The Foodie

pie, pies

A Passion for Pies

November 18, 2010
by Colleen Brondou
Everyone loves the quintessentially American apple pie and that delicious Thanksgiving staple, pumpkin pie. But the ingredients that can be tucked inside a pastry crust are limited only by your imagination.

A History of Pie

What’s Cooking America, a Web site by cookbook author Linda Stradley, details the long, illustrious history of pie. The Greeks are generally credited with making the first pie pastry, wrapping it around meat. After conquering Greece, the Romans took home the recipe and used it to encase all kinds of meats and fish. A taste for pie spread throughout Europe, with each country tailoring the recipe to their palate and region.

In the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, however, pie came to be “an English specialty that was unrivaled in other European cuisines.” The first English pies were called “coffins” or “coffyns” and held meats and sauce. In the 1620s, the pilgrims brought their pie recipes to the New World and began using the fruits and berries shared with them by the Native Americans. By the 1700s, pioneer women in America generally served pies with every meal.

The popularity of pie in the United States only continued to grow, as evidenced by this article in the Sept. 14, 1895, edition of The New York Times. The article, “Pie and Its Devotees,” proudly proclaimed that about 22 million pies were consumed in New York City every year: “Pie is the one article of diet to be found in all sorts of places without distinction, from the first-class hotel to the penny stand at the corner.”

The Elusive Crust

Most people agree on what makes a good crust: It should be buttery but not greasy, crispy yet flaky, and though it should be durable enough to hold a lovely fluted edge while in the pie pan, it should also be tender enough to melt in your mouth.

Few people agree on how best to achieve these contradictions, however. New York Times food writer Melissa Clark debates the merits of using animal fats, butter, shortening or some combination thereof. She shares the results of her experiments, and recipes for a variety of crusts and pies.

Kitchen Parade has collected even more recipes for piecrust from around the Web. Look for an all-butter crust, a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, a gluten-free piecrust and plenty of tips from pastry chefs and cookbook authors on how to make delectable crusts.

As American as Apple Pie

There's nothing more comforting on a chilly day than a warm slice of apple pie. Most bakers have a treasured family recipe for this old standby. But there are just as many ways to create a delicious apple pie as there are recipes for piecrust.

On Shine, a site from Yahoo, you’ll find six recipes for distinctly different apple pies, including a classic like Grandma Ople’s Amazing Apple Pie and a slightly more upscale Caramelized Apple Pie with Calvados.

A Different Take

Tired of the same old pumpkin pie? Sweet Potato Pecan Pie is a delicious alternative. Made with fresh sweet potatoes, some argue that the sweet potato pie is more flavorful and has a better texture than a pumpkin pie made with pumpkin from a can. And if you make your pumpkin pies from fresh pumpkin, it’s certainly a lot easier to peel and cook sweet potatoes than it is to cook, peel and de-seed a pumpkin. Freshly grated orange zest, combined with cinnamon and nutmeg, gives the pie a spicy citrus kick. One sniff of this pie coming out of the oven and you’ll be hooked.

In Celebration of Pie

In its own words, “The American Pie Council is the only organization dedicated to preserving America’s pie heritage and promoting America’s love affair with pies.” Learn about the organization's National Pie Championships where commercial, professional and amateur bakers compete in their categories for the best pies.

The Pie of the Month Club started as a monthly postcard featuring a pie recipe with a bit of history and art thrown in for good measure. It’s now a whimsical site that celebrates all kinds of pies with a recipe archive, an “ask the pie expert” column, a “pie map” with pie restaurant reviews from around the country and lots more. Expect to find some pretty unusual pies, such as the Gravel Pie, the Vinegar Pie and the Amish Sauerkraut Custard Pie.

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