Whoopie pies: Maine treat or Lancaster Co. delight?

Whoopie pies: Round small chocolate cakes with cream filling, are the subject of a Maine-Pennsylvania tug-of-war.
Whoopie pies: Round small chocolate cakes with cream filling, are the subject of a Maine-Pennsylvania tug-of-war.
Posted: February 16, 2011

Call it a confectionary controversy, a dessert dilemma, a sweet-treat sacrilege.

The good people of Maine are trying to claim whoopie pies as their own, with statehouse legislation pending to make it the "state treat."

Only, they're not from Maine, declared Joel Cliff, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau.

They're from Lancaster County.

"The whoopie pie originates from here, from the Amish culture," he said. "We're very comfortable with our position on it."

The controversy has garnered national and international news coverage. Down here, at SaveOurWhoopie. com, the Convention and Visitors Bureau has an online petition against Maine's "confectionary larceny."

Up north, the folks at the Maine Whoopie Pie Association urge compromise and stress that they're a "peaceful group." All the publicity amazes Maine state Rep. Paul Davis, who sponsored the legislation.

"It's just been unbelievable the amount of attention this little bill has gotten," he said. "I never dreamed the whoopie pie would be so important to so many people."

A whoopie pie is basically two pieces of cake sandwiching cream, and is similar to a Devil Dog or a Moon Pie.

"I love it because it's a well-designed icing delivery device," said Lindsey Chiccone, owner of Philadelphia-based coco love homemade, which sells about 1,000 whoopie pies a week. "It's just the best cupcake reinvention ever."

An Amish-inspired origin story has it that some snowbound women found themselves with extra cake, so they decided to bake it on flat pans and make sandwiches with the frosting.

Where the name comes from is just one of the disputes. One Amish legend has it that farmers and schoolchildren would shout, "Whoopie!" when they found the treats in their lunchpails.

Others say that the name is clearly commercially coined, perhaps coming from the 1920s-era showtune, "Makin' Whoopee!"

"It's a jazzy product name," said Sandy Oliver, a Maine-based food historian.

Traditional whoopie pies are made with chocolate cake and have white filling, but more than 100 varieties are available at the annual Whoopie Pie Festival, hosted at Hershey Farm Restaurant & Inn, said Festival manager Anne Faix. Now in its sixth year, it draws about 2,500 people.

Faix doesn't think that Maine's move for sugary superiority will hurt the event. "Lancaster County doesn't need legislation to have it say that it's their whoopie pie," she said.

Davis said that he expects the "state treat" legislation to sail through the Maine House and Senate in the next month. ("State dessert" was the original appellation, but it was dropped after complaints from the blueberry pie lobby.)

In part, Davis said, he sponsored the bill because his district includes Dover-Foxcroft, a town that this year hosted its third annual Whoopie Pie Festival.

"I didn't mean to offend my friends in Pennsylvania," Davis said. "They think we're taking their whoopie."

He was also urged to create the bill by Amos Orcutt, founder of the Maine Whoopie Pie Association, which represents about 60 confectionaries.

"Maine has some very unique food stuffs and we should promote them," said Orcutt. "It's pride. It's tradition. It's our history."

By his accounting, Pennsylvania doesn't have any written accounts of the whoopie pie that go beyond the 1960s. Meanwhile, a Maine bakery, Labadie's, in Lewiston, has documentation that it was baking them as early as 1925.

Orcutt said that one of his state's largest whoopie-pie producers frequently exports to the Keystone State.

"I know the Pennsylvania folks are really eating the Maine whoopie pie," he said.

Oliver traces the treat to another Maine-based bakery, Berwick Baking Co., in the 1920s. She believes that they developed as an answer to Drake's Devil Dogs.

But she doesn't discredit the idea that the Amish developed the treat about the same time.

"The real moral of the story is, there's no such thing as an invention story when it comes to food," she said.

Last month, a tongue-in-cheek editorial in Harrisburg's Patriot-News called for Gov. Corbett to take up the whoopie-pie's cause.

"Pennsylvania must show other states they can't mess with our fatty foods" the editorial reads. "If we don't, what's to stop New Mexico from making the cheesesteak its official sandwich or Idaho from snatching up all the glory from scrapple? In the end, it's a matter of both pie and state pride."

Cliff, of the Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau, doesn't necessarily expect or want the state government to take any official steps to recognize the whoopie pie.

"We know where it comes from," Cliff said. "It's not going anywhere, officially. We figure there's enough whoopie-pie celebration to go around."

Lancaster County may not have the written records that Maine claims, but it has an oral history of whoopie pies that goes back generations, said Brad Igou, president of the Amish Experience, at Plain and Fancy Farm, in Lancaster County. He's talked with people in their 90s who have memories of enjoying the snacks.

"Obviously, people who were just cooking for their families were not going to write down, 'Today I invented a whoopie pie,' " Igou said. "Still, in all fairness, I don't think anyone can lay a claim to having invented them."

Don't expect the Amish to be up in arms about this. "It's not even on their radar," he said.

"It's probably a good example of something a little silly we English people are fixating on."

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