June 24, 2018
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Maine, Pennsylvania should cool jets on great whoopie pie debate

Kevin Bennett | BDN
Kevin Bennett | BDN
By Kate Collins, BDN Staff

Maine, you have blueberries and lobsters, Moxie and fiddleheads. You even have your own “champagne” — Allen’s Coffee Brandy. And now, you’re trying to legally declare the whoopie pie as your own, a claim that has resulted in wasteful legislative debates and trivial sugar-slinging with Pennsylvania, a state also intent on owning the rights to the ridiculously named confection.

As an expatriate of Pennsylvania Dutch country, I’ll admit that whoopie pie aficionados there have been behaving badly as well, staging protests and cyber-inciting the opposition with “Save Our Whoopie” web campaigns. Like Maine, Pennsylvania already boasts its own distinct contributions to the diverse smorgasbord of American regional cuisine. Cheesesteaks, Yuengling and Hersey Kisses all originated in Keystone kitchens.

So, really, is it necessary for either Maine or Pennsylvania to get so riled up about whoopie pies — a bland dessert that is nothing more than two spongy cake discs glued together by a heaping gob of frosting?

My solution to this War of the Whoopie is a truce, with each state gracefully backing off from the whoopie and instead proclaiming less controversial and more regionally distinct state desserts.

For Maine, the obvious, delicious choice would be blueberry pie. For the Keystone State, I’d nominate the fasnacht, a small, deep-fried piece of dough which was brought to the region by Amish settlers from Europe, who occupied the rolling hills of Pennsylvania in the 19th century and have been living there like it’s 1899 ever since.

Fasnachts are similar to doughnuts, but better-tasting and worse for you: a simple mixture of flour, sugar and lard which is deep-fried in yet more lard. If that isn’t tempting enough, a big part of what makes fasnachts so irresistible is their fleeting nature. While you can find shoofly pie, potato bread, and yes, whoopie pies at Amish bakeries year round, fasnachts are only available for a short time each spring, which coincides with Christians jump-starting Lent’s ritualistic self-flagellation with Mardi Gras binges of bacchanal proportions.

Since the fasnacht is the edible embodiment of shameful overindulgence — a caloric overload so delicious, addictive and potentially dangerous that surely it must be inherently sinful — in rural Pennsylvania the day before Ash Wednesday is not Fat Tuesday, but Fasnacht Day.

Fasnacht Day is a community tradition, introduced early with schools treating students to sugary lumps of the deep-fried dough on their lunch trays in celebration of the day. In parish halls, white-haired grandmothers gossip over deep fryers bubbling with wads of sizzling dough and then toss them, hot and golden, into aluminum pans heaped with sugar, the resulting chemical reaction a sticky, sweet, yummy glaze. You can buy a plastic bag of these still warm sugar-fat-carb bombs for a few dollars and feast on them sans guilt, for tomorrow you shall fast — for 40 days — which is a long time to go without fasnachts.

Luckily, for those of us who refuse to believe that dessert is a mortal sin, once fasnachts are gone, you can always savor an authentic Pennsylvania Dutch whoopie pie, which are available year round. And if you’re nowhere near central Pennsylvania, I hear that Mainers can whip up a pretty good whoopie pie, too.

Kate Collins, assistant visuals editor at the Bangor Daily News, is a Pennsylvania native. She recently earned a  master’s degree in Visual Communication from Ohio University, but still fantasizes about opening a bakery.

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