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

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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

January is "kind of an empty time of year," Swain said. By Jan. 23, people have recovered from Christmas and New Year's. It's cold, it's gray and people are looking for something to do, a way to have some fun without all the usual family obligations and expectations that come with those other holidays.

But there is more to it than that.

Plain or gussied up, pie is an easy thing to celebrate. Pie is easy to make, despite most people's irrational fear of making crusts, and easy to eat. There is a good reason for that old saying, "as easy as pie."

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: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies" (Lark, $19.95).

"I've baked professionally, and (with pies) there's not the mystique of yeast in rising breads," English said. "There's not kind of the preciousness of cupcakes. Cookies can go flat when you bake them. I think pie is just a lot more forgiving that way, and it's comforting, too."

In the growing popularity of pie, English senses more than a passing trend. It's part of a broader lifestyle shift.

Pies are a good way to use up all those local and seasonal foods that people have been buying at farmers markets. Just throw all those wild Maine blueberries or Gravenstein apples or heirloom tomatoes or root vegetables into a crust, and call it pie.

"I like the creative vision of it," Swain said, "that pie is just anything baked in a dough crust. You can put anything in it."

Making a pie in your own warm kitchen is an extension of the nation's renewed interest in do-it-yourself and handcrafted projects, English says. Americans want a life that is homemade and cozy again: Guys are growing beards. City folk are wearing plaid and making their own beer. People are making pie.

"I think it just fits the zeitgeist right now," English said.

New flavors are always coming down the pike as home cooks try to make something old new again, but pies have been around for centuries. The ancient Egyptians made them, then passed on the idea to the Greeks before it spread to the Romans.

The first pie recipe, according to the American Pie Council, was published by the Romans and gave directions for a rye-crusted goat cheese and honey pie. Fast-forward a few hundred generations, and it wasn't long before Oliver Cromwell was declaring pie eating a pagan form of pleasure. He banned it altogether, and pie had to go underground for the next 16 years.

Early English pies were served in thick crusts known as "coffyns" that often were not eaten but sometimes had bird legs hanging over the sides. In Colonial America, the spelling was changed to "coffin,"and the word became associated with the long, narrow pan used to bake a pie. The term "crust" didn't come into vogue until the American Revolution.

Today the choices are dizzying. Someone, somewhere, counted once and found out there are 231 varieties of apple pie.

But Boston cream pie? That's a cake.

Meat pies and pot pies are widely accepted as true pies. What about tarts and gallettes?

Yes, says English -- anything that's got some kind of top or bottom crust, with a filling that's either open or enveloped in the dough, can be considered pie. (English has a fried green tomato and pimento cheese tart in her pie book.)

"Some quiches kind of straddle that pie-nonpie fence, too," English said.

Cheesecake: Is it pie or cake?

English votes for cake since there's just crumbs, not a crust, on the bottom.

Hmm, some of us are not so sure and would call it a pie.

Let's debate that over a nice slice of you-know-what.

Happy National Pie Day.

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: mgoad@pressherald.com

Twitter: MeredithGoad

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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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