Monday, August 13, 2012

The Six Emotions of Shoo-Fly Pie

This is not intended to be a food blog.  I've never intended it to be anything other than an Elizabeth blog.  But I write about food often because it's important to me, it's universal, and it's easy: the ease of writing about food being a result of the first two reasons.  But under the surface it is more than that.

It has been a difficult week.  We have been negotiating for a house and property we very much want.  It seems that every time we reach an agreement on one issue with the seller, like the heads of Hydra two more issues arise.  And in the midst of that we lost a very dear little fur friend.  He had an important role in the Judge family, and his death has left a hole. 

Henry misses his friend.

Tonight, after dinner, Matthew said, "I would really like some pie."

Suddenly, I was picturing the layers of a shoo fly pie. I haven't made one in seven years, but in my mind I saw the sticky pudding layer and the layer like gingerbread topped with a crumbly, streusel layer. I did a mental check of the pantry.  I had everything I needed - molasses, butter, brown sugar.  I even had a pre-made pie crust in the fridge (don't judge).  I jumped up, grabbed my pink mixing bowls, started to break up butter in sugar and flour until it formed course crumbs. 

I was first introduced to shoo fly pie in Lois Lenski's Shoo Fly Girl.  Strawberry Girl may be the Newbery winner, but for me it couldn't compare to the story of the sincere little Amish girl.  I loved the book so much, I begged my mom to make me a shoo fly pie.  The hands-on mom that she is, she was pulling  one out of the oven not long after that.  I'm not sure what I expected, but it certainly wasn't the dark, mostly unfamiliar flavor of molasses.  Disappointed, I finished just one piece.

It wasn't until years later that I made my own shoo fly pie.  It is one of the first things I remember making all on my own - just because I felt like it  By this point, I loved molasses, and this time it did not disappoint.

When we were in college, lonely and tired of trying to figure out how to be adults, Rebekah quietly said to me, "I would love some shoo fly pie right now." 

My jaw dropped.  First, because I never knew Rebekah loved shoo fly pie, and I thought I knew everything about my little sister.  Second, because with startling clarity, I realized I too wanted that simple, comfortable pie.

Tonight I baked one for Matthew and me.  While the warm scent of it filled the kitchen I listed to Beethoven's Seventh and felt strongly.  Not a simple, easy to pin-point feeling.  But the whole kaleidoscope of feelings that comes from living a full life and baking a pie that has a plethora of memories mixed in with the sugar and cinnamon.

I am sad at the death of a sweet dog.
I am happy as I bake pie and listen to Matthew in the other room busy with his lizards.
I am nervous that we might get this house.  Nervous that we might not.
I am lonely for my family still as far away as they were when I was at college.  Only now Rebekah is further away too.
I am in love with the man in the room with the lizards.
And I am grateful. Grateful for my memories and the rich life I have now.

Not everyone likes molasses.  I get that.  But if you haven't had shoo fly pie, give it a try.  If nothing else, it will make your house smell like the safest place in the world. 

Shoo Fly Pie

1 9" inch pie crust

Crumb topping:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon cloves

3/4 cup corn syrup
3/4 cup hot water
1 well beaten egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat the oven to 400. Line a 9 inch pie pan with crust. Mix all the crumb ingredients together until rough crumbs form. Set aside. Combine corn syrup and hot water, then stir in remaining ingredients. Place a third of the crumbs in the pie crust. Pour half the syrup on top of the crumbs. Layer another third of the crumbs, followed by the remaining syrup. Top evenly with remaining crumbs. Bake at 400 for 20 -25 minutes.


  1. Love the post. I have those days too- it's neat how the smell or even the process of making something can be such a familiar comfort. Hang in there. Everything will work out- even if it hurts now and things seem unsettled. Praying that you'll have a great week and that God will give you exactly what you need.

  2. Sorry to hear about your little fur friend, Elizabeth. We have two cats who are in their upper teens and I know we are going to miss them greatly when that day comes. Pets have an ability to burrow right down into your heart.

    We will pray about your house situation too. Someday I will tell you about our house. The Lord definitely worked out the details on this one.

  3. So sorry to hear about your dog, Elizabeth. We need to get together.
    I have been going through a difficult week as well. Uncertainty can be the hardest thing to deal with.

  4. you made me cry! your post about pie made me cry. sweet words.

  5. I LOVE SHOO FLY PIE! I come from Penn-Dutch lines on Grandpa Jim's side so it's officially in my blood. WHEN you get the house, we'll sit in one of those odd rooms eating shoo fly pie and watching the deer...

  6. I love the Lois Lenski books. I am so glad you have happy memories of them and the "disappointing" shoo fly pie.

    1. You have such a gift with words, Liz. I'm so sorry about your little dog. I know that you miss him so much. We love you guys! Hope you get the house!


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