Tastes of the American pie revolution
Coconut Creme Pie from Delmonic's in New Orleans. (Jerry Alexander/LPI)
Pie is experiencing a revolution of sorts in the United States. Once a dowdy sweet associated with church suppers, now the dessert can be found served in stylish “flights”. Each region has a specialty based on local ingredients and culture, so if you filled your plate by motoring across the country, you could make an American pie flight, so to speak.
Fruit pies rule the oven racks in the East. In Maine, blueberries are baked between the crusts, a fine way to use the 89 million pounds of juicy morsels grown each year. A slab will likely follow your dinner at the local lobster shack, so forgo that last claw to save room.
Vermont takes pie seriously enough to have an official state pie: apple. Come harvest time in early fall, apple festivals (www.vermontapples.org) crank up with pie baking contests and -- better yet -- pie eating contests (no hands, please).
Florida is another serious contender with a state pie: key lime in this case, compliments of the abundant local lime crop. And what about Boston Cream Pie, the Beantown specialty? It is actually a spongy cake – split and filled with custard, then frosted with chocolate. But the name has stuck for 150 years since the “pie” first hit the table, so who are we to argue?
The Midwest is where pie reaches epic proportions and belt loosening becomes a necessity.
Indiana is the third (and last) state to have an official pie: sugar cream. The Village Inn restaurant, in the heart of Amish Country, makes a silky slice of goodness. Bonneted women in pastel dresses come in at 4:30 am daily to bake the pies. Arrive before lunch to get the best selection, which also includes peanut butter, Snickers and banana cream.
North in Wisconsin, the Norske Nook hangs a sign that says, “Pie Fixes Everything”. Try the chocolate mint or blueberry crunch varieties, and you will believe it. They both won blue ribbons at the National Pie Championship. Thank the thick, hand-rolled crust for the honours.
In Illinois, Route 66 is not only the Mother Road, but the mother lode when it comes to pie. At the time-warped Palms Grill Cafe, thick slabs of gooseberry, peach and sour cream raisin tempt from a glass case, while the Andrews Sisters croon from the stereo. And after dinner at the Ariston Cafe, the waitress hauls out a big ol’ dessert tray stacked with Reese’s, caramel-nut and other dreamy pies. Consider it fuel for the long drive onward.
Down South, everyone’s grandma has her own recipe for pecan pie, where secret ingredients swirl in the bowl with the nuts and corn syrup. Royer’s Round Top Cafe, in middle of nowhere Texas, has earned a swooning crowd for its version. It is so traditional that you are charged 50 cents extra for not getting the ice cream on top. The chef also whips up southern-style buttermilk and coconut chess pies. If you cannot decide, they offer a pie flight!
Fresh produce dominates the West’s wedges. Apples from Washington and cherries from California are baked into buttery tarts and served warm under a scoop of ice cream. You do not even have to feel guilty about indulging. Thanks to research from the American Pie Council, we know one in five Americans has devoured an entire pie solo. So eating a piece or two is well within bounds, no matter how you slice it.