Appeal of whoopie pies reaching beyond region

    Legend has it that more than 50 years ago in Lancaster, Pa., two women were baking when snow began to make its way onto the landscape. The winter-loving women shouted, “whoopie!” and between two chocolate cake halves they sandwiched some toothsome vanilla icing. The whoopie pie was born.

    In 2012, it seems, the rest of us are catching on.

    Alvin Beiler, owner of Beiler’s bakery in the Reading Terminal since 1985, relays this story with confidence behind a counter loaded with whoopie pies, apple fritters, fruit breads and many other Amish confections. This past year marked the 33rd anniversary for Amish treats in the terminal, and the Beiler family has been making the popular Lancaster version of the whoopie pie for as long as they can remember. They now boast pumpkin and red velvet varieties.

    “More people are liking them in the city. Our chocolate version was Best of Philly in 2010, so people try them and come back for more,” said Kevin Beiler, son of Alvin. He says the Beiler pies have even won over visitors from Maine, which also claims to be the true birthplace of the whoopie pie. There is one key difference: the cream filling.

    “I like the vanilla cream better than the marshmallow cream.” Beiler says. “Everybody who knows people from Maine say, ‘I’m gonna take these and ship them up there and tell them these are a lot better than theirs.'”

    The Beilers prefer the Lancaster version, but recognize that there are regional taste preferences that should be respected. Still, their whoopie pies are being shipped across the nation.

    Around the corner from Beiler’s bakery in the market is the Pennsylvania General Store which sells Pa.-made foods and crafts. They ship products such as Bassetts Ice Cream, Sweetzels spiced cookies, Asher’s chocolate pretzels and Beiler’s whoopie pies up to Maine, down to Florida and west to California.

    “In the past few years, whoopie pies have become quite fashionable,” says Pennsylvania General Store owner Mike Holahan. “We even ship them to cafes in New York City.”

    Across the market, 2-year-old Flying Monkey Bakery offers varieties of whoopie pies all their own. Classic chocolate cakes with vanilla filling, oatmeal with caramel, chocolate with chocolate are just a sampling of 28 available combinations on the Flying Monkey menu.

    All of owner Elizabeth Halen’s sweet delicacies are popular, but she works to convince customers to try her childhood favorite. “I’ll convince them to buy one whoopie pie and, nine times out of 10, they’ll come back for eight more to take home,” Halen said.

    She learned how to bake the pies with her mother in New Hampshire. Although not convinced of their true origins, she hopes to forge the whoopie pie’s future with even more creative combinations, utilizing all of New England’s fillings and more.

    Competitors Beiler’s and Flying Monkey agree that market shoppers adore their whoopies and as people get a taste, both bakeries are selling more and more. Neither were shocked that in November of 2011, even coffee goliath Starbucks began offering a version, the classic chocolate/vanilla combo.

    Back in 2004 the Hershey Farm Restaurant and Inn started hosting an annual whoopie pie festival and about 3,000 fans attended this past September. Its sales and marketing coordinator, Anne Faix, has watched the festival grow from backyard to international; a company from Japan recently produced a whoopie pie segment for television. Whoopie pie checkers, spoon races and eating contests were just a few of the festival’s attractions, but organizers set out to dazzle by creating the world’s largest whoopie pie, using more than 100 pounds of icing.

    Faix even contacted the Guinness Book of World Records but they declined to include the pie because it was “too niche.”

    Does she see the whoopie pie going further, maybe to the record books in 2012? Faix thinks so. “I definitely see that changing in the future,” she says.

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