Or whoopee pies (with -ee instead of -ie), as they used to be known.
By either name, they aren’t pies, of course; most places classify them as either cakes or cookies. I’m leaning toward pastries, myself, although the advertisement to the left from the April 29, 1932 edition of the Bedford (Pennsylvania) Gazette has an even more accurate description: “a chocolate cake sandwich.”
To elaborate on that description, a Whoopie Pie is a pair of cookie-shaped mounds of (traditionally chocolate) cake, stuck together by a vanilla buttercream frosting that’s frequently made with marshmallow creme.
The name seems to emerge between 1925 and 1930, apocryphally because men who found them in their lunchboxes would exclaim, “whoopie!” That’s about the extent of the agreement on the topic, because Pennsylvania, Maine, and Massachusetts all claim some piece of ownership of the whoopie pie… pie.
Whoopie pies by Didriks, on Flickr (CC license) (cropped). Original from the Dinner Series blog: 2011 New England Dessert Showcase. Didriks is a housewares company in Cambridge, Massachusetts; the Dinner Series blog is designed to showcase how their products look and feel in actual use. Given their location, I bet their plates have seen more than a few Whoopie Pies.
For its part, Pennsylvania seems determined to connect the whoopie pie to Amish bakers. Lancaster county claims to be the birthplace of the whoopie pie. It’s possible, but with an asterisk, I think; if this did originate with the Pennsylvania Dutch, it came with some interaction from other, local culinary traditions.
When you look at a list of Amish desserts–funnel cake, apple pie, shoofly pie, sugar cakes, coffee cakes–it’s not as if there’s lots of icing laying around. It’s hard to imagine an Amish baker developing the whoopie pie and saying, “Well, this filling is fantastic. Let’s never use it again on anything, ever, at all, anywhere, ever.”
Supporters of a Maine origin claim that the still-working Labadie’s Bakery has made whoopie pies since 1925. What’s most notable about this claim is the total absence of any kind of documentation of that fact. No newspaper mentions, no references in books–if Labadie’s Bakery has made these treats since 1925, the most notable thing about their participation is that nobody thought it was worth writing about.
What about bakery records? Well, they were lost in a fire. Hmm.
So what about Massachusetts, where our box is from? Certainly, the pies with marshmallow creme are likely to originate there, just like the origin of the most famous brand of marshmallow creme. (We talked about the history of Marshmallow Fluff in the post for Never Fail Chocolate Fudge from River Forest, Illinois.)
The earliest mention of “whoopie pies” that I’ve been able to find is this advertisement at right, from the June 6, 1931 edition of the Syracuse Herald. And what’s particularly interesting to me about it is the mention of devil dogs.
You remember devil dogs, right? At least, you remember Drake’s Devil Dogs, right?
June 25, 1927 The Bridgeport (Connecticut) Telegram
Drake’s says its Devil Dogs debuted in 1923. Meanwhile, the advertisement for Boston’s Berwick bakery says in 1927 that theirs are the original. So who is right?
It’s actually possible that they’re both the original. In 1926, the trademark “Devil Dogs” for cakes was registered by the S. Gumpert Co. While Gumpert’s operations moved to Canada in 1930, they’re still in the same business they’ve been in since the 19th century: selling ingredients to bakeries and ice cream makers. For example, cream fillings.
S. Gumpert Co. owned the Devil Dogs trademark until 1979, when it was bought by Borden, then assigned to the Continental Baking Company, the manufacturers of Wonder bread, who assigned it to Drake’s Bakeries in 1987. So if S. Gumpert was the real owner of the Devil Dogs trademark, then they also had the ability to license it to multiple bakeries–presumably ones that purchased their cream fillings.
This means that the Berwick Cake Co. not only had a product that looks like a direct ancestor of the Whoopie pie–it had a strong incentive to develop its own product that didn’t require it to license the name and purchase ingredients from a third party. It was also in a location where it was likely to have access to marshmallow creme–the same state where it was first commercialized.
Draw your own conclusions, but if I was a betting man, I’d bet that Massachusetts is home to the Whoopie Pie.
From the box of J.L. from Westborough, Massachusetts.
2 cups unsifted flour
1 tsp. soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup cocoa
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup salad oil (such as Wesson)
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 cup milk
Mix together first 5 ingredients, then add remaining ingredients. Beat all together.
Drop by tablespoon onto greased cookie sheet. Leave room for spreading. Bake in 350 deg. oven for 12 minutes. Put together with filling.
1 stick margarine
1 cup confectioners sugar
3 heaping tablespoons marshmallow fluff
1 tsp. vanilla