“Dorie, how’s your pie recipe coming along? Only three weeks until the county fair. No pressure, but since 1934 each generation of Gladfelter women has won a county fair blue ribbon for Shoofly pie. Now it’s your turn. The judges expect a perfect pie, crust and filling. They also enjoy trying to identify the secret ingredient that’s a tradition in our family. Have you decided what you’ll add?”
Dorie deleted the message from her mom Helen. Since she was a toddler, the story of how her great-grandmother, Doretta Gladfelter, won the blue ribbon had been told many times. She was well aware Doretta had baked a Shoofly pie with the lightest, flakiest crust and tastiest molasses filling ever made. The judges, against the rules, each ate two slices to decide why the commonplace pie was so good, but they weren’t able to identify the unknown ingredient. Doretta and her pie became a legend in their region of Pennsylvania. No one was able to duplicate the pie’s extraordinary flavor.
Doretta baked thousands of her Shoofly pies until passing away in her eighties. Every time there was a special occasion in her village, whether a church supper, funeral lunch, or newcomer brunch, she was asked to bake her pie. Villagers were honored to eat the blue-ribbon pie, but also were puzzled about why she had won. Though they never mentioned it to Doretta, everybody thought it tasted like a typical Shoofly pie. She was asked for her secret many times, but no one except her daughter Henrietta was given that information.
When it was time for Henrietta to try for a first-place ribbon, she chose her own additional ingredient. After a few county fair attempts, she at last received the blue ribbon. Henrietta’s daughter Helen took up the challenge and again changed the recipe, for which she won first place. Now it was up to Dorie to carry on the Shoofly pie blue-ribbon tradition.
Why couldn’t she have inherited the Gladfelter baking gene instead of the frizzy, curly hair trait? She thought it would be a miracle if she managed to bake a decent pie, more miraculous if her pie received a ribbon of any color.
She had never baked a pie, but if forced to, her go-to would be a frozen pie crust. She couldn’t even make cookies from Pillsbury refrigerated dough. Her last attempt caught the oven on fire. She forgot to set the timer, forgot the cookies in the oven, and went to the gym. How would she make a pie crust from scratch?
Besides, Dorie hated Shoofly pie with its gummy texture and sickening molasses filling. She had no idea what flavor would complement or disguise the sweetness. Maybe her mom would have some suggestions.
“I don’t remember you ever telling me what great-grandma Gladfelter added to her Shoofly pie to make it the winning entry.”
“Dorie, my mom swore me to secrecy about what Doretta confided about the unique flavor, and I’ve never revealed what I was told. But I can tell you mom used vanilla flavoring, and I used lemon juice. I know you’ll come up with something.”
“Both women are gone now, so I don’t think they would mind if you let me in on the secret.”
“You’re right. I’ll tell you after your pie has been entered at the county fair. And family tradition doesn’t allow you to copy what we added.”
“Fair enough, mom. I’ll have a different recipe. First, I need to learn how to make a good crust. Then, I’ll have a better chance at a good pie.”
Dorie went to social media for advice on pie-baking. Her posts generated plenty of comments.
Why would you want to bake a pie?
Maybe Mrs. Smith can make it.
Does shoofly pie keep the flies away?
The few helpful comments suggested searching Youtube or using a traditional cookbook, which she didn’t own.
Dorie turned to Youtube. She found a video that showed in one minute and forty-six seconds how to make and bake a perfect-looking Shoofly pie. Another video, fifty-two seconds in length, showed the filling being mixed and placed into a pie shell that magically appeared. She did not find a video that walked her through the entire process. The pie crust remained a challenge. After being distracted by cute baby animal videos, Dorie decided, in desperation, to call her mom again.
“Will you show me how to make a pie crust?”
“The only pie crust I ever made from scratch was for the pie that won me the blue ribbon. But I still have the beginner’s cookbook I used. I remember it took a lot of practice until I got the hang of it.”
Dorie couldn’t let the Gladfelter women down. Using Helen’s cookbook and her borrowed food processor, she made crust after crust. By the time she was on her fifth try, she had learned when the recipe said very cold butter she better not use room temperature butter. When the recipe said to pulse the butter and flour until the butter is the size of peas, butter the size of peanuts wasn’t the way to go, even if she was tired of pulsing. Rolling out the dough to form a large circle was another problem. As the dough became thinner, it was almost impossible to peel it up and place it in one piece on the pie plate. Baking the crusts went okay when she remembered to set the timer.
With a week to go, she felt she had the crust perfected. Now she only needed to select her special ingredient. Her aim was to lessen the sweet taste. She had some ideas. Maybe chili peppers. They were often in premium chocolate candy, but the judges might not appreciate that assault on their taste buds. Cinnamon was another possibility. It was a common, tasty spice in many of the baked goods she bought. She experimented with the filling and arrived at her favorite combination of ingredients.
The big day arrived to prepare and take her Shoofly pie to the county fair.
“Mom, will you come with me to drop off the pie. I’m nervous they will be disgusted by my entry. I haven’t told you my recipe. How do I know I didn’t duplicate the original secret ingredient?”
“Believe me, it’s next to impossible you used the same ingredient as your great-grandma. While we wait around for the judges to taste the pies, you can tell me what you used, and I’ll tell you what Doretta used.”
After Dorie’s pie was checked in at the judges’ table, she and her mom left to check out the other Home and Dairy exhibits.
“Okay, what did you use as your secret ingredient?”
“I was torn between hot peppers and cinnamon, finally selected several teaspoons of cinnamon. That’s not what great-grandma used, is it?”
“Not even close. On the day of the pie judging, Doretta was in a rush and placed the pie on an open window sill to quickly cool. When she grabbed the pie to carry to the fair, she saw a trail of ants coming through the open window, up the side of the pie pan, and onto the crust. She brushed them off and left with her pie.”
“So, what did she add to the molasses?”
“I’m getting to that. When she won the blue ribbon, she was as surprised as anyone when her Shoofly pie gained first place. She hadn’t changed the recipe. After some thought, she guessed some ants, unseen by her, must have been in the filling. They probably provided the tangy flavor described by the judges.”
Mom and daughter returned to the pie table to find ribbons distributed among the pies. The ribbon on Dorie’s pie was red, not blue. Her Shoofly pie had won second place.
“Next year I may try for a tangy flavor.”
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This was quite entertaining, I loved the tradition you used. Making a pie can be quite boring, but you waved some magic around and made this to be a compelling tale. I also loved the ending, I felt as if it fit perfectly. I hope you go one to write more.
Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Fyi, I haven't made a pie from scratch in decades!
Hi, Louanne, This is a great story about the familial traditions left on the shoulders of the younger generations. However, life today is much different than it was in the past. The women of today struggle with all their other responsibilities. Thank you for sharing this. Just a few techniques I think you could use to take your writing to the next level: READ the piece OUT LOUD. You will be amazed at the errors you will find as you read. You will be able to identify missing and overused words. It is also possible to catch grammat...
Thank you for your feedback. Yes, the challenge in this story was avoiding repetition of names, pronouns and titles of the ancestors. I will be happy to read one of your stories.
Thank you for reading, and you are welcome. Your story was extremely well-written.