Jan Norris: Food and Florida

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October: Time for Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

October 4th, 2008 · 3 Comments

Mini whoopie pie from Dawn at Bedner's Fresh Farm Market in Boynton

They sound silly, but these big, fat, soft cookies — reminiscent of a pumpkin bread — are scrumptious and get us in the mood for fall, even though our weather still says summer.
They’re typical in Amish homes this time of year, and in markets in and around Pennsylvania.

The Amish (their cuisine is known as Penn-Dutch) are fabulous cooks — their pickles and preserves are wonderful, as are their luscious desserts — pies, sweet breads, cookies. 

About the Amish

The orthodox Amish eschew modern technology and machinery that runs on electricity. They’re hard workers and live by the land, most of them farmers or carpenters — or both. Originally Anabaptists from Switzerland, they’re a tight-knit community tied together by their faith and their long-held traditions of helping one another as a family.

Diamond in the Square - a traditional Amish quilt

Diamond in the Square, a traditional Amish quilt pattern

In the ’90s, I led a group from my quilter’s guild to Lancaster, Pa., for a national quilt show. Amish quilts are known by their strikingly simple but beautiful patterns, their exquisite handwork, and the pre-arranged flaw somewhere in the design, maybe even a mis-stitch. It’s their way to signify that only God is perfect; man is flawed. It doesn’t stop quilters from admiring their work as some of the best in the world. Particularly sought after are the older dark-colored Diamond on the Square quilts, made from worn black wool and heavy cotton clothing.

I arranged for my group of 28 to dine with an Amish family in their farmhouse on this trip. One of their traditions is “seven sweets and sours” at every meal — these are usually in the form of pickles and spreads. Squash pickles, piccalilli (cabbage and vegetables, all pickled), sauerkraut, cucumber pickles, apple butter, pear preserves — they all added to the simple meal of homemade rolls, pork roast, mashed potatoes, fresh garden vegetables and apple pie  — everything was delicious.

As dark approached, we found ourselves dining by hurricane lamps. The farmwife’s husband lit our way to the waiting charter bus out by the barn where the cows were lowing, and crickets tuning up for the night. With no machine sounds near, it was like a natural symphony — and the night sky filled with stars out in the country made this one of my most memorable meal endings.

Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
2 egg yolks
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups cooked pumpkin (can use canned – not pumpkin pie)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups flour
For filling:
8 ounces cream cheese
1 cup shortening
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 pounds 10X powdered sugar
milk as needed

Beat egg yolks, brown sugar and oil together until smooth. Add pumpkin. Sift together dry ingredients; add gradually to wet mixture. Mix well.
Drop by heaping tablespoon onto a greased cookie sheet, 3 inches apart. Spread slightly with back of spoon. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Cool.
While cookies are baking, mix together filling ingredients in medium bowl. Add milk as needed by the tablespoon for correct spreading consistency — mixture should be thick.
When cookies are cooled, spread the filling between two cookies and form a sandwich.
Depending on the size, you’ll get from 10 to 18 sandwiches.

Tip: These freeze well, and could be used for ice cream sandwiches; replace the filling with slightly softened ice cream (dulce de leche is our favorite; butter pecan or vanilla works well, too).
South Florida baking tip: Our humidity makes these very sticky cookies. Use freezer paper to individually wrap them in; shiny side in.

Tags: Holiday cooking · Recipes: What's Cooking! · Thanksgiving recipes

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 chazpbg // Oct 2, 2008 at 1:28 am

    Whoopie pies!!!

    I discovered them this summer for the first time in Maine. Not to sound like a teenager, but OMG! It’s kind of like a Devil Dog done right in circular form.

    My wife kept insisting they were Amish. I somehow couldn’t imagine something so sinful being Amish. (Yes, I love their cooking, but the deep, dark mysteries of chocolate don’t seem to be something they probe…And I certainly never did see them in my many visits to Amish restaurants in Sarasota.)

    Well, my wife proved me right, showing me the info online. But even she didn’t mention anything about pumpkin ones.

    In fact, here I was by the end of my week in Maine practically chastising bakers who made non-chocolate Whoopie Pies for not being beholden to tradition!

    So Pumpkin Whoopie Pies it is. Man, I want one of these. Like now.

  • 2 Ben // Oct 2, 2008 at 8:49 am

    One of our next door neighbors in Immokalee was a lady raised in Pennsylvania – Dutch country and her food was never canned or frozen, but always fresh!

    Mrs. Engle was always nominated to organize church dinners and her ‘Wednesday Night Dinner’ was fantastic. She would cook for 200 people and everyone would be requesting a second helping.

    Today, I think our society could learn much from the PA – Dutch because of their work ethic, sense of community and family, and appreciation for the homemade (all the simple things in life).

  • 3 Jan Norris // Oct 2, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    I made these by the droves for a quilt show and gave them to the vendors as a welcome treat — then they mobbed me for the recipe.
    The best recipe for them is from Susan Herrmann Loomis’ fabulous cookbook, The Farmhouse Coobook. I’m going to post a review of it, since I think it should be on everyone’s shelves!

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