Todd Hartley: I’m With Stupid

Todd Hartley
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

A couple of months ago, some friends of mine came over for dinner, so as a special treat, my wife made whoopie pies for dessert. I’m guessing most of you are probably familiar with this sugar-packed delicacy, but for those of you who aren’t, let me try to describe how one makes a whoopie pie.

First, take two soft, oversized chocolate discs that lie somewhere between cookies and brownies, and then make a sandwich out of them by filling the space in between with a generous portion of some white, slightly vanilla-flavored, cream-type substance, such as one might find in a Twinkie or a tub of cottage cheese that’s been sitting in the fridge for a couple of years. If the whole concoction comes in at less than 1,000 calories, throw it out and make a bigger one.

Needless to say, my wife’s whoopie pies were delicious, for the first few bites anyway. The last 300 calories or so were a little tough to scarf down – not because they tasted bad, mind you, but because the white cream was starting to come out of my ears – but, being the good husband and committed glutton that I am, I managed to finish mine.

I had some doubts about whoopie pies, though, after dinner was over and our guests had made their good-byes. You see, that’s when I did the dishes and discovered that the cream filling was totally impervious to water and dish soap in a way that no natural substance should ever be.

I tried to wipe the stuff away with a sponge, but before long the kitchen sink and a goodly amount of the surrounding countertops were covered in an iridescent sheen of unwashable grease the likes of which I would have expected to find floating in the Gulf of Mexico after last year’s oil spill.

Concerned now about my health and the dangerously slippery nature of my kitchen, I inquired as to the makeup of the cream filling and learned that the primary ingredient was vegetable shortening, something I’m aware of but have never before used in my own cooking.

Vegetable shortening, to my reckoning, defies all logic. A definition of it that I found online described it as “A solid fat made from vegetable oils” that has been “chemically transformed into a solid state through hydrogenation.” I have no idea what hydrogenation entails despite researching it, so don’t ask me to describe it to you.

The vegetable shortening definition went on to say that shortening “can be stored at room temperature for up to a year.” I’m not sure if that part of the description is supposed to make me feel better about the stuff, but I can assure you it doesn’t.

Anyway, the end result is that I was so grossed out by the whole experience that I might never eat a whoopie pie again, and that’s saying something, because there’s almost nothing I won’t eat.

By now I imagine you’re wondering why I’ve wasted two-thirds of this column ranting about whoopie pies. Well, I’ll tell you. It’s because whoopie pies made headlines this week as the centerpiece of an interstate feud between Maine and Pennsylvania.

It seems that after visiting the Maine State Whoopie Pie Festival, Paul Davis, a state representative, introduced legislation in January calling for whoopie pies to be named the official state dessert. In a ridiculous move, legislators tweaked the wording to make the snack Maine’s official “treat,” but they are nonetheless considering it.

This doesn’t sit too well with people in Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County, however. Outraged citizens there claim that the whoopie pie is an Amish creation that has been a regional staple for generations. So incensed are Pennsylvania’s whoopie pie backers, apparently, that they’ve launched a website called that calls Maine’s actions “confectionary larceny.”

Now, I hate to be the arbiter in this situation, because it’s a sad day when I become the voice of reason, but I think it’s pretty clear that Maine has the better claim, despite a 2009 New York Times story that cited food historians making the argument in favor of Pennsylvania.

Why do I think Maine must be the original home of the whoopie pie? I don’t, necessarily, but I do know this much: Whatever the heck hydrogenation is, I’ll guarantee you it can’t be done by an Amish person with a butter churn. So I hate to break it to you, Pennsylvania, but I’m not swallowing your argument, or your whoopie pies, for that matter.