This Little Piggy: Thanksgiving Traditions & A Psalm

Traditions. Most families have them. Especially when it comes to holidays. My family included.

Nary a Thanksgiving went by, growing up, when we didn’t have Shoo Fly Pie. Mom would get out the worn notecard with the recipe written in Grandma Sullivan’s hand and work her magic.

Shoo Fly Pie is an old Pennsylvania Dutch recipe. It’s kind of like pecan pie—but without the nuts—and sawdust pie—but without the dryness. Okay, maybe that didn’t sound too appetizing. Let me try this again: baked into a flaky pie crust is a gooey bottom of molasses goodness topped with moist, brown sugar cakiness and mingled with the spiciness of cloves and cinnamon.

As much as I like Shoo Fly Pie, it’s a bit of a bother to me. Why? Because whenever I make it, it doesn’t turn out quite like “tradition.” Something always goes wrong. Always.

Twenty years ago, I put my first Shoo Fly Pie into the gas oven at my St. John’s Wood apartment in Richmond. I waited. And waited. An hour later, despite heat, the pie was just as jiggly as when I put it in. The mysterious failure haunted me for years. I’ve since mastered brownies, cakes, and other pies, but not Shoo Fly Pie.

Two years ago, I made a Shoo Fly Pie…and even blogged about it. The pie looked beautiful; but as it was cooling and my post was hot off the press, I opened my microwave to find the melted stick of butter that should have been inside the pie. Fortunately, I had used butter-flavored Crisco, so it was actually quite edible. Yet it fell short of tradition.

Grandma Sullivan's Shoo Fly Pie, a Thanksgiving favorite in my family.

(The late) Grandma Sullivan’s Shoo Fly Pie is a Thanksgiving favorite in my family. Shoo Fly Pie is open to interpretation. There are wet-bottom versions and dry-bottom versions. My family’s recipe is a combination of the two—a wet bottom layer with a moist, cake-like (not powdered) consistency throughout and on top. Pictured here is my 2012 attempt—the one where I forgot the butter. Sigh.

A bit down, but not out, I baked a Shoo Fly Pie for Thanksgiving this year. And (again!) something went wrong. Very wrong. Within two minutes of putting the pie gingerly into the oven, I heard a sizzling sound. The pie was spilling over my fluted crust like water over a dam. The oven was filling with smoke. I got creative with the crust, which stopped the deluge but did nothing to quench the brown sugar that was bubbling and burning on the oven floor. I simultaneously scraped the oven clean and baked the pie. (Do not try this at home.) An hour later, a version of Shoo Fly Pie stared up at me from a cooling rack. All in all, it again looked quite edible. How it tastes remains to be seen.


My 2014 version of Shoo Fly Pie, with the doctored up crust. (Double sigh.) But the brown goo around the edges has me hopeful that I achieved the proper balance of wetness, moist cake, and spices.

A bit glum but ever determined, I then rolled out the remaining pie dough and made piggies. That’s another family tradition—a way to use the scraps of dough when making pie crusts. I slathered the dough with butter, sprinkled it with sugar and cinnamon, rolled it into a loaf, and cut it into pieces. Baked at 350 degrees for about twenty minutes, the result was a plate full of cinnamon pigtails. Piggies. 

cinnamon-piggiesPies and piggies are perfectly wonderful Thanksgiving treats and traditions. But things (and this post) need not end there. And so I leave you with a psalm for giving thanks. It’s the second psalm that I memorized as a little girl, and it’s my favorite.

Psalm 100: 1 Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. 2 Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing. 3 Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. 4 Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations.

*- A blessed Thanksgiving to you and yours. -*

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