You don't know how many times I have been asked to settle this, seemingly, unsolvable riddle. The riddle of who on earth was the first to make Whoopie Pies.....or Gobs. Even though New England is nationally known to be synonymous with Whoopie Pies, Pennsylvania has jsut as many followers and believers.
Let's discount, first, that Boston Whoopie Pies are in the running. Some have speculated that because of a particular type of this "Whoopie Pie-like", hand-held treat resembles a Whoopie Pie (but has a custard filling and melted chocolate drizzled over it) it is somehow the progenitor. This is dispelled and should receive no more attention from me.
Another idea that has been in the running is that the Whoopie Pie was originally invented by the same people who brought Marshmallow Fluff to our New England children's diet. Durkee-Mower, owners of Marshmallow Fluff even denies this assertion and goes on to say that they didnt even print a recipe for Whoopie Pies until the 70s. It is said that as early as 1920, fluff was sandwiched between 2 layers of chocolate cake and given out to publicize "fluffernutter". This is entirely without merit and will, also, be discounted in this conversation.
Even Pennsylvania foodlore expert William Weaver states that Whoopie Pies originated not from Maine OR Pennsylvania, but was actually invented in the 1800s as Wienerkrapgens.
Also written, and attested to, is that Whoopie Pies were an invention of the Berwick Cake Company and they were being mass produced and sold as early as 1926. Even Nancy Griffin, author of Making Whoopies; The Official Whoopie Pie Book indicated that the Berwick Company of Roxbury, Massachusetts were the first to make Whoopie Pies. Although I admire my friend, she is ill-adviced......okay, not correct.
This assertion is undocumented and the bakery closed its doors in 1977 without ever officially declaring themselves the first purveyor of Whoopie Pies. It is not to say they didnt make them though. It is known that in 1931, they did make "Whoopee" Pies. Notice the spelling, which is an important link to the origin of the name, which I will mention shortly.
That leaves us with only 2 claimants, Maine and the Pennsylvania Dutch. I have a personal attachment to Maine(obviously) but also a profound and respectable attachment to the Amish of Pennsylvania. They are much like us here in New England and I have always adored their cooking, food and sense of family.
Let's get one thing clear before diving into the origin of Whoopie Pies. Why the word "pie" in something that obviously is NOT a pie? Could it be because they were named after Moon Pies? Many have speculated, also, that Moon Pies, and their creators, should get top billing in the dilemma. Foolishness!
The Maine Story
Just because the Whoopie Pie is officially the Maine State "treat", that does not bolster our claim to be the originator. So with that said, lets move on.
The Pennsylvania Story
Preface: I can't believe that the term Gobs is now trademarked! It is like someone trademarking the words Whoopie Pies. To me, there is only one reason for trademarking the word Gobs. Dutch Maid Bakery, of Johnstown, PA bought the patent rights, thusly the name, from the now defunct Harris-Boyer Bakery. In all fairness, I will say that the owner of the term Gob has not sued anyone and for that, I am appreciative. But it just doesn't sit well with me for a variety of moral reasons. I just don't believe anyone should 'own' such a special, and generational, treat. Again, kudos to Tim Yost(owner of the name)for allowing people to continue using the word Gobs.
It has been handed down orally(much the same as Maine)that Amish women have been baking Gobs since the early 1920s and putting them in lunch boxes of farmers. When the farmer opened up their boxes, they quickly exclaimed "Whoopee!!" (the correct spelling of that exclamation), so the story goes.
Also another handed down item is that these filled cakes were originally called "hucklebucks" and "creamy turtles", although this author can find no mention of either as being the same as Gobs or Whoopie Pies.
It is proclaimed that the PA Dutch originally made Whoopie Pies with leftover cake batter and cooked on pie tins. We will get to the subject of that shortly.
Now to distinguish Whoopie Pies from Gobs, let me add that mostly in Western PA are these pies referred to as Gobs. But many insist that Gobs were either first made in the western area of PA or that Whoopie Pies were first made somewhere in the remainder of the state of Pennsylvania. Either way, they allude, Pennsylvania is the true originator.
Susan Kalcik, an archivist and folklorist with the Southwestern PA Heritage Preservation Commission in Johnstown, PA says emphatically that:
"Men went into the coal mines or steel mills and the little cake with the icing on the inside instead of on the outside served their purpose. I’m convinced that the name Gob is related to the coal mines. Lumps of coal refuse were called gob piles. These working people adapted the name to the dessert."
Candied Yam Gobs
Susan also says that Whoopie Pies can be traced back to medieval Germany when they were making a cake-like pasty with a filling. She is probably referring to what I have dispelled already, the wienerkrapgens.
Well, now I am busting out of the seams to dispel these observations!
Sometimes a historian or researcher WANTS to dig deeper than everyone else or doesn't think their research query has a simple answer. I have often found myself in the very same spot. But more often than not, the answers are right in front of you. Something my father(the second Yankee Chef) always drilled into my head.
This hold true with the names Whoopie and Pie and Gob.
Now I know many dozens of you say that Whoopie Pies were named after Eddie Cantor when he was in Boston in 1927 doing the musical "Makin' Whoopee".
I must confess that I do beleive that the name Whoopie was uttered for this first time with regards to this treat as an expression of joy because at this time(and before and after)the term and spelling of Whoopee is used universally as an outburst of joy. It makes not only plausible sense, but logical as well. Be it by the adult farmers or I prefer to think it was the children who originated the word as it relates to the pies. The parents just running with it. If this was the case, however, it had to have been made many years before the actual treat was commercially made for sale. The name Whoopie Pie would have been very popular, or the bakery would not have made them for sale. This only makes marketing and monetary sense.
The word Pie. Why Pie? Well it sure wasn't because they were made in pie tins, which makes zero sense as a kitchen professional, chef and historian to boot. Thinking simply and logically, if I had leftover cake batter, the last pan I would bake little round cakes would be a pie tin. I would immediately grab a square baking sheet.
If you argue, "But it had to have been a pie tin because Whoopie Pies and Gobs are round!" My answer, "If you had enough leftover cake batter from making a cake to put in a pie tin, you have enough to put in a cake pan!". And thereby you would have a cake, not a Whoopie Pie! And remember, if someone was making a cake, they would have had frosting or icing on hand as well top fill these mini discs of cooked batter.
The word pie is easily explained as a direct link to our colonial past. Pies were always made with very VERY thick crusts. These thick crusts were made in order to hold the contents in without it spilling out and burning. Over time, the crusts became thinner and even hand-held pies were being made in many households, both in New England and Pennsylvania. I believe that Whoopie Pies were intentionally made AND named as such because of their resemblance to pies of old. Heck, even as late as the last quarter of the 19th century, pie crusts were thick and soft.
Now many will argue that the name pie was also used because most cooks used pie tins instead of cake tins. This assumption is false however. Certainly colonial era 'pans' used for making pies and cakes resembled our pie tins of today with very long handles or they resembled shallow Dutch ovens and spider pans, but that was many generations previous to the introduction of Whoopie Pies.
Maine Needham Gobs
I also believe that Gobs would have been higher and more dense than how we enjoy Whoopie Pies today. If I were to put myself in the shoes of someone making these 100 years ago, I would have added more flour to the batter before scooping little circles of leftover batter onto a cooking pan. Otherwise they would have spread out too much. So by adding more flour, you would have a higher, more dense cake to fill with frosting.*
So bottom line. I do believe that the treat that the basic concept of our Whoopie Pie was first made by...............the Amish. Sorry Mainers. I would have loved to have given Maine credit, but logic dictates otherwise. However, that is not to say that this Amish-made Whoopie Pie, in its entirety and prepared as we know them today, was first made by the Amish.
It wasn't until at least 1917 in Somerville, Massachusetts that Marshmallow Fluff was "invented". And as well all know, a Whoopie Pie is NOT a Whoopie Pie without fluff. And if anyone thinks that Pennsylvania was the first to make filling using fluff ahead of either Massachusetts or Maine, they would be mistaken. Geography in itself would dictate otherwise.
The Amish may have put together the first Gobs, or Whoopie Pies, but they would have used whatever frosting they were making at the time. Because they were in the process of making a cake anyway. Boiled icing would have been used, or maybe, JUST MAYBE, some type of buttercream frosting, but certainly not filling with fluff.
So I am sorry for all the confusion, but when nothing is available to bolster a claim, one needs to return to logic, common sense and the preponderance of the evidence, which is what I did. And because of this, my opinion needed to be explained as thoroughly as possible.
*Please see my recipes for Gobs at the theyankeechef.com