I love pie.
Without a doubt, pie is my dessert of choice. I’ve been known to ask for a pie in lieu of a birthday cake. Back when I regularly journeyed north to visit my mom, she would invariably have a pie waiting when I arrived. During our vacation travels, I’m constantly searching for the best local pie option. At home or away, I will always order a slice in a restaurant considered a good pie venue (more on that later.) I’ll eat pie with zero regard for how much I’ve already consumed or how close to the next meal the opportunity arises.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of pie without thinking about Thanksgiving. This year’s holiday is just around the corner, and, for pie enthusiasts across the nation, the fourth Thursday in November is a High Holy Day.
As you know, Thanksgiving in an eating extravaganza. Based on a quick internet search, the average American devours between 3,000 and 4,500 calories over the course of the day. I’m guessing a lot of us consume more. There’s almost always turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, those soft white dinner rolls that soak up the melted butter, sweet potatoes covered in brown sugar, green bean casserole, and other specialties based on family traditions. For example, because my mother was Italian, we always had spaghetti and meatballs at our holiday dinners. One of my brothers still does. However, as delicious as the main meal is, Thanksgiving dinner proper is simply a lounge act for the main event. The pie. For as long as I can remember, my entire focus during Thanksgiving menu planning is on the types of pie we’ll serve.
Pie has a long history and has been around as far back as the ancient Egyptian, Greek, and Roman Cultures. Historically, most of the earliest pies were meat based. Queen Elizabeth I was a fan of cherry pie and England is given credit for the advent of the fruit pie. Not being an avid student of English history, I’m uneducated about the first Elizabeth’s achievements, but, in my view, the fruit pie was sheer genius.
Early pie crusts were utilitarian, used solely to secure the filling during cooking and were discarded uneaten. According to one source, this was true as recently as the eighteenth century. Thankfully, somewhere along the line humans ended this barbaric practice, inventing the modern pie.
From an American perspective, early settlers ate enough crust encased foods that New England was labeled the “pie belt.” As the country expanded west, our nation’s pie tradition grew, and regional favorites developed as new fruits and other ingredients were discovered. These days there’s the phrase “as American as apple pie.” Once source referred to pie as “the most traditional American dessert.”
Pie is everywhere in our popular culture. State and county fairs always have a pie eating contest and a hotly contested pie baking competition. Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s General Motors used the patriotic line “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet” to try and sell cars. The campaign must have worked because the jingle is stuck in my head half a century later. In entertainment, pies are often utilized for comedic effect. Back in the day, entertainers were forever throwing pies at each other and their audiences, an old-fashioned version of Nickelodeon sliming everyone.
At one point in the 1996 John Travolta movie Michael the main characters are in a honky-tonk bar and order a piece of every pie on the menu. While they sit around the table chatting and enjoying their heavenly dessert, the character Dorothy, played by Andie MacDowell, sings a song she wrote about pie. The short ditty includes lines like “pie, pie, me, oh, my” and “I’ll come to your place every day if you’ve got ‘em.” The scene is one of the great eating moments in cinema history.
I recently conducted an informal survey using social media and random conversations to discover favorite pie flavors. The results were somewhat predictable. Apple was easily number one, with blueberry, pecan, pumpkin, and lemon meringue receiving the most votes. If you’re wondering, my vote was for blueberry. Key lime pie was next in line and, I must admit, I was surprised by the support. Except for one split vote, key lime lovers answered without any hesitation or thought. Other responses would come after careful consideration or the person would provide two answers, at which point I’d assign the respective pies a half vote each.
Most of the favorites were fruit pies, but there were votes for chocolate cream, banana cream, mincemeat, and ice cream pies. Several respondents insisted on a la mode or whipped cream topping. Many demanded they eat their pie warm. Also, there were a few regional preferences. For example, two individuals adamantly informed me the best pie is made with sour cherries from Washington State, where they both had roots.
Two people voted for chicken pot pie, which I consider more of a high-end casserole than a pie proper. There was even a vote for whoopie pie. If you don’t know what a whoopie pie is, think of a high-end Devil Dog. If you don’t know what a Devil Dog is, the internet can answer all. While I consider the whoopie pie more of a cake than a pie, I had to include the vote here because of the brief but entertaining social media exchange between a husband and his disbelieving wife:
Husband: Whoopie pie. Strong New England roots.
Wife: That’s not a pie!!!
Husband: It says pie in the title.
For the record, the wife voted for apple pie and key lime pie. She was specific, though. The key lime had to be from Key West in Florida.
When I asked folks about the best pie they ever had, almost everyone cited pies made either by their mother, grandmother, sister, an in-law, or one of their children. No one said the best pie was made by their dad. A few mentioned restaurants and almost all of them were smaller, local establishments. The exception, again, was key lime pie. Apparently, some of the nicer eateries, including Emeril’s in New Orleans, offer an excellent key lime option.
These results confirmed a hypothesis I test whenever the opportunity arises—when eating pie outside of the home, the less fancy the establishment, the better the pie. My reasoning is simple. Pie is unsophisticated. There’s no reason to attend a prestigious cooking school and/or get overly creative to make one. As a result, I rarely order pie in an upscale restaurant because most high-end chefs feel the need to “put their mark” on their cooking. Doing this with pie only complicates the situation. I also never ask for pie in a chain restaurant where they serve what I call Corporate Pie, usually bland, massed produced imitations of the real thing.
With apologies to my wife, mother, mother-in-law, and family friend Lucy Angelini, the best pie I’ve ever had was at the McKinley View Lodge in Denali Alaska. Our tour group stopped there for lunch, and I had a slice of strawberry-rhubarb pie. The expertly simmered local fruits, combined with the perfect portion of sugar, were blanketed by a tender, golden-brown, flaky crust. As I ate, I swear there were angels singing in the background. Because I raved about the pie for the next two days, our guide brought us to the lodge again on the way out. I ate a piece of blueberry pie and, as you can tell from the picture at the top of this column, had an amazing experience. During this second visit, I told the waitress she served the best pie I’ve ever had. She told me she’d thank the woman who cooks them and then informed me the secret Alaskan ingredient is bear grease in the crust. She may have been kidding, but, nonetheless, I’ll never forget my Denali pie.
Some of the more unusual pie varieties I discovered were Whiskey Butterscotch Praline Cream, Honey Vinegar with Sea Salt, Maple Bacon Irish, Purple Sweet Pumpkin Cheesecake, Bayou Goo, and White Trash Crème Brulé. The longest pie title I found was Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough with Brown Sugar Ice Cream and Chocolate Sorbet Ice Cream.
I could go on for another couple of pages, but I fear my pie passion is leading to some long-winded writing. Either way, after my research and recent discussions, I’m craving a piece. Unfortunately, the one I want is roughly 4,400 miles away. With luck, I could be back in Denali in about twenty-four hours, although the cost might be excessive for one slice of blueberry. I guess I’ll have to buy a whole pie.
Steven Rogers’ award-winning novel “Into the Room” is available in paperback, on Kindle, and as an audiobook. If you’d like to order a copy, please visit Amazon or his website: https://steven-rogers.com/
November News from Steve
Start Your Holiday Shopping Early!
Early in the shopping season, the Kindle version of “Into the Room” will be on sale for $1.99!!! Don’t miss out on this early opportunity to save. I will post the exact dates and timing on Social Media just before Thanksgiving.
The “Into the Room” paperback and audiobook make a terrific holiday gift. Click here to purchase copies: https://steven-rogers.com/
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Book of the Month
Kristen Hannah’s The Four Winds revolves around Elsa Wolcott and her daughter Loreda. Faced with a dreamer of a husband and the harsh realities of the dust bowl during the Great Depression, Elsa and Loreda emigrate to California, searching for relief from the hardships of life in Texas.
While I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, Kristen Hannah doesn’t pull any punches in describing the discrimination, low wages, squalid living conditions, and uncertainty of life as a migrant worker. As with all her books, the story is fast paced and paints a moving picture of human resilience in the face of seemingly impossible hardship. The far-reaching plot is unfailingly compelling, and the reader’s emotions swing between hopeful and fearful. The characters are vividly drawn, and the human relationships portrayed are loving, moving, and realistic. I’m a slow reader, and I finished this one in a week. A great book!
16 thoughts on “Pie”
I ordered an apple-cranberry pie for Thanksgiving and a Boston Creme Pie for hubby and grandson
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Ice cream pie for me!!! Apple next!
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I actually have a hard time finding a pie I don’t like! Ice Cream and crust combined? It’s almost unfair.
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I miss crust! I cannot have gluten and gluten-free crust just isn’t the same. I was the snitcher of edges of crusts that others left! I voted for lemon meringue, but rhubarb is right up there (sans strawberries), but needs ice cream.
I get you on the crust. A lot of my family is gluten free too. We enjoy the pie with the gf crust, but I love when we’re out in the world and I can get the real thing.
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Absolutely loved this, Steve!
We are hosting a “Friendsgiving” this year. One friend has volunteered to bring a Dutch Apple Pie. It would be rude of me to make my own pie … just in case … right?! LOL
Hope you are doing well and you have a wonderful Thanksgiving with family and friends … and pie! 🥧
You know, you can never have too much pie. I’d make one….
Thank you for reading!
First, if you go back to Denali, please bring me back a strawberry rhubarb pie. Or two.
In my years in independent schools with students from Korea, Mexico, and China, I can’t tell you how many times I had to explain (as best as I could) why Boston Cream Pie was not pie, did not have cream, but had custard, and I don’t know why the Boston moniker. I forgive the Whoopie Pie name only because Whoopie Pies are just so wonderful and yes, I am from New England.
Based on all the input I received, what constitutes a pie is very subjective and regionally based. I haven’t had a whoopie pie in years, but, boy, do I have fond memories.
Can’t believe chocolate pie was not more popular…. People don’t know what they are missing.
For the record, I do love a good chocolate pie. There were quite a few votes for Chocolate, but the fruit pies seemed to have a special place in folks’ hearts.
Yep. Humble cafe, world-class pie. Blackberry preferred. Happy Thanksgiving, friend!
You too and thank you for reading! For others who might read this comment, Cheryl’s book “Sugar Birds” is a gem!
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Love the beard – almost like a cool blogger that used to work at the big D 🙂
I always wanted to try a beard and when COVID hit I gave it a try. Turns out I like it!