Amos Orcutt is so passionate about whoopie pies he’s taking it to the governor. Well, not quite yet — but eventually. Orcutt earlier this year filed the paperwork for a bill to recognize the chocolate and cream confection as Maine’s state dessert.
“It’s a sense of pride for Mainers. We need to promote products from Maine and focus on those little niches that we have,” said Orcutt, president of the University of Maine Foundation. “We have all these great foods and products that come out of Maine, and they’re part of what makes us unique. Whoopie pies are definitely one of those things.”
Orcutt recently enlisted the help of a group of Ashland High School students, led by teacher Sarah Brooks, to support his measure in last weekend’s mock legislation session in Augusta. Part of the Maine Youth in Government program, the students from Ashland traveled to the Capitol to debate with fellow students from around the state several items — including the whoopie pie bill.
Though whoopie pie love extends from Fort Kent to Kittery, there were some present at mock legislation that did not think the whoopie pie was the best representative of Maine desserts. The students that day voted to instead propose blueberry pie as the state dessert and to recognize the whoopie pie as the state pastry.
“I think the argument was that blueberries were a Maine-made product and was a better representation of Maine agriculture,” said Lonney Steeves, director of Maine Youth in Government. “Another student said that you could use Maine milk and butter in the whoopie pie, but it still seemed that blueberry pie was the preferred choice.”
The jury is still out as to which pie it’ll be — whoopie or blueberry — that ends up taking the cake. Regardless of the outcome, Maine’s Whoopie Pie Festival, held in late June each year in Dover-Foxcroft, will coincide now with Gov. John Baldacci’s proclamation that the fourth Saturday in each June is Maine Whoopie Pie Day.
By the end of the year, Orcutt hopes the actual bill will make it to the house and senate chambers. The Maine Youth in Government weekend session did not make any permanent decisions, the program is an opportunity for Maine high school students to observe the way state government works in a realistic setting. “The whole purpose of Maine Youth in Government is to show students how their government works, and to encourage them to take what they’ve learned at home and make change in their schools and communities,” said Steeves.
Orcutt just hopes that the beloved treat gets the recognition it deserves — and that it’s recognized in the state it belongs in. Whoopie pies are also a popular dessert in Pennsylvania, with a whoopie festival even held in Lancaster County in southern Pennsylvania. The whole impetus for Orcutt’s bill came from reading a New York Times article in which the writer stated that the whoopie pie may have originated in Pennsylvania.
“I was appalled and aghast, to use the term,” said Orcutt. “I mentioned it to a few people, and everyone was taken aback. Of course it’s from Maine. I started checking around, and the first mention I could find in Maine was that Labadie’s Bakery in Lewiston started making them in 1925. That was a long while ago. I don’t know of anything before that.”
Regardless of the true origin of the dessert, the whoopie pie is still a treasured part of Maine culture.
“It’s tradition,” said Orcutt. “No one can take that away. There’s no such thing as a bad whoopie pie. Though some are better than others.”
A lover of whoopie pies campaigns for state action
Sandy Oliver’s Whoopie Pie
Makes about 14 to 16 3-inch whoopie pies This whoopie pie recipe ran April 14, 2007, in the Bangor Daily News.
2 cups flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup milk
Preheat oven to 375 F. Sift together dry ingredients. Cream together shortening and sugar, beat in the egg and vanilla, then add the dry ingredients and milk alternately. You will have a fairly stiff cake batter. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet, leaving room for them to spread somewhat. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before removing them to a rack.
Whoopie Pie Filling
2 egg whites
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup shortening
1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat the egg whites until they are fluffy, gradually adding 1 cup of confectioners’ sugar. Then spoonful by spoonful add the shortening and the rest of the sugar to the egg white mixture until it is smooth and fluffy, then beat in the vanilla. When the cookies are cool enough to handle, make pairs of similarly sized ones and spread the filling on one half and top with the other half. Wrap in plastic wrap or put into an airtight container.