By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Here we are…the week of the 4th of July where thoughts turn to our country’s independence.  Right about now I’m guessing most people desire some independence from our politicians, but this being an election year I think we’re stuck with four more months of campaign ads and robo calls.  Hopefully no more debates.  But that’s a subject for another week.  This week I want to focus on an important part of any July 4th celebration – the dessert.  Last week I was looking for some ideas for a 4th of July cake and found most every food site suggests a cake with fruit on it – ideally in the shape of the American flag.  Fruit on cake???  Pies or tarts, yes, but not cake!  Cake and frosting should contain sufficient amounts of sugar and butter that you stay just this side of diabetes and clogged arteries.  I went down a rabbit hole looking for unique dessert ideas and discovered that people are quite weird – or desperate – when coming up with a proper dessert.  Here’s just a sampling of what I found:

              Shoofly pie

The Shoofly Pie – this cake actually has a tie to the 4th of July.  Shoofly pie is a molasses-based pie with a crumbly, streusel-like topping. No one knows for sure how the pie got its name, but it might be from the fact that its sweet and sticky surface tends to attract flies.  Now there’s an appetizing thought.  It might also, and more likely, be named after an early brand of molasses called Shoofly Molasses. According to some sources, the recipe for shoofly pie dates to 1876, originating with a crust-free molasses cake called centennial cake that was served to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. Other sources attribute the recipe to the German immigrants of Pennsylvania Dutch country in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who may have used molasses in a variation of an older British recipe known as a treacle tart. This sweet and crumbly pie is still popular among the Amish and Mennonite communities of Pennsylvania and Ohio. Well, I say let them have it.

The Tomato Soup Cake – this is wrong on so many levels.  The recipe dates back to 1922, and some accounts say the dessert was popular among Irish immigrants in New England. Personally, I think they should have stuck with Guinness. It is said that the tomato soup produces a moist red-orange cake that doesn’t taste like tomatoes at all, thanks to the cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg in the mix. I’ll take their word for it.  The cake was popular through the 1930s and 1940s, when Depression-era and wartime shortages called for culinary creativity. People sought out affordable substitutes that could stand in for pricier ingredients (such as tomatoes) without sacrificing flavor. In the 1940s, the Campbell Soup Company began experimenting with variations on the tomato soup cake recipe and, in 1960, printed a version on its tomato soup label — the first recipe to appear on a soup can. I don’t know who thought of putting tomatoes, fresh or in soup form, in a cake, but I would venture it was someone who never had a slice of Death by Chocolate.

Carrot Pudding – first, the word pudding is used in the British sense, loosely meaning dessert.  Carrot cake has been around for a while and in a pinch, it isn’t bad (especially if there is pineapple rather than raisins).  But before there was carrot cake, there was carrot pudding. A recipe in the 1591 English cookbook describes carrot pudding as a savory pudding made of chopped liver, breadcrumbs, spices, dates, and sugar that is then stuffed inside a hollow carrot. By the 18th century, carrot pudding had evolved into a sweet dessert baked in a pastry shell, similar to pumpkin pie. Another variation, called steamed carrot pudding, was made with shredded carrots and potatoes and steamed in a gelatin mold. In my opinion no good dessert contains the words “gelatin mold”. Regardless of its preparation, carrot pudding sounds like something you might serve to people you never want to come to dinner again.

After reading about these odd alternatives to cake, I decided that fruit in a cake might not be such a bad alternative.  Still, as it turns out I’ll be going to our club’s BBQ on Thursday and we have an awesome pastry chef.  While he may get cute with a berry 4th of July cake, I can guarantee he won’t be slipping any chopped liver into the mix.

Happy 4th of July to everyone!



  1. Just when I thought I had heard of most “unique desserts”, along comes carrot pudding. Oh my….. I think an ice cream pie made with red, white & blue sherbet sounds pretty appealing!!!!!!

  2. My assignment for dinner is dessert so I read this with great interest! They all voted for strawberry shortcake, I’ll stick a sparkler on each slice 🇺🇸

    • Well, Pam, if you can’t have chocolate that sounds like the next best thing!!! Have a good 4th!

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