Most of the coal mines have closed around Johns-town, Pennsylvania, but one local resource continues to sustain the townspeople: the legendary, lunch box-friendly Gob. Two hockey puck-size rounds of chocolate cake joined by a layer of creamy filling, a Gob might appear to be a whoopie pie by another name, but that would be a coarse interpretation. A Facebook fan page maintained by displaced Johnstowners around the country offers some insight into just what sets the Gob apart. A post from Las Vegas claims it’s the hint of cinnamon in the chocolate cake; another, from Cleveland, confidently states, “Crack. It has to be.”
While seemingly every grandmother in town has a homemade version of the treat, purists insist that the one produced by Johnstown’s own Yost’s Dutch Maid Bakery is the only true Gob. A Dutch Maid Gob has a yellow filling and a cellophane wrapper bearing a picture of a sailor alongside the slogan “They Eat’em Up”. Owner Tim Yost purchased the recipe and the rights to the name in 1980 from Harris & Boyar, another local bakery, whose owners claimed to have invented the treat sometime in the 1920s. It seems more likely that Harris & Boyar adapted what was already a regional favorite, itself possibly inspired by the cream-filled whoopie pies of Pennsylvania Dutch country, in the eastern part of the state. The name is thought to refer either to lumps of coal, called gobs by miners, for whom the cake was once a lunchtime fixture, or to the fellow pictured on the package: gob is also slang for sailor.
Other bakeries should be so lucky as to have a following as loyal as Dutch Maid’s. “I won’t even touch a homemade gob,” says Jo Novelli, a Phoenix-based artist and Johnstown native currently working on a video documentary about the food. It’s called Home Is Where the Gob Is.