February 2, 2011

GEORGE SMITH: Whoopie pie bill brings welcome attention to Maine-made goods

Surrounding legislators with heavily sugared whoopie pies might not have been such a good idea.

The cries of “Whoopie” ringing from the Capitol on Monday weren’t coming from Republicans still celebrating their election victory. They were coming from members of the State and Local Government Committee who had the good luck of hosting a public hearing on LD 71, An Act to Designate the Whoopie Pie as the State Dessert, sponsored by Rep. Paul Davis.

Sitting at the public hearing on the bill Monday morning, surrounded by whoopie pies that came from all over Maine (and having arrived early to enjoy a generous sampling), I was struck by the idea of the whoopie pie as economic development. A lot of small Maine businesses, many home-based, are making and selling whoopies.

Senate Committee chairman Doug Thomas set the table for this hearing when he noted, “Whoopie pies bring a smile to your face, and they go great with Maine milk.”

My good friend Amos Orcutt, president and CEO of the University of Maine Foundation, is leading the charge for the whoopie pie.

“They convey home cooking, are a comfort food in difficult times, and are unique to Maine,” testified Orcutt.

His inspiration came from a New York Times article in March 2009 that attributed the whoopie pie’s origin to the Amish in Pennsylvania.

The Times reporter ought to get a whoopie pie in the face for that one. My own research found that whoopie pies were created in the 1920s in Maine. Let’s go with that.

I was delighted to learn that whoopie pies are good for me. Dr. Katherine Musgrave, the University of Maine’s expert on nutrition, testified, “Every patient I have worked with needed some special food. We need food to deal with life’s problems, opportunities and events.”

When Musgrave explained that chocolate flavornoids lower blood pressure, a particular problem of mine, I immediately decided to eat a whoopie along with my daily aspirin.

Bernie LaBree of LaBree’s Bakery, producing a stunning 100,000 whoopies a day, testified that he broke ground recently on a new bakery due to the popularity of whoopie pies that he ships nationwide under many different labels.

Amy Bouchard of Gardiner, owner of Wicked Whoopies, testified she has 35 employees and produces 10,000 whoopies per day. Amy and her whoopies have been featured on CVC and home shopping network, Oprah, and lots more TV shows. Her company made a list of the 5,000 fastest-growing companies in America last year.

Carol Ford, of Cranberry Island Kitchen of Portland, testified that she makes whoopies in the shape of lobsters and scallops. Carol whipped Bobby Flay on his throw down Food Network show a few weeks ago in an impressive performance that Linda and I enjoyed. Carol noted a growing demand for Maine products and products made with Maine ingredients. She buys local eggs, butter, Oakhurst milk, sea salt, blueberries, raspberries and more.

John Linscott entertained us with an original song about whoopies.

Orcutt, in a letter last year to Gov. John Baldacci, made the case for whoopies, writing, “We need to focus on those niches that make Maine so special. Capitalizing on the current interest in whoopie pies is one way of promoting the excellence of products created and made in Maine.”

And, I might add, consumed in Maine by the ton.

Almost 4,000 people turned out in Dover-Foxcroft last July 26 for Whoopie Pie Day, officially designated by Baldacci. They ran out of whoopies.

Orcutt noted the sense of urgency, saying “This is a wonderful opportunity to showcase a Maine food stuff that will build a sense of pride and capitalize on promoting Maine before another state lays claim to what is rightfully ours.”

Take that, Pennsylvania!

The hearing drew major media attention. The room was filled with TV cameras and print reporters. It was covered by the Boston Globe. And that, really, is the point of this endeavor.

Whenever we can recognize and call attention to a Maine product, especially one that comes from many home-based and small businesses, get those products featured on national television shows, and spread that product around the country, that’s good for Maine’s people and economy.

I give this bill a big “Whoopie!”

George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or georgesmithmaine@gmail.com. You can read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.

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