We work in a little town that’s renown in a number of ways. First, there’s its name, which we’ve become pretty immune to. Once you’ve attended lots of conventions with your badge identifying your location as “Intercourse, Pennsylvania,” and then survived untold numbers of snickers and snorts, you get sort of toughened up and weary of it all.
That is not true of the first-timers to our area. Many mornings as I drive into work, I spot yet another visitor standing next to the entrance sign to our village, while being photographed for the unbelieving folks back home.
That may be the first, most obvious thing about our town. But the number of Amish in this township quickly distinguishes it, too.
The Amish presence accounts for two other unusual facts in this area. A strong proportion of the local population has had only eight years of formal schooling (but extensive “vocational” training in farming, homemaking, and the trades). And a solidly large percentage of the residents are tri-lingual, knowing English, Pennsylvania Dutch, and German.
One of the most fun weekends of the year in Intercourse, and in Leacock Township where it’s located, is the one just past (the 3rd weekend in June), when the community celebrates its anniversary. This year was its 257th. It feels like every single resident shows up at the community park—whether Amish or “English” (the Amish word for those people who use English as their first language)—and has a great time socializing for 2½ days.
There’s always a volleyball tournament with four or five games going at the same time.
And, of course, the supportive onlookers.
There’s also quilting…
…a candy drop…
…and expectant kids
A fireworks show ends the day on Saturday. Oh, and, did we mention the food? Sausage sandwiches, soft pretzels, french fries, homemade ice cream…
It is one wonderful time, and we give thanks for such good neighbors.
Things start off Friday evening with the “Food Showcase.” This year included the “4th Annual Shoofly Pie Baking Contest”—and our staff member Jan was one of the judges.
Too bad about the name of this pie. But then, like our town’s name, you aren’t likely to forget it. How did the pie get its name? I’m guessing that when one of these pies was set on the windowsill to cool, some nearby child was asked to keep the flies away from its gooey sweetness. And the slightly bored little person started chanting, “Shoo, fly. Shoo, fly.” And so it stuck.
Anyway, it’s a beloved pie and has a long history here.
Jan was on a hunt for the best traditional shoofly pie on Friday evening in the park. “We were to judge 3 aspects—taste, crust, and appearance,” she explained.
“All of the 14 pies that were entered had a wedge cut out, so we could easily see a cross-section of each. I like when 3 distinct layers sit on top of the crust: a deep, gooey bottom; a cakey middle; and a light dusting of crumbs on top.”
Those bakers that tried to gussy up the traditional ingredients ran into trouble on Jan’s score sheet. “One pie had dried cranberries, chocolate chips, and pecans on top. That was too fussy for me.
“Another used blackstrap molasses in the gooey bottom, and that looked and tasted like tar. One baker experimented with adding nutmeg and cinnamon but went way over-board with the nutmeg.
“After sampling 14 different pies, I decided that nobody had improved on the traditional favorite. My best scorer had a definite wet bottom that was not sickeningly sweet. She had figured out the right kind of molasses and whether to use light or dark brown sugar. The cakey layer had risen gently, thanks to her subtle use of baking soda. And she had put just the right amount of crumbs on top, rather than trying to make the pie look high by padding it with extra crumbs that become like sawdust when you try to eat them!”
In case you didn’t make it to the Intercourse Community Park last Friday evening, here’s one traditional Shoofly Pie recipe, given to me by a local Amish cook.
from The Best of Amish Cooking, page 124
Makes 1 9” pie
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Baking Time: 55-60 minutes
1 cup flour
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1 Tbsp. shortening
1. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, mix flour and brown sugar together.
2. Using a pastry cutter, or two table knives, cut shortening into dry ingredients until small crumbs (like peas) form.
3. Take out ½ cup crumbs and set aside.
Wet Bottom and Cakey Part:
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 cup molasses
1 cup boiling water, divided
1 tsp. baking soda
1 9” unbaked pie crust
1. To larger portion of crumb mixture, add egg and molasses.
2. Blend in ¾ cup boiling water.
3. Place remaining boiling water in a small mixing bowl. Stir in baking soda until dissolved.
4. Stir into batter.
5. Pour batter into pie crust.
6. Sprinkle reserved crumbs on top.
7. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes.
8. Reduce heat to 350 degrees. Bake 40-45 minutes longer.
9. Allow to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.
10. If you wish, top with whipped cream or whipped topping, or with ice cream.