Most people think sugar pies like treacle tart and shoofly pie are modern recipes, ultra-indulgences of the sweet tooth born in the industrial age. In fact they’re much older than that. Much. Sugar and molasses pies go back to the earliest days of sugar making in the Middle East. When sugar eventually spread to Europe, Europeans were only too happy to join the sugar pie party, and in time brought their ultra-sweet pastries to the New World.
Looking especially at the treacle tart recipe below you can see echoes of Renaissance cooking: far-eastern spice and a bread crumb binder/thickener. That general approach carries over to shoo-fly pie, though the Germans changed the crumbs to a streusel topping which works just the same or even a little better. Interestingly, it’s thought that while “shoo-fly” is an apt name for a pie filled with sugar and molasses, it’s actually an adaptation of an old German world (exactly which one, nobody seems to know).
Sugar pies just happen to be very handy things for people living in temperate climates, where the winter months once deprived us of both fruit and eggs. These days eggs, butter and cream are commonly added to sugar pies to enrich them. Me, I think the old version are enough of an indulgence as they are!