Where do whoopie pies come from?

I’m venturing into dangerous waters here, I realize that. I’ve already received a few, shall we say insistent emails from Mainers since Friday. Since then I’ve been searching doggedly for historical material on whoopee pies…and have mostly come up empty. Which is not to say I haven’t found plenty of audacious (read: made up) stories about them.

Pennsylvanians claim whoopee pies are the invention of the Pennsylvania Dutch, i.e. Amish, i.e. German-speaking (“Deutsch”) housewives whose husbands shouted “whoopee” on discovering them in their lunch pails. Mainers claim whoopies were invented in a commercial bakery there — probably Labadie’s in Lewsiton — as a result of a kitchen accident/improvisation when a baker recycled some leftover cake batter and frosting. Bostonians are divided into two camps: one the one hand are those who say whoopies were first made by the Berwick Cake Company in Roxbury. On the other, those who claim they first appeared in the Durkee-Mower Yummy Book cookbook, which was used to promote their product Marshmallow Fluff back in the day.

Everyone who has a side in this debate seems equally emphatic. The problem is there’s no written documentation to back up any of these stories. According to Nancy B. over at Kitchen Lane, the first whoopee pies didn’t appear in print in Pennsylvania until the 1960’s. A fire destroyed the original Labadie’s — and all their written records — around 1970. The Berwick Cake Company’s claim can’t be corroborated and the Durkee-Mower company flatly denies ever publishing a whoopie pie recipe until the 70’s.

So it seems there really is no definitive proof anywhere. I have no authority to judge the dispute. However I will say, just from looking at the whoopie pie, that I believe it to be of German/Polish origin. Northern Europeans are dairying peoples, and they have a well-known love of cream-filled buns and cakes of this very type. So me, I’m inclined to give the honor to Deutsch of Pennsylvania. Not that there aren’t Germans in Maine or Boston, but Labadie is a French surname and Berwick is British. Call my theory a best guess.

All that’s known for certain is that whoopie pies have been popular in the Pennsylvania and around New England since the 30’s. I dunno, maybe that’s all anyone really needs to know, ya know?

11 thoughts on “Where do whoopie pies come from?”

  1. Yay! I’m glad to hear the PA whoopie pie have won out!

    I admit, I’m slightly biased, since I’m from Lancaster, PA (Swiss-German, Mennonite, the whole shebang).

    Whoopie pies are near and dear to my heart, like shoofly pie and sweet Lebanon Balogna. My recipe’s here: http://bit.ly/dtAgQp

  2. Jennifer Jo, my mother was from Lancaster and introduced us to whoopie pies, shoofly pie, sweet Lebanon bologna, longhorn cheese and Hammond’s Pretzels … what a meal all that would make (with a bit of raw sliced onion for the cheese)! Great topic, Joe!

  3. I can’t give you any documentation either but I do know that my father who went to high school during the 1920s used to talk about his great aunt — who was a fabulous baker — making him whoopie pies that he shared at school in Orono, Maine.

    I am curious about the Labadie bakery. I well recall having baked goods from the LaBree bakery when I summered in Maine in the 50’s. Their chocolate doughnuts were outstanding and had the cakey texture that would lend itself to a whoopie pie perfectly.

  4. Hi Joe,

    There is (or was) some evidence regarding the now defunct Berwick Cake Factory in Roxbury, MA: I went by and actually saw imprinted on the old brick wall the words, “Whoopee! Pies” some years ago. I don’t know if the building is still standing now. One resident I interviewed from West Roxbury said he remembers buying them from there at least as far back as the 1940s. But yes, it’s hard to sort the facts from the fiction–but fun to try!

    1. Hey Nancy! Thanks for stopping by and telling me that. I was wondering what evidence you found in Roxbury. Fascinating.

      – Joe

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