Is Apple Pie Really American? A Look Into the Pastry's Not-So-Patriotic Roots


Apple pie is as American as it gets, right?

The humble dessert is considered to be such a classic representation of the country, that it's become a national simile. The saying "as American as apple pie," however, is one big lie. There is nothing American about the pastry's origin story. 

Apple pie's base ingredient (apples!) is not native to America. The fruit first originated in what is now modern day Kazakhstan, the Smithsonian Mag noted. It was especially popular in the Roman empire, where the technique of "apple grafting," an integral part of cultivating apples, was first mastered. Apple trees first made their way to colonial America with settlers who brought graftings of their favorite European trees with them in the early 1600s, according to the magazine. 

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Pies don't have American roots, either. Pies have been around for long before British settlers even began bringing apple trees to America. The first pies were thought to have been made by the ancient Egyptians, The American Pie Council noted on its website. "The Romans must have spread the word about pies around Europe as the Oxford English Dictionary notes that the word pie was a popular word in the 14th century," the Pie Council wrote. 

The first pies — which were also known as "coffins" — were stuffed with meat, but it was the British that started making fruit pies, food historian Andrew Smith said over email. 

The first known recipe for an apple pie dates back to an English cookbook that was published in 1381. That's long before the first colonist made their way to America. The recipe called for saffron, figs and raisins in addition to apples. (That's probably because they couldn't have Amazon deliver pounds of granulated sugar to their doorsteps yet.) 

The English were apparently so enthralled with apple pies that many writers and poets featured the dish in their writings, data site Priceonomics noted. Famed writer Robert Greene wrote the line "thy breath is like the steame of apple-pyes," in 1589. Many years later, English poet Leonard Welsted dedicated an entire poem to the dessert, Smith said. The first four lines of of the poem, called "Apple-Pye," champion the dish: 

"Of all the Delicates which Britons try,

The apple pie eventually made its way over to the Netherlands, where Dutch bakers artfully crafted the lattice-style top layer crust we're accustomed to today, Priceonomics added

When it all comes down to it, comparing apples to America is like comparing apples to oranges. "The apple pie is very much a British creation, and British colonists introduced it to what is known as the United States," Smith said. The first American pies were cookies baked in long narrow pans, according to the Pie Council. And — blasphemy — pie crust was oftentimes not eaten, but simply used to hold the filling while it baked. 

While none of apple pie's ingredients are native to the United States, the pastry quickly became a popular food in the states, Libby O'Connell, the lead historian for the History Channel told the OC Register. The fruit was easy to grow in many parts of the country and easy to store, plus they were tasty and affordable. "In the 19th century, [Americans] ate [apple pie] at every meal," O'Connell said.

Pie first became equated with American patriotism at the turn of the 20th century. In 1902, an editor at the New York Times filed a defense of the dessert after an English writer suggested that people only eat it twice a week, according to Priceonomics. 

"[Eating pie twice per week] is utterly insufficient, as anyone who knows the secret of our strength as a nation and the foundation of our industrial supremacy must admit. Pie is the American synonym of prosperity ... No pie-eating people can ever be permanently vanquished," the editor wrote

While the article may have been part of a marketing push by apple producers (lobbyists have been around forever, apparently), the concept of apple pie and patriotism was adopted by soldiers fighting in World War II, the Huffington Post wrote

A common slogan in response to why a soldier was fighting in the war was "for mom and apple pie" which gave rise to the phrase, "as American as motherhood and apple pie." Eventually "motherhood," which isn't exactly unique to the U.S. was dropped from the phrase, said the Huffington Post.

Apple pie is really as American as marketing. Smith said the slogan was eventually adopted as a method to sell cars in the 1970s. Chevrolet ran an ad for a pickup truck that had a jingle about "baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet," O'Connell said

And while it may have started off as a British dish, Americans have taken the dish, like we take most things, to new heights, from topping it with things like cheddar ice cream to transforming it into an egg roll. Perhaps we should consider rephrasing the idiom to something along the lines of, "As American as apple pie blended into a milkshake." 

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