For many, the "true" history of the whoopie pie is about pride in the product—Mainers, Pennsylvanians, and Bostonians all claim the fame of having invented the beloved whoopie. And while people in all of those locations have theories and hold strong beliefs, so far no one has shown incontrovertible proof of the whoopie pie’s origin.
Pennsylvania Whoopies & Gobs
Pennsylvania’s story about the mystery-cloaked origin of the whoopie claims Amish women invented the black-and-white dessert, and the confection got its name when they packed the desserts for their children’s school lunches. If the children opened their lunch boxes and found the chocolate treat, they would invariably exclaim, "Whoopie!" The other version of the story puts the treats in the Amish husbands’ lunch pails. Somehow it seems less likely that grown Amish farmers would be caught yelling "Whoopie!" at their lunch pails, but you never know.
Whether the whoopie was invented in the Keystone State or not, and even though some parts of the state still refer to it by the inglorious soubriquet of gob, Pennsylvania certainly is a hotbed of whoopie pie culture, with whoopies available at roadside stands, restaurants, bakeries, and many other venues. Pennsylvania’s annual Whoopie Pie Festival, started in 2005, was the first in the nation. Pennsylvania is one of only two states where every resident knows what a whoopie pie is and most will tell you their grandmother made them.
The Maine Claim
The other state is Maine, where knowledgeable residents insist the pie was actually invented. The creation of the first whoopie, according to Maine legend, occurred when a woman working in a Bangor commercial bakery ended up with extra batter after making a batch of cakes. Rather than waste it, she scooped spoonfuls of the batter onto a baking tray and popped them into the oven. After they were done, she stuck the resulting mounds together with leftover frosting, and, voila.
Both the Pennsylvania lunchbox moms and frugal Bangor baker stories may be apocryphal, but Maine’s venerable Labadie’s Bakery, established in 1917, advertises that it has been making whoopie pies since 1925. Since a fire destroyed all the plant’s records in the late 1960s, current owner Fabian Labadie says he can’t prove it, however. These days, the Lewiston company runs twenty-four hours a day, five days a week, producing baked goods—including and especially whoopie pies—under its own name and for other private labels.
Born in Beantown?
Boston is different. Boston has two stories, but one is surely not true because the people credited in that story flatly deny it. The other tale is easy to believe, but is not exactly proven. And for some strange reason, even though whoopie pies certainly existed in Boston since the early twentieth century, not all Boston residents remember growing up with them. But some do.
One story credits Durkee-Mower, Inc., with inventing the whoopie pie to increase sales of its product, the sticky, sweet Marshmallow Fluff that comprises half of Durkee’s trademarked Fluffernutter sandwich and a bit of the filling in some whoopie pie recipes. Part of this story is true—Durkee-Mower did publish a cookbook in 1930 filled with recipes that called for Marshmallow Fluff as an ingredient. However, the claim that the first whoopie pie recipe appeared in the Durkee Yummy Book is just plain wrong.
John Durkee, fourth generation of the family that has owned Marshmallow Fluff since 1920, says the recipe did appear in the Yummy Book, but not until the 1970s (see recipe on page 24). The original Yummy Book published some forty years earlier contained no references to whoopie pies.
The other Boston story centers on the Berwick Cake Company in Dudley Square, Roxbury. Some old-timers in Boston have told reporters they remember eating Berwick’s whoopie pies growing up. The bakery itself is making no claim to have invented whoopie pies, because it went out of business in 1977. However, the name of the bakery, painted long ago on the side of the Berwick building, still remains, and current tenants in the building swear there once was another painted sign on the bricks that read "Whoopee!" Pies.
Nancy Baggett, author of The All-American Dessert Book and The All-American Cookie Book, tentatively credits the Berwick Cake Company as the originator of the whoopie pie since she found no reference to whoopie pies in any Pennsylvania cookbook prior to the 1960s.
New Hampshire dietitian Peter Schlichting has researched the whoopie pie’s beginnings and says the recipe appears during the Depression in recipe collections from several different states. He credits New England, particularly the Berwick folks, with creating the first whoopie pie, because a retired employee told him the company started baking them in 1926. Alas the mystery remains unsolved.