As we prepare to celebrate our nation’s independence on the Fourth of July, what could be more appropriate than cutting a slice of apple pie – really and historically!
700 Years of Pies
Apple pie, the classic All-American dessert, has its origins across the pond in England. However, the earliest pies were not of fruit; instead, meat pies were the standard.
While we cannot know exactly when people began making pies with a fruit filling, we do know that written references to apple pies begin occurring in the 14th century. The “Forme of Cury: A Roll of Ancient English Cookery,” a cookbook complied ca. 1390, included this recipe. It’s reprinted here as it appears in the book with the language as it was more than 500 years ago:
XXIII. For To Make
Tartys in Applis
Tak gode Applys and gode Spycis and Figys and reysons and Perys and wan they are wel ybrayed colourd wyth Safroun wel and do yt in a cofyn and do yt forth to bake wel.
Changes over time
The pie crust, like the filling, has changed over time. Unlike the tasty, buttery crust we enjoy today, early pie crusts, known as “coffins” were bland and not usually meant to be eaten.
According to Linda Stradley, the author of the “Apple Pie History” page at whatscookingamerica.net, sweetened crusts began appearing in the 16th century when sugar became more widely available in England. Apple pies and puddings continue to be enjoyed in England, although nowhere have they become so prominent as in the United States.
When English settlers arrived in the New World in the 17th century, they did not find the varieties of apples they enjoyed at home. According to Stradley, while there are seven types of wild apples in America, most are inedible crabapples.
Thus, the English had to import their apples, and the pips from which to grow them, from home. They were spread across the continent during the following centuries as European settlers moved ever further west.
In 1820, Margaretta Brown describes to her son Orlando an extensive orchard at Liberty Hall: “We have abundance of fruit in our orchard, particularly pears and apples.” Whether the cook made pies with the apples we cannot know, but it seems entirely likely.
In colonial America, more apples were used for drinking than for eating. Apple cider was a staple beverage for all Americans, as fresh water was considered unsafe for drinking. Americans were considered “civilized” once they began eating their apples, rather than drinking them.
Once this change happened, Americans were able to begin baking apple pies, and from there they never looked back. The first American cookbook, “American Cookery” by Amelia Simmons, published in 1796, included not one, but two recipes for apple pie, along with recipes for apple pudding and apple tart.
Mom, baseball and apple pie
In time, the apple pie became synonymous with American goodness.
According to Elaine Corn in the book “American as Apple Pie,” this metaphor was probably created as part of an advertising campaign to restore the image of apples in America. And the promotion worked – in World War II, American GIs, when asked what they were fighting for, replied “for Mom and apple pie.”
The 1971 song by Don McLean, “American Pie,” used the pie as a symbol for America, in a song about the changing American landscape during the 1960s. In the mid-1970s, advertising by Chevrolet told us that baseball, apple pie, hot dogs, and Chevrolet “go together in the good ol’ USA.”
Apple Pie is so important that there is even a National Apple Pie Day, which is celebrated on May 13. Our special relationship with apple pie, believes “Apple Pie Perfect” author Ken Haedrich, comes from memory.
“My theory, then, is that we love apple pie because so many of us have a story…in which we watched or even helped a favorite grandma make apple pie, or in which a fragrant apple pie was always waiting, steam still pouring from the little top vents…When we were young, we never gave it much thought…Now that we’re older and wiser, we realize that apple pie connects us to our past and the people we care about most.”
A pie for everyone
Though a butter – or shortening – crust, sliced apple pie sweetened with sugar and covered in a lattice crust may be considered the standard for apple pies, it is by no means the only type of apple pie. Among the standard variations are the Dutch apple pie, the French apple tart, and the apple custard pie.
The variety doesn’t end there, however; in fact in “Apple Pie Perfect,” author Ken Haedrich offers 100 different recipes for this American classic, ranging from the traditional to the extreme.
Apple cheesecake burritos, anyone?
But according to Haedrich, the best apple pie recipe is the one you like the best. I concur. So go out there and make your best apple pie, Frankfort – and invite me over. I love pie.
‘An Early American Receipt for Apple Pie’
Take eight large Pippens, pare them, and core them, and cut them in pretty thick Slices; lay them in a broad Stew-pan, and put to them some clarify’d Sugar, and some Slices of Orange-peel, and stove them very gently till they are clear; then sheet a Dish, or a Petit-pan with Sugar-paste; lay in the Bottom some slices candy’d Citron; lay over your Apples in Rows, and some more Citron on them; then boil a Pint of Cream, and draw it up thick with the Yolks of four or five Eggs, a little Sugar, and a Blade of mace; pour it over the Apples, and bake it, and when the Crust is enough, it is ready.
“Mr. Carter’s Apple Tart,” a late 18th century recipe from the diary of Charles Carter of Charles City, Virginia. Reprinted in Hearthside Cooking by Nancy Carter Crump, 1986.
Old Fashioned Fourth of July
Liberty Hall Historic Site’s Old Fashioned Fourth of July will be held from 2-4 p.m., Monday, July 4, on the Orlando Brown House lawn. In addition to the Apple Dessert Bake-Off, there will be music, old-fashioned games, children’s activities, and refreshments. This event is free to the public.
As part of the event, LHHS will be holding an Apple Dessert Bake-Off. Community members are encouraged to bake and enter their best apple pie, cake dumpling, buckle, betty, tart, crumble, or charlotte for the chance to win a prize and take home a ribbon.
To enter, print off the rules and entry form from www.libertyhall.org/events.htm, or stop by the Orlando Brown House to pick up the forms. Entrants should notify Jennifer Koach of their plans to enter by Wednesday, June 29. Entries will be turned in, judged, and served on Monday, July 4. For more information, contact Jennifer at (502) 227-2560.