Supposedly American soldiers overseas were once asked about why they were fighting, “Mom and apple pie,” they answered.
Apple pie is a universal symbol for americana. In fact, when you want to say something has reached the pinnacle of its American-ness, you say “it’s as American as apple pie.” With Independence Day coming up, I was really excited to learn about the classic traditions and folklore around this American icon. What I learned, is Apple pie pre-dates the U.S.!
The first recorded recipe was in a British cookbook written in 1381. The U.S. was only founded in 1776, which means apple pie is at least 395 years older. Most of the articles I have looked up really like to hammer this point and call out the beloved dish for not really being American. I say, if anything, the history of this flakey crust shelled fruit filled pasty makes it possibly the most American food in history!
Let’s look at some facts:
One, the original recipe called for apples, figs, raisins, saffron, and pears. Hardly what you think of when you think apple pie. I could only imagine with all those strong flavours, apples probably take a back seat.
Two, this apple Pie most likely had a ‘coffin’ opposed to a crust. Which wasn’t generally editable. They were usually used to preserve the filling.
Three, there was no added sugar! Sugar was an expensive spice at the time. Hardly what I call an apple pie. The irony of a recipe calling for saffron, but leaving out sugar because it’s too expensive is not lost on me…
Apple pie was something settlers had to leave behind when they came to the new world. They didn’t just come to America, and start baking pies! Apples didn’t grow here, it wasn’t until apple trees, and bees to pollinate them were imported before Apples were a viable product.
Even then, apples weren’t abundant enough for the average person to make pie, most of them were used as a hard cider. All that changed when a young entrepreneur named John Chapman (a.k.a., Johnny Appleseed) started planting apple trees on his properties. His business model was to maintain the tree so he could later sell the land for a profit. This actually made apples a supplyable item. Between all that and prohibition eliminating the market for hard cider, the American people were finally able to make apple pies. The pies American made were likely influenced the pie they knew from England, and Dutch and Italian recipes that had similar crust to what we know today.
So how, you might ask, does all this make it the ‘the most American food in history’? Well, it came to America from England where it had a less than ideal situation, but through hard work and entrepreneurship, and the influence of other great traditions it was able to survive and make itself something better than it was. Now tell me, isn’t that the American dream? I’d say it’s as American as… well you know!
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