January 23, 2013

Soup to Nuts: On this one day, at least, we can all lead a life of pie

It’s National Pie Day, and if you think it’s just another of those meaningless food ‘holidays,’ think again.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Ned Swain takes pie very seriously.

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Ned Swain has retired his well-worn pie suit, but the unabashed pie fanatic will again be celebrating in a big way National Pie Day, which falls on Wednesday this year.

Courtesy photo

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The LimeRock Inn in Rockland serves dozens of mini versions of its popular tarts during the annual Pies on Parade festivities.

PJ Walter photo courtesy of LimeRock Inn

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• Fruit pies were commonly eaten as part of breakfast in the 19th century.

• The term "as American as apple pie" traces back to 14th-century England. The Pilgrims brought their pie-making skills, along with the apple seeds to America. As the popularity of apple pie spread throughout the nation, the phrase grew to symbolize American prosperity.

• The term "upper crust" refers to early America when the economy was difficult and supplies were hard to come by. Only affluent households could afford ingredients for both the upper and lower crusts of a pie; thus, the term "upper crust" was born.

• Seven percent of Americans have passed off a store-bought pie as homemade.

• 32 percent of Americans prefer no crust on top of their pie.

• Nine percent of Americans prefer to eat their pie crust first.

• Shoo-fly pie is a wet-bottom molasses pie that was originally used to attract flies away from the kitchen.

• Pumpkin pie first showed up on the American holiday table at the Pilgrims' second Thanksgiving in 1623.

• The wealthy English were known for their "surprise pies" in which live creatures would pop out when the pie was cut open.

• In the 1890s, "pie" was a common slang expression meaing anything easy. That's when the phrase "as easy as pie" was born.

• A survey by the American Pie Council and Crisco found that apple pie is the favorite flavor among one out of four Americans, followed by pumpkin, chocolate, lemon meringue and cherry.

• 6 million: The number of American men age 35 to 54 who have eaten the last slice of pie and denied it.

Trivia source: American Pie Council

Seriously enough that Wednesday he will celebrate National Pie Day by reciting pie-related poetry and performing some pie drama.

His well-worn and getting-to-be-a-bit-odoriferous pie suit (yes, he has a pie suit) will be left at home because, after three years of wear and tear, it has seen better window sills.

Swain is a member of the elusive "Portland Pie Council," a group of five or so Portlanders who fancy pie and for the past four years have organized a Pie and Art Gala at the Mayo Street Center for the Arts to celebrate Jan. 23, National Pie Day. Generally, they keep their identities secret, so Swain has become their spokesperson, using his pie hole to promote pies made of sweet potatoes, chocolate, pecans, berries, summer vegetables and just about any other ingredient you can think of that tastes good in a crust.

"There's a pie out there for everybody," Swain said. "It's a unifying thing."

National Pie Day sounds like one of those meaningless food holidays that you find on the calendar that your insurance agent sends you at the end of the year. But you should never underestimate Americans' affinity for pie, because if you bet against that love affair, you will lose. Americans down an average of six slices of pie every year, according to the American Pie Council, a figure that's probably way too low for true pie devotees.

Marti Mayne is one of the organizers of the annual Pies on Parade tour in Rockland on Sunday, in which hungry ticket holders go from inn to restaurant to inn sampling more than 40 kinds of pie within just a few hours' time. She recalls that the first year the event was held, there was a big blizzard.

"It was like the worst blizzard of the decade," she said. "And every other thing in the state of Maine was closed except for this event, which they decided to hold because each of the inns who were participating -- at that time it was just six inns -- they all had made 50 pies. They had all these pies, and they said we're going to serve them and whoever comes, comes."

A hardy group of 50 people showed up with forks in hand and trudged from inn to inn through the snow.

As a reward, they were all given a whole pie, which some of them undoubtedly ate later in a dark kitchen all by themselves, filled with shame and regret. (More pie council trivia: One in five Americans confess that they have eaten an entire pie by themselves.)

Now in its ninth year, the Pies on Parade tour will include local restaurants and businesses as well as inns, and has to cap ticket sales at 500. The day always sells out.

The pies have gotten grander, too. Apple, blueberry and cherry, now the country cousins of the pie world, will be competing for attention with their more sophisticated relatives in the fancy duds: Cheddar roasted apple mascarpone pie; lemon curd tarts with blueberry orange nut crust; pear, blue cheese and bacon phyllo tartlets; and Key lime pie with mango coulis and pecan brittle.

Pie is the dessert mostly likely to be served both upstairs and downstairs at Downton Abbey.

Last year, 60 people showed up to the Portland Pie Council event, each of them bringing a pie to share with the other guests and compete for $50 prizes. Swain won the savory category one year with his pie of shaved skirt steak, gorgonzola dolce (a blue cheese) and walnuts. This year, his contribution will be an Italian gnocchi pie.

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There is “considerably less chemistry” involved in making a pie than in other forms of baking or cooking, says Ashley English, author of “A Year of Pies.”

Courtesy photo


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