By George Stahl
Who would you say was your favorite pastry maker, and what was it they baked? Many would probably say mom, or grandma; and it was apple pie. That is, if you are a true American.
After all, that was the standard answer for any serviceman in World War II if they were asked by a reporter to describe why they were fighting. “For mom and apple pie,” they’d say. Nothing more American than that… except for maybe baseball. Or hotdogs, or cheeseburgers, or… well, apple pie has to be second only to mom.
I am not trying to undermine the power of apple pie in this article, only to straighten out some facts. It seems that over the decades— even centuries— apple pie has been the victim of fake news. Let’s break this to you gently. Please try to follow, and don’t interrupt until I am finished.
The apple pie has gone through much on its journey to becoming an American icon of the highest standards. To begin with, true, it is created using a pastry. A pastry, as it turns out, is not the finished product, but an ingredient in that product. The closest thing to an example would be concrete. You know, that hard surface you walk on, shovel the snow off of and patch when it cracks. Concrete is the finished product, even though it is mostly referred to as cement. Cement is actually the powder that; when used with water, sand and various-sized rocks; forms concrete— the finished product. Pastry, then, is the cement in the apple pie, the dough that holds it together.
So the pastry dough is laid down as a bottom to the pie, then the other ingredients are added: apples, sugar, cinnamon, lemon, butter and other spices; and a cover of pastry is laid on top to complete the apple pie. The pie is put into the oven, baked for an hour or more and then left out to cool. Now the taste test is given to it; and mom, grandma or your wife receive the accolades they so justly deserve.
There are many variations to the recipe by now, but all of them stem from the one created in medieval England around the time of writer Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Out of the turmoil of the Middle Ages came a small bakery in the north of London, name unknown— or at the very least, forgotten— where the apple pie was born. It is 1381, and while Chaucer was penning his tale, a baker was experimenting with a recipe for a new pie. His recipe, most likely with the help of his wife, simply said to use “good apples, good spices, figs, and raisins and pears, all prepared in a cofyn of pastry dough.”
Very soon the villagers were sitting inside the bakery, or under a nearby tree; sipping strong, warm English ale and enjoying a hearty helping of the baker’s newly invented apple pie, while discussing their take on The Canterbury Tales. This English version of a Norman Rockwell morning would last well into the 21st Century; when the ale was, in most cases, replaced by tea.
So how did that pie make it to America, and the status of a national symbol? Just like anything else, it traveled across the Atlantic when the colonies were formed. In the early 1600s, English ships carrying goods and traits with them made their way here; and before we knew it, we got our piece of the pie.
Surprisingly, we were sort of the last to know about this great anytime meal most people considered a dessert. There are French versions, Swedish recipes, and who hasn’t heard of Dutch apple pie? I bet you thought they got it from us. Sorry. Nope, we got it from the tyrants who started all of this 240 years ago. I guess that’s a little harsh, considering they brought the dessert to the party.
Needless to say, but I will say it anyway, once the bakers of the colonies got ahold of the recipe, things were added, taken away; and soon, what is left to cool on your grandma’s window sill became the version that counts. The American Apple Pie. The pastry-based goodie that bakeries all over the country claim to have the best version of, and the pie that the bald eagle should be eating— or have at his side in all of his photo ops— as a symbol of America. Sitting together as a symbol of our strength and our endurance as a nation.
Don McLean sang, “Bye, bye, Miss American Pie.” Looking around the country today we can only say, “Let’s hope not.” Not after it took that beautifully delicious concoction of grandma’s over 600 years to get here.
So why do the millions of men and women in the United States military fight to keep our country ours? Why should we fight to keep the America we grew up in, and to keep bigotry and hatred and senseless violence out?
For mom and apple pie!