American Pie

What an appalling waste of pastry that terrible film was. A nightmare, really. But that’s not what I’m here to discuss. I wish to re-frame pie, not as a European food (for indeed Continentals eat very little pie nowadays), but as the ultimate colonial baked good. Granted, Americans collectively eat a lot less pie than we once did, and then mostly sweet dessert versions. Statistically we consume about as many pies in total as the British (who mostly eat theirs savory), but significantly less than the Australians, another former colony whose national dish is pie (though again, of the savory sort).

What makes pie so perfectly adapted to the colonial mindset? Ease of preparation is a big factor. You don’t need an oven to make a pie. A Dutch oven or similar type device will work fine in a pinch. One simply lines the interior with dough, fills and covers the pastry, then sets the whole thing on embers with a shovel-full of coals scooped on top (though this method no longer endures, except maybe on camping trips or among Civil War reenactors, we Americans still refer to all our savory meat pies as “pot” pies).

Pie’s versatility would also have made it highly desirable to the colonist-on-the-go. It’s a great way not only to stretch food, but also flour, a very nice feature when the nearest flour mill is over a month away by boat. Thus we can make a pretty fair guess that the pies were among the first (if not the first) baked goods to be prepared in the new world. As to what kind, one can only speculate. It certainly wasn’t apple. We know that eels were big and plentiful in those days, and probably made one heck of pie (especially à la mode).

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