Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - February 3, 2023

No pie left behind

It's January 23, we are passing through Mount Vernon, Iowa and husband Art is pointing to a sign by the road: "Happy Pie Day!" What? Thanksgiving and Christmas are behind us. Isn't it time to start eating more healthy?

Maybe it's just an Iowa "thing." Out comes my phone!

It's not!

In the 1970s, Charlie Papazian, an engineer, brewer and author, who was born - you guessed it - on January 23, declared that day as National Pie Day. Promoted by the American Pie Council - who knew there was such a thing? - their slogan is "Grab a slice of life!"

This is not to be confused with another similar-sounding national "holiday." In case you fell asleep in math class, the Greek letter "pi" is used to represent the number you get when you divide a circle's perimeter by its diameter. To two decimal places, the value is 3.14, so March 14 is National Pi Day. But Charlie's holiday has an "e" on the end.

While one slice of pie is mighty pleasing, more is better. So in the 1990s, someone decided settling for just one day to celebrate such a delightful food wasn't enough. Voil�! Just like that, February became Great American Pie Month.

What we recognize as a pie has been around for a long time. In ancient Egypt, bakers filled bread dough with honey, fruit, and nuts and served it to the Pharaoh. Drawings depicting this are on the walls of Ramses II's tomb.

Recipes have been found dating back to the ancient Romans. One was for a rye-crusted goat cheese and honey pie. The Romans made pies with a variety of meats, seafood, and fruit.

But despite England being part of the Roman empire, pies didn't appear in Britain until the 14th century and were typically filled with meats. Even fruit-filled pies were unsweetened because sugar was expensive.

When English settlers went to the New World, they took their pies with them. But while a present-day American Thanksgiving table isn't complete without pumpkin or pecan pie, these sweet versions didn't appear at the so-called "First Thanksgiving." Pumpkins and pecans are both native to the U.S. Southeast, so it wasn't until the 1800s some enterprising cooks turned them into pie filling. But times change and today, sweet pies overwhelmingly outsell savory versions in the U.S.

Over the years, pie has become woven into our culture as a symbol of tradition and home. From Don McLean's song "American Pie" to expressions like "as American as apple pie," our country embraces the flaky dessert. The latter phrase comes from the folktale about Johnny Appleseed, but didn't become widely known until World War II. "Flag, home and apple pie," "motherhood and apple pie," and "mom and apple pie" were commonly-cited reasons to explain what we were fighting for. To place a food in the same status as your mother or country is one indication of its universal appeal.

Of course, there have always been killjoys. Near the end of the 19th century, an "eat-healthy" craze called for eliminating cakes and pies from the American table. The Ladies Home Journal ran "Why I Oppose Pies" by noted dietician Sarah Tyson Rorer. Fortunately, sweet-loving heads prevailed.

However, pie did cause Art a problem in Chicago�s O'Hare airport in 1999. Because mincemeat filling was hard to come by here, Art had bought a large can of it in England, where it is a common ingredient in tarts, cookies and cakes. This was at the height of the "mad-cow" disease frenzy and the word "meat" on the can caused him to be pulled from the line. After the inspector was satisfied no actual meat was involved, Art was allowed to move on.

When I asked family and friends to name their favorite pies, I was overwhelmed with the variety of flavors - and even the forms the desserts take, including crumbles, cobblers and tarts. I received 16 different answers with many repeats as most couldn't choose just one.

I have a hunch that, like so many things, pies also come into and go out of fashion. Just as the once-popular mincemeat pie has virtually vanished from the American table, it's rare today to see a rhubarb pie. When you do, the filling almost always includes another ingredient, such as strawberries. But rhubarb was once so common as a filling that rather than rhubarb, the plant was commonly referred to as the "pie plant."

Several people had a connection to a favorite pie that involved more than its taste. One example is Manhattan friend Deb's choice of coconut cream.

... My mom made them from scratch and her meringue stood so tall with toasted coconut on it. It was the last pie she made me before we lost her. This pie holds a very special place in my heart!

Friend Bryce has a special connection to chocolate pecan.

[Son] Andrew and I made it for a last minute Christmas Eve dessert when he was 10 years old. ... He still makes it, and I'll be surprised if we don't have it at their "new" house for my first big dinner there. ... Andrew even sent me a piece ... with nice napkins and a "spork" to eat on a Thanksgiving morning flight to Paris a few years ago. ... this one has a deep emotional connection ...

I love lemon meringue - my dad's favorite - but am like friend Paula who remarked she likes whatever she happens to be eating at the time. So I won't say "no" to apple, banana cream, cherry, chocolate, peach, pecan, pumpkin, or rhubarb. And my tastes aren't limited to the sweet variety either. Yorkshire Pudding - a staple served in British pubs and also made by our English friend Jan - definitely hits the spot. And, well, now I've gone and done it. Those chicken pot pies in our freezer are definitely calling my name.

Guess my new motto is: "No pie left behind!"

Top (l-r): Art holding the mincemeat pie made for him by my first mother-in-law Rita; my almost-centenarian aunt Kay enjoys her favorite lemon meringue pie; Stevens Point, Wisconsin Journal of 1 September 1900 referencing dietitian Sarah Tyson Rorer's suggestion to eliminate pie from the family meal table; Andrew and Bryce sampling Andrew's chocolate pecan creation. Bottom (l-r) French friend Solange and her Mirabelle plum pie; daughter Katie's combined Thanksgiving and birthday bash featured pumpkin (bottom), pecan and peach-strawberry (top) pies; dietitian Sarah Tyson Rorer; my steak & ale pot pie at the Black Boy restaurant in Caernarfon, Wales.

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