On Sugar Pies

Most people think sugar pies like treacle tart and shoofly pie are modern recipes, ultra-indulgences of the sweet tooth born in the industrial age. In fact they’re much older than that. Much. Sugar and molasses pies go back to the earliest days of sugar making in the Middle East. When sugar eventually spread to Europe, Europeans were only too happy to join the sugar pie party, and in time brought their ultra-sweet pastries to the New World.

Looking especially at the treacle tart recipe below you can see echoes of Renaissance cooking: far-eastern spice and a bread crumb binder/thickener. That general approach carries over to shoo-fly pie, though the Germans changed the crumbs to a streusel topping which works just the same or even a little better. Interestingly, it’s thought that while “shoo-fly” is an apt name for a pie filled with sugar and molasses, it’s actually an adaptation of an old German world (exactly which one, nobody seems to know).

Sugar pies just happen to be very handy things for people living in temperate climates, where the winter months once deprived us of both fruit and eggs. These days eggs, butter and cream are commonly added to sugar pies to enrich them. Me, I think the old version are enough of an indulgence as they are!

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4 Responses to On Sugar Pies

  1. Mary says:

    Mmmm, sugar pie. I love treacle tart, but only with golden syrup, not molasses. However, the sugar pie I make every spring is one with just 3 ingredients in the filling: maple sugar, whipping cream and flour. The result is a very maple-y, not too sweet creamy pie. Here’s an Epicurious link: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Quebec-Maple-Sugar-Pie-14526 Did you talk about maple sugar at all in your sugar series? I only saw the syrup. I worked in a sugarbush one year and love maple in all its forms. My favourite thing was taking my breaks in the boiling shack–think maple sauna.

    • Bronwyn says:

      I agree about the golden syrup. I’ve tried making treacle tart with actual treacle and it’s nowhere near as good.

    • joepastry says:

      Nice, Mary! Thank you.

      I didn’t talk about maple sugar, just about syrup. There are a few things I omitted, like southern “cane syrup”, which most people won’t be able to find. Maple sugar seemed like one of those as well, though I know from experience it’s good stuff. A friend of mine in Michigan had a sugar house on his farm and made it. Delicious.

      - Joe

  2. Ah shoo fly pie. My best memory of the Kutztown fair. We bought an Amish cookbook, but no one ever got around to making it.

    Still haven’t forgotten the pie though, over half a century later.

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