Did I say I wasn’t going to talk much about myself in this blog? Well, as it turns out, I lied. You’re about to discover one of Maine’s darkest secrets. This post goes out to all those tourists who truly believe that Maine’s favorite foods are blueberry pies and lobsters.
A disclaimer: When no dinner invitations are forthcoming, and I’m forced to dust off the stove, I’m more likely to seek inspiration from Patricia Wells and Marcella Hazan than Maine favorite Fanny Farmer, or I open the New York Times and see what Mark Bittman is up to. Or, hey, I order a pizza. But, I grew up in Maine, and have a sweet tooth, and lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Whoopie pies, a treat from my childhood, otherwise definitely an acquired taste, that has gone mainstream (see article
from New York Times).
What’s a Whoopie Pie, you ask? Basically, it is two large chocolate cookies with cream filling between them…or maybe they’re more like small cakes, or muffin tops, but you get the basic idea. Or at least that’s what Whoopie Pies were until Martha Stewart got involved.— but I’m getting ahead of myself.
On my way home, I stopped at the local grocery store to pick up some skim milk and fruit (honest! I mean, the fruit looks so pretty in the glass bowl on the kitchen table). On the store counter were some Whoopie Pies. Huge whoopie pies. Whoopie pies as big as my head, which is very big, containing as it does, all my massive brains. I didn’t buy one (told you I was smart!), but even without taking a bite, the whoopie pie got me all Proust-ed up, unleashing a flood of memory. You’ve been warned, so if you like, you can stop here. But if you do, you’ll miss the recipe at the end of the post.
When I was a little boy, there were no 7-11’s, no Big Apples. I had no idea I’d become a middle age man who started sentences with ‘when I was your age…’. Anyway, there was a little store up the road—I’d go with my father when he went to pick up the newspaper Tyler’s store, couple of gas pumps under leaning porte cochere, Nestle’s sign in the window, and a big red chest cooler filled with glass bottles of soda pop chilling in ice water (yes, children, we called it soda pop), NeHi Orange was my drink—sweet rehearsal for the ice cold gin martini that has supplanted it—and I can remember the thrill of accomplishment, getting the crimped metal cap off by hooking it under the bottle opener built into the cooler (is anyone under forty reading this?). Most of all, I remember the whoopie pies on the counter. I’d beg, I’d stomp my little foot, I’d be generally embarrassing, but I’d usually get my father to spring for the whoopie. And I’d be happy.
Less often, my mother, a superb baker, would make a batch. Two dozen whoopie pies in the house, and only my surprisingly strong little sister to fight for them. My mother would try rationing them, but I’d sneak into the covered container where they were stored, and poor deluded youth, I’d really convince myself that she’d forget that there were 12 and not 10. Um, yeah, and did you see that pig fly? My mother’s, whoopies, like her perfect pie crusts, and delicate jam filled cookies with their perfect edges, were beautiful to look at. And just the slightest, barest hint of crispness at the very edges of the cloud light cookie, just the right sweetness to the filling.
Time passed. I grew up. I saw France. I forsook whoopie pies for dacquoise and apple pie for tarte aux pommes (are we all insufferable snobs in our 20’s, or was it just me?). Whoopie pies were pretty much off the radar, except when city friends visited and would be amazed by the sight of whoopies at the local stores (as in What The Hell is That? ) And so things remained, until Martha Stewart bought a house in the area. For those first couple of summers, she couldn’t get enough Maine. She was everywhere. For awhile it looked as if she’d have to change the magazine’s name to Martha Stewart Maine Living, so full it was with articles about Maine craft, Maine boats, Maine blueberries and Maine picnics. And then, one day, there it was: she’d discovered Whoopie Pies. I’ve never understood how the nice author of the New York Times article (have you read it yet? You’re going to be quizzed) could possibly have wondered in print how the whoopie pie got out of Maine and into the nation. The New York Times is supposed to know these things, for Pete’s sake. It was Martha Stewart’s fault. She unleashed the Whoopie on an unsuspecting public.
Martha Stewart, got all designer with the whoopie pies. Suddenly, it wasn’t just chocolate whoopies, and their quite delicious off spring, the pumpkin whoopie, It was Ginger whoopies with maple cream, it was whoopies with peanut butter cream, oh hell, it was maple whoopies with ginger cream., lemon cream, you name it. Seems to me that somewhere along the line, there was even a blueberry whoopie. Then some nice artisanal bakers (whatever did food writers do before artisanal entered the vocabulary????) got hold of them, made them in cute seashell shapes, packaged them in cute lobster roll container looking packages, with impossible to open (um, I hear…) plastic wrap, elegantly packaged and shipped all over the world. I make fun, but in fact the whoopies made by the nice bakers are out of this world. Click here
for their website:
And that brings us to this morning. Whoopie pies on my mind. I emailed my mother to ask for her recipe for this post. Before I got a chance to say why, she was immediately offering to make me a batch. This is more diabolical than it sounds: My mother’s favorite pastime in old age is telling me how much weight I’ve gained since I was 20. Her second favorite pastime is trying to feed me baked goods so she can continue to enjoy her first favorite pastime. But enough, I can take that up with my analyst. Herewith is the recipe I promised. I was stunned when my mother emailed it (‘what are you going to do with it?’), because it turns out that a major ingredient is…..Crisco! It was Maine, it was the fifties….go ahead, make fun, use butter instead. They won’t be any better. Or at least not as authentic…….
5 tbs. Crisco
1 cup sugar
5 ++ tbs. good cocoa
1 Cup Milk
2 Cups Flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda]
1 tsp. salt
Mix together. Drop by tablespoons full, bake about 12 minutes at 350 degrees. Makes 1 dozen.
3/4 cup Crisco
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
6 tbs. marshmallow fluff (hmmm, it really was the 50’s)
1 tsp. vanilla extract.
Mix together, spread on two cookies, make sandwich.
Be nice, and maybe someday I’ll post the recipe for old fashioned thin, crisp, brown sugar cookies, a treat recipe from our elderly neighbor when I was a child. I’ve never had them anywhere else, and they are astonishing, and they don’t use Crisco. Unless you want to.