balance the budget, this quickly turned into a heated debate. Some objected that the blueberry pie was a better candidate. Others objected to glamorizing a product that contained lard as an ingredient.
Then Pennsylvania got into the act and the fur really flew. You see, the good citizens of Lancaster County think they invented the whoopie pie. Harsh words were exchanged. I won’t get into Pennsylvania’s claims and charges, but whoopie pies in Maine date back to at least 1925. Currently there is a Maine Whoopie Pie Festival, held in Dover-Foxcroft. The last one was attended by over 4000 people. There is also a Maine Whoopie Pie Association.
On April 6, 2011, LD71 was passed by the Maine State Legislature. It made the whoopie pie, described as “a baked good made of two cakes with a creamy frosting between them” Maine’s official State Treat. The same bill declared “blueberry pie made with wild Maine blueberries” to be Maine’s official State Dessert.
But wait—the battle isn’t over. Not only is Pennsylvania still disputing Maine’s claim, but even within the state, where you’ll find whoopie pies of all shapes, sizes, and varieties in every store, no one agrees on a recipe. Most whoopie pies are made with chocolate cakes (some call them cookies) holding a white filling, but molasses cookies filled with peanut butter fluff are popular, too.
I mention whoopie pies right at the end of A Wee Christmas Homicide as Liss MacCrimmon is leaving her house to go to Christmas dinner. In her family, whoopie pies are one of the traditional holiday desserts, along with apple and pumpkin pies, just as they are in mine. I’m not much of a baker myself, but with the kind permission of my sister-in-law, Elaine Emerson Smith, who learned to make whoopie pies in Wilton, Maine when she was just a little girl, here is the recipe I like best.
Cream together: 3/4 cup Crisco, 1 1/2 cup sugar, 1 large egg, 1 1/2 tsp vanilla; Sift: 3 cups flour, 2 1/4 tsp baking soda, 3/4 tsp salt, 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp cocoa; Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture, alternating with 1 1/2 cups of milk; Drop on ungreased cookie sheet using Tbsp for size; Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes and let cool. Filling: 1 cup Crisco, 1 cup plus 2 Tbsp confectioner’s sugar, dash of salt, 1 7 oz. jar marshmallow fluff; Whip until light; Spread between two of the cookies above.
Now not everyone makes whoopie pies this way. One reader, after looking at the one above, contacted me with her “traditional New England recipe”:
½ cup shortening, 1 cup sugar, ½ cup cocoa, 1 egg, 1 cup milk, 2 cups flour, 1½ tsp baking soda, ½ tsp baking powder, ½ tsp salt; Cream sugar and shortening. Add egg and cocoa. Alternately blend in 1 cup milk and the remaining dry ingredients. Drop by spoonful on greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degree oven for about 10 min. Cookies are done when the spring back with no indent remaining. Filling: 1½ tbls flour, ½ cup of milk. Blend and cook until thickened and let cool. Cream together ½ cup Crisco, ¼ cup margarine or butter. Add ½ cup of sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Add the cooled flour and milk mixture to this and beat again.
There are many more variations out there, and all of them are yummy. Enjoy!