August 31, 2011
Last week I went to Maine for a long weekend that turned into a very short one. With the Irene forecasts looking dire for the Northeast, my husband and I decided to drive home to the Adirondacks on Saturday, a day early. (As it turned out, the storm was much worse in our mountain town than along the coast.)
The compressed itinerary meant I had less than 36 hours to achieve my gastronomic goals: to eat as much lobster and other fresh seafood as possible and to try a whoopie pie. The whoopie pie—not so much a pie as a cakey chocolate cookie-and-frosting sandwich—is now the official treat of Maine, as of an April act of the state legislature.
The declaration was not without its detractors. On the one hand was the “Hey, what about wild blueberry pie?” lobby, who successfully convinced the legislature to change the wording from “official state dessert” to “official state treat;” the former honor was then rightly bestowed on the state’s other ubiquitous baked good. Then there was the “Doesn’t the state legislature have anything better to do?” contingent, including the governor, who refused to sign the bill.
Whoopie pies were a topic of debate even before the bill was introduced, and the controversy over their birthplace has heated up in the last few years as the previously obscure goodies have begun attracting more recognition. In 2009, The New York Times reported on their sudden appearance in such cupcake emporia as the famed Magnolia Bakery.
Now they’ve become the Facebook of the pastry world—everyone wants a piece of the pie. According to Making Whoopies: The Official Whoopie Pie Book, Pennsylvanians and Bostonians (in true Winklevoss fashion) also lay claim to the invention. Some food historians see credence, in particular, in the assertion that the treat originated with Pennsylvania Dutch women who packed them in lunch boxes. Whatever their origin, whoopie pies are now firmly ensconced in the culinary repertoire of Maine, along with lobster rolls, shore dinners and, yes, blueberry pie.
The biggest question of all—at least where I was concerned—was how the pie got its name. The story appears to be simply that it comes from the overjoyed exclamations of children upon receiving the treat. What is it with American desserts and goofy names? (S’mores, I’m talking to you.) The alternate name for whoopie pies in Pennsylvania is gobs, which I’m not sure is any better.
As for my first whoopie pie experience—it was pretty good, though I somehow managed to stifle any exclamations.
Sign up for our free email newsletter and receive the best stories from Smithsonian.com each week.