Until a recent foray into Canada's geographical heartland, I had never even contemplated eating a schmoo.
The schmoo (or shmoo) torte is legendary here in Winnipeg. My very first encounter with the tallest of tortes is at Step 'N Out, a little bistro on Provencher Boulevard.
It arrives in all of its gooey, triple-layered glory, glittering beneath a hissing sparkler and a thick layer of caramel sauce - an epic example of the 'Peg's finest. It's found in pastry shops and restaurants across the River City, but no one here seems to have a solid take on the schmoo's origins.
Since the classic cake - layers of nutty angel-food cake sandwiched with whipped cream, pecans and caramel sauce - appears "at every bar/bat mitzvah in town," according to one city librarian, many believe its roots run deep in the local Jewish community.
But even Arthur (Fivie) Gunn, the master baker at Winnipeg's fabled Gunn's Bakery, isn't sure who made it first.
"We do make schmoo, but I don't think we originated it," he says. "There are always a few in the freezer and we have the caramel sauce ready - we can do a schmoo at the drop of a hat."
At any celebration in the city, from weddings to bar/bat mitzvahs, the schmoo is the crowning glory of the dessert table - typically a feast of chocolate and halvah logs, creamy cheesecakes and chocolate-chip, banana, poppy seed and cinnamon tortes.
"You haven't lived until you've experienced the Winnipeg dessert table," Mr. Gunn says.
At Schmoozer's Café - in the Jewish Heritage Centre - Maxine Shuster makes many a schmoo, too. She isn't sure where it all started either, but the cake is reminiscent of Hungarian or Ukrainian tortes, with their layers shot with ground nuts and creamy fillings.
It's also reminiscent of a Louisiana layer cake filled with pecans and drizzled with bourbon-spiked pecan sauce, so it may have Cajun or French-Canadian roots.
One blogger on wikipedia.org claims the schmoo is pictured in her aging Five Roses cookbook, but my circa-2003 reproduction has no such reference. She also wonders if "schmoo" might be "some German, Yiddish or Slavic word."
Indeed, the Jewish Heritage Centre's Carla Divinsky says, " 'Schmoo' can also be 'gooey' in Yiddish," and schmoo torte certainly is.
Li'l Abner's creator, Al Capp, introduced a cartoon Shmoo in the 1940s - a lovable, lumpy shape-shifter that instantly became anything its human handlers desired. In a place that can bear an uncanny resemblance to Capp's icy Lower Slobbovia, Winnipeg's sweet schmoo torte seems to bring just as much happiness.