“As American as apple pie.” There’s a reason we’ve had this saying for so long; it’s because it’s true. Americans cannot hold claim to inventing pie in general, but we can take full tribute for the invention of sweet pies—fruit, custard, anything without meat. Back in Ancient Greece, where almost everything in our society started, they made spiced meat pies. These pies sometimes had figs in them for added flavor, but there is no record of anyone making a fruit pie. These meat pies made their way through Europe to England and then came over to America on the Mayflower. When the colonists became revolutionaries, they also became revolutionary bakers. Looking for a way to get food on the run, the revolutionaries made small, hand held fruit pies (McDonalds, anyone?).
No matter where you go in America or whom you hang out with, there will be a pie. There are diner pies. These pies represent rural, small town America and are homemade, simple, classic, usually topped with Reddi Whip. They come out of their pie cases to sit next to blue plate specials or a cup of coffee.
A close relative of the diner pie is the blue ribbon state fair pie. These pies are also homemade but are a bit more fussy, just like your pageant girls. Just like the keys to perfect pageant hair, these pies are made from secret recipes handed down from mama to daughter.
We also have the busy family pie. These are usually courtesy of Marie Callender but could also be an ice box pie or a “mud pie”—chocolate pudding pie with a pre-made graham cracker crust. These are part of the new American dream of the two kids and a dog with the white picket fence. They are middle America and are a special treat for the high speed suburb families.
Finally you have the country clubs, the leisure class, today’s daughters of the Revolution. These are your chiffon pies, your meringue pies, the pies that require more attention and would look best if eaten off of vintage china while sitting under an umbrella sipping tea. These are your first ladies, Lady Bird Johnson, Jackie O, Nancy, Laura and Michelle pies.
Beyond being able to unite America, pie can also help us talk about our family history. In my family, pie has been a centerpiece at many family meals. My daddy’s mama makes a thin custard pie with a Crisco crust. She is the product of the Great Depression, coming from a small farming family in Pennsylvania. She doesn’t want to waste anything, and even uses the leftover piecrust. She puts cinnamon and sugar on the rolled out leftovers, making a cookie to have with her coffee in the morning.
My aunt on my mama’s side is the product of a changing family dynamic. My Nana became a journalist when my aunt was a child, so she has always felt a little cheated. Homemade pie was a special treat when Nana was trying to juggle being a local socialite and a writer. As a result, my aunt makes a generic apple pie to try to recapture a childhood every American expects.
I am a product of generation X. I am selfish and decadent. I feel entitled to have the best, which is why I make a deep dish apple pie with a butter crust. I may even add a slice of Gouda on top.
So, the next time someone offers you a helping of pie, go ahead and take it. What you’re getting is a part of American history, and a part of family history. No matter how you look at it, there is truly nothing as American as apple pie.
Enjoy the famous pies of O’Charley’s Restaurant and Bar while attending “A Little Mystery, a Little Talk, a Little Pie with Mollie Cox-Bryan” on November 4th at 1pm in the Main Library in Downtown Harrisonburg. Mollie will be selling and signing books after the program. For more info contact Cheryl Metz at 434-4475x129.
Written by Jane Lightfoot 2013