January 18, 2011

Maine legislators sweet on whoopie pies

A proposal to make the chocolate treat the state's official dessert garners bipartisan sponsorship.

By Susan M. Cover scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

AUGUSTA — Whoopie pies – delicious, high-calorie and distinctively Maine – are about to undergo a rigorous review by lawmakers who could make Grandma's treat the official state dessert.

click image to enlarge

Diane Bouchard, right, and Kristen Averell prepare whoopie pies Friday at Isamax Snacks in Gardiner. A supporter of a proposal to make whoopie pies the official state dessert notes that Maine already has an official soft drink, Moxie.

Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Rep. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, who normally takes on meatier issues, such as the elimination of the Land Use Regulation Commission, got in touch with his sweet side recently when the state's chief whoopie pie advocate asked him to give the dessert a permanent place in Maine history.

Amos Orcutt, president of the University of Maine Foundation, said he began to get concerned about the whoopie pie's future when he read an article in The New York Times that said that the dessert had originated in Pennsylvania. When he heard high school students were interested in the topic and attended last June's Whoopie Pie Festival in Dover-Foxcroft, he knew the whoopie pie's time had come.

"Little by little there's been a groundswell," he said. "God forbid Pennsylvania might steal our heritage."

He said other states have official desserts – in Massachusetts, it's the Boston cream pie, naturally – and that Maine has given official designations to all sorts of things such as soil (Chesuncook soil series) and an herb (wintergreen). In 2005, Maine named Moxie the state's official soft drink.

Amy Bouchard, owner of Isamax Snacks, which makes Wicked Whoopies, agreed with Orcutt that it's time for Maine to make its unofficial claim to the whoopie official.

"It would be a shame for another state to claim it," she said.

Bouchard, who launched her company nearly 17 years ago in her Gardiner kitchen, said she also hopes to avoid controversy over whether the state's other delicious signature dessert – blueberry pie – should get the designation.

"The blueberry is our state fruit," she said. "It's a win-win for everybody."

If the bill wins legislative approval, it will be up to Gov. Paul LePage to decide whether to sign it. His spokesman, Dan Demeritt, was noncommittal on the legislation.

"We haven't taken a position on the bill yet," he said. "He'll sample them all."

Davis' bill – L.D. 71, "An Act to Designate the Whoopie Pie as the State Dessert" – contains little language for legislators to ponder. The bill, which was officially referred to the State and Local Government Committee last week, says simply: "The whoopie pie, a baked good made of two chocolate cakes with a creamy frosting between them, is the official state dessert."

Davis, the former Senate Republican leader and a retired state trooper, said he was convinced by the crowd at the Whoopie Pie Festival that the dessert deserved more recognition.

"I've never seen such a mob in my life," he said. "There was every kind of whoopie pie you can imagine."

Davis even got bipartisan sponsorship for the bill.

House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono, signed on. She, too, attended the Dover-Foxcroft festival and was impressed.

"It's important to say up front that I know there's going to be a big conversation about whether there should be other types of desserts," she said.

Cain said citizens should not worry that the dessert discussions will detract from budget negotiations. She thinks the whoopie pie bill will help promote a Maine product and a Maine festival in a part of the state that could use a boost.

And, for the health care lobby worried about those who eat a few too many whoopie pies, Orcutt said, it's important to remember that most whoopie pies are two servings.

"I say lighten up and have some fun," he said. "Everybody needs a treat during these difficult times."


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