My daughter Katrina has always loved the saying “Life is short; eat dessert first.” Perhaps she was influenced by her dad, who takes the motto literally: Whenever he is at a buffet, he picks up a dessert at the very beginning to ensure he gets his favorite.
You’ve got to admire someone who takes their sweets seriously. That’s why we’re impressed by the handful of US states that have legislated official state desserts. They realize that life always needs a little bit of sugar. Read on to learn the story behind the goodies.
Alabama Lane Cake; Photo courtesy of Visit Mobile
ALABAMA: LANE CAKE
Emma Rylander Lane of Clayton, the inventor of Alabama’s official dessert, won first prize for her boozy cake at a state fair and later published the recipe in an 1898 cookbook. More recently, Lane cake proved its cred by superseding the former official state dessert, Hummingbird cake, according to Jim Smith, former executive chef of the state of Alabama and now proprietor of The Hummingbird Way Oyster Bar in Mobile.
“Hummingbird cake got demoted because it’s more of a Caribbean cake,” he says. “Lane cake has a much better connection to Alabama—it’s mentioned several times in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird [set in Alabama].”
The layer cake gets its flavor from its icing—made with nuts, golden raisins, coconut and a half-cup or more of bourbon—spread between the layers and often on top.
Click here to view a Alabama Lane Cake Recipe courtesy of Chef Jim Smith of the Hummingbird Way Oyster Bar.
Delaware Peach Pie; Photo courtesy of Old World Bakery
DELAWARE: PEACH PIE
Georgia may be known as The Peach State, but in the 19th century, it was Delaware that ranked tops in the country for peach-growing. Introduced there in the Colonial era, peaches remained a major crop until disease wiped out most of the state’s peach orchards in the earlY 20th century.
Newcomers came in, among them Fifer Orchards in Camden-Wyoming, a family farm since 1919 that’s still going strong. Peach pie ascended to the official state dessert throne in 2009. Fifer Orchard sells its scrumptious version in season as do many bakeries in the state, including Serpe & Sons in Elsmere and Old World Breads in Lewes.
Click here to view a Delaware Peach Pie recipe from Old World Breads in Lewes, Delaware.
Florida Strawberry Shortcake; Photo by MSTUDIO/STOCK.ADOBE.COM
FLORIDA: STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKE
Yes, we also were sure that key lime pie would be Florida’s state dessert, and it is indeed honored as the official state pie. But just this year, strawberry shortcake became the Sunshine State’s official dessert.
The Plant City area, located in west-central Florida, produces 75 percent of the winter strawberry crop in the US. It also hosts the Florida Strawberry Festival, held continuously since 1930, with brief hiatuses during the Depression and World War II.
If you can’t make it to the festival in March, you’ll find shortcake topped with sweet, sliced strawberries and a dollop of whipped cream at restaurants and bakeries throughout the state.
Maine Blueberry Pie; Photo by Sherry Ott, Courtesy of Visit Maine
MAINE: BLUEBERRY PIE
Blueberry pie almost didn’t become the state dessert of Maine, despite its abundance of wild (lowbush) blueberries. When the Maine legislature went into session to name the official state dessert in 2011, whoopie pie was the expected winner. Instead, a spirited debate led to blueberry pie (specifically, pie made with wild Maine blueberries) taking the honors.
Much of the production of wild blueberries occurs in Washington and Hancock Counties on the central Maine coast. Last year, approximately 105 million pounds were harvested and sold throughout the US. Get your own blueberry pie at farm stands and bakeries throughout Maine each summer.
Click here to view a Maine Wild Blueberry Pie recipe courtesy of Harraseeket Inn in Freeport, Maine.
Maryland Smith Island Cake; Photo by ALEYNA/STOCK.ADOBE.COM
MARYLAND: SMITH ISLAND CAKE
For as long as anyone on Smith Island can remember, the dessert that must make an appearance at every celebration has been the locally created masterpiece now known as Smith Island cake.
Declared the official state dessert in 2008, Smith Island cake is made of 7 to 10 thin layers with an abundance of frosting between them and on the outside. Yellow cake with chocolate icing is the traditional version.
Smith Island Bakery (on the island or online) is a trusted source, as are Classic Cakes in Salisbury, Two If By Sea restaurant on Tilghman Island, and a host of farm markets on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Click here to view a Smith Island Cake recipe from Mrs. Kitching's Smith Island Cookbook, by Frances Kitching and Susan Stiles Dowell.
Boston Cream Pie; Photo courtesy of Omni Parker House
MASSACHUSETTS: BOSTON CREAM PIE
To enjoy Boston cream pie at the place where it was invented, stop by Boston’s Omni Parker House, which debuted the culinary creation at its 1856 grand opening. With its creamy filling and rich chocolate icing, Boston cream pie became so popular that Betty Crocker came out with a boxed cake mix variety in 1958. It was named the official state dessert in 1996.
For a taste of the original from afar, you can order an Omni Parker House Boston cream pie from Goldbelly.com—or make your own using the recipe provided online.
Click here to view a Boston Cream Pie recipe courtesy of the Omni Parker House.
Missouri Ice Cream Cone; Photo courtesy of VisitMO.com
MISSOURI: THE ICE CREAM CONE
It took the legislature more than a century, but in 2008, Missouri finally realized the sweet opportunity it had for naming the ice cream cone as its official state dessert. The summer treat was introduced at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, called alternately an “ice cream sandwich” or an “ice cream cornucopia.”
A newspaper of the era described the innovation as an “inverted cone of hard cake, resembling a coiled-up waffle, filled with ice cream.” In 1915, Missourian P.D. Roberts applied for a patent on the design of the ice cream cone, and America became forever grateful.
If you want to savor an ice cream cone in its birthplace, check out Crown Candy Kitchen and Ices Plain & Fancy, both in St. Louis.
South Dakota Kuchen; Photo courtesy of Travel South Dakoa
SOUTH DAKOTA: KUCHEN
The official state dessert of South Dakota comes courtesy of 19th-century German immigrants and the tradition of Kaffee and Kuchen, or coffee and cake. Kuchen in South Dakota refers to a specific type of cake: one made with sweet dough filled with custard and often fruit.
The dessert is celebrated annually in September at Delmont’s Kuchen Festival, where it comes in flavors such as peach, blueberry, apricot and raspberry. You’ll also find the tasty concoction featured at Schmeckfest (festival of eating) every spring in Freeman and at Sioux Fall’s German Fest each September.
At other times, pick up your kuchen at Pietz’s Kuchen Kitchen and Specialties in Scotland and at locally owned grocery stores across the state that sell Pietz’s products.
Click here to view a recipe of South Dakota Kuchen.