Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Who Made The Whoopie Pie?

From the Wall Street Journal:
At the weekly Root's Country Market here in Pennsylvania Dutch country, everyone seems sweet on whoopie pies.

The frosting-filled, hamburger-size sandwiches sell like crazy. More than 1,000 are sold at the Burkhart's Bakery stand every day it's open.

"They originated here," says owner Judy Burkhart.

The whoopie lobby in Maine begs to differ. Though better known for blueberries and lobster, Maine is hoping to lay claim to the pies with a proposal to anoint them the official state dessert. A legislative committee may vote on it Monday.

The result is an interstate whoopie pie fight.

"Save Our Whoopie!" reads a digital petition and video posted last week on the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention & Visitors Bureau's website. It calls the Maine bill a "confectionary larceny."

There's more than just state pride at stake. Whoopies are a whopping business, having spread from mom-and-pop shops in Pennsylvania and Maine to Whole Foods and Harrods in London. They have become staples at bakeries and grocery stores in New York.

Here in Lancaster County, everyone has heard pretty much the same story, which may just be a rural legend: Amish mothers plopped leftover chocolate-cake batter into the oven, filled the result with icing and the whoopie was born. The practical pies were easily transportable for farmers in the field and children at school.

And the name? "The Amish moms used to put the whoopie pies in the children's lunches and when they found them they would yell 'Whoopie!'" says Deryl Stoltzfus, general manager at Hershey Farm Restaurant & Inn in Ronks, home to the annual whoopie-pie festival, in which 20,000 whoopies are made in 100 flavors on the big day, including one 240-pound pie.

"We sincerely believe the Amish came up with it," he says.

Don't tell that to Amos Orcutt, founder of the Maine Whoopie Pie Association and chief lobbyist for the Maine legislation. Mr. Orcutt started lobbying to make the pies Maine's state dessert when he read a newspaper article two years ago that suggested whoopies came from Pennsylvania.

"I was appalled and aghast," says Mr. Orcutt, who grew up in Maine and had heard stories about whoopie pies for decades.

He formed the Whoopie Pie Association. "No one was leading the charge for the Maine whoopie pie," he says...

According to the Food Timeline, an independent research project created by reference librarian Lynne Olver, whoopie pies are the descendants of cream-filled sandwich cakes popular in the Victorian era in many European countries. Chocolate-cake variations became popular in the late-19th and early-20th century.

There are differences between the Maine and Pennsylvania whoopies. In Lancaster County, the traditional filling flavor is vanilla, and it is usually made of shortening and sugar. Operations are small and the pies are distributed mostly regionally.

In Maine, marshmallow is sometimes used in the filling, though recipes vary.

Maine has some large industrialized manufacturers, including LaBree's Bakery in Old Town, where more than 100,000 whoopies are pumped out several times a week.

Amy Bouchard's whoopies have been featured on Oprah and are sold at Wicked Whoopies, two whoopie-only bakeries in Maine. Her business, Isamax Snacks, was No. 3,984 in Inc. magazine's top 5,000 fastest-growing companies last year. It grew 33% in three years, mostly fueled by whoopie pies, says Ms. Bouchard.

"Pennsylvania, they have the Shoofly pie," she says, "and if I were them, I would grab on to the Hershey bar."

Nancy Griffin, author of the 2010 "Making Whoopies: The Official Whoopie Pie Book," said she was determined to find the true origin of the whoopie.

The first documented evidence she could find was in neither state. It was from Barry Popik, a Texas researcher who edits a website on the origins of words. His site traces the pies to a 1931 ad in a Syracuse, N.Y., newspaper advertising a five cent "Berwick whoopee pie" made at the now defunct Berwick Cake Co. in Roxbury, Mass. In 1932, The Bedford Gazette in Pennsylvania ran an ad for Washington Bakery for "whoopee pie."

Because whoopie is a catchy name, food historians believe it must have been coined commercially. Ms. Griffin, however, says the name was derived not from the yelps of glee of Amish children but, probably, from a 1928 show tune.

"It is believed they really got their name from the Gus Kahn song" and a popular term used at the time to get around Hollywood censors, says Ms. Griffin. It was called: "Makin' Whoopee."

Bakin' Whoopie: A Pie Fight Starts Over a Cream-Filled Cake
FEBRUARY 14, 2011

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