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Pie

Country

From diners and country fairs to gourmet cafes and the White House, the humble pie is honoured right across America. We trace the origins of this edible cultural icon and get right to the heart of the matter.

Words Lance richardson pie photography sharyn cairns styling Lee bLayLock gothic house photography kathryn gambLe

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house photography kathryn gambLe {united states} TRAVEL The famous American Gothic House is home to Pitchfork
The famous American Gothic House is home to Pitchfork Pie Stand. (opposite) Fresh cherry pie.
The famous
American Gothic
House is home
to Pitchfork
Pie Stand.
(opposite) Fresh
cherry pie.

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M ark Twain, one of America’s greatest writers, ate pie regularly, and never more so than when he was feeling depressed. During a family tour of Europe in 1878–1879, Twain decided the food was atrocious. “It has now been many months,” he wrote in

A Tramp Abroad, “since I have had a nourishing meal, but I shall soon have one — a modest, private affair, all to myself.” Twain compiled a “little bill of fare” and sent it ahead by ocean steamer so the dishes could be ready when he arrived home. Along with “American butter”, “American roast beef”, and “San Francisco

mussels”, the list included apple pie, peach pie, American mince pie, pumpkin pie and squash pie. Clearly, pie was an indispensable item on Mr Twain’s dinner table. Anyone who has ever visited the United States and paid attention to the menus will find no surprise in that. Pie is everywhere. Its appeal is contagious, too. One of my favourite things to do in New York City is drop by an old-fashioned diner, slide onto a counter stool and point out my pie of choice from the

rotating dessert cabinet. The slices are always outrageously large, with Everest-high pastry crust or jam so red it puts cherries to shame. I order black coffee and face the window to watch the world roll by in a tableau of yellow cabs. I have done this enough times to understand why a Nielsen poll, conducted early this year, found that 26 per cent of American respondents said they’ve hidden pie so they didn’t have to share it. Given its status as one of the most American of desserts, it’s

a remarkable fact that pie doesn’t even come from America. The first recorded recipe for apple pie dates to 1381, in England, and

a Dutch cookbook circa 1514 offers a recipe with latticed pastry.

Pie travelled to the New World with the pilgrims, who used the method to preserve the strange fruits and berries they harvested

from the wilderness. As pioneers moved west across the continent, pies began to take on regional specificity: blueberry pie became synonymous with Maine, chess pie flourished in the south (it often contains bourbon) and sour cherry pie appeared on the shores of Lake Michigan. Pie might not be native to America, but

it so flavours the national mythology it may as well be.

Perhaps it’s little wonder that last Thanksgiving in the White House President Barack Obama was served nine types of pie, including huckleberry, pecan and banana cream. He has been called ‘the pie-loving President’ — a nickname Obama wears like a

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badge of honour. “I like pie,” he told a crowd at a political rally six years ago. “You like pie, too?” The crowd roared approval, as he most certainly knew it would. There’s one simple fact any traveller would do well to remember in this country: if you want to get to the heart of America, it’s a sure-fire bet to go through the stomach.

EAT PIE, LOVE LIFE

Indeed, travel and pie go together like lemon and meringue. My advice would be to get off the highways, trace the country roads and stop at every roadside stall, state fair and unassuming cafe, searching for homemade pies. I say this not because pie is delicious (although it obviously is), but because homemade pie offers a window into somebody’s life and times. If travel is about collecting experiences, then pie is the ultimate icebreaker. One example can be found in bucolic Eldon, Iowa, at the house immortalised in Grant Wood’s iconic painting American Gothic. The house belongs to Beth Howard and for several weekends of each summer over the past few years, people have been lining up in her living room for the Pitchfork Pie Stand (305 American Gothic St, Eldon, Iowa; www.theworldneedsmorepie.com), where she sells her exquisite handmade creations baked in the tiny kitchen. Howard sees pie as something restorative — a way to raise spirits and spread goodwill. After her husband died suddenly in 2009, she climbed into his RV and drove around the country, using pie to assuage her grief. She ultimately wrote a memoir about her experiences called Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Pie. (Her new cookbook, Ms. American Pie, was released in April.) “When I think of pie, I think about how it can help people and how it makes people feel good,” she says. Her conviction in pie is so strong that last year she visited Newtown, Connecticut, and corralled volunteers to make nearly 300 homemade pies for a community reeling from a tragic shooting. “I don’t believe in the

from a tragic shooting. “I don’t believe in the ▶ {united states} TRAVEL (clockwise from left)
from a tragic shooting. “I don’t believe in the ▶ {united states} TRAVEL (clockwise from left)

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“I don’t believe in the ▶ {united states} TRAVEL (clockwise from left) The road into Pie
“I don’t believe in the ▶ {united states} TRAVEL (clockwise from left) The road into Pie
“I don’t believe in the ▶ {united states} TRAVEL (clockwise from left) The road into Pie

(clockwise from left) The road into Pie Town, New Mexico; Pacific Pie Company co-owners Sarah Curtis-Fawley and Chris Powell specialise in Australian meat pies; Beth Howard has made baking pies big business; Pacific Pie Company’s freshly baked goods and its Portland store sign; Sweetie-licious serves up a delicious assortment of pies from its two Michigan stores.

store sign; Sweetie-licious serves up a delicious assortment of pies from its two Michigan stores. juLY

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Photography: Corbis, Dave Trumpie

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Photography: Corbis, Dave Trumpie TRAVEL {united states} best pie, the perfect pie,” she says. “It’s just

{united states}

Photography: Corbis, Dave Trumpie TRAVEL {united states} best pie, the perfect pie,” she says. “It’s just

best pie, the perfect pie,” she says. “It’s just meant to be shared. It brings people together. That’s the beauty of it.” Beth recommends several pie shops across the country, including The Apple Pan in Los Angeles (10801 W Pico Blvd; www.applepan.com) and Sweetie-licious in Michigan (108 North Bridge St, DeWitt; and Downtown Market Grand Rapids, 435 Ionia Ave SW, Grand Rapids; www.sweetie-licious.com). But her rule of thumb for choosing slices is simple and can be applied anywhere: it is not beauty but passion that determines quality. There is an essential truth in the movie Waitress, where Keri Russell’s character mixes her emotions in with the ingredients. In Portland, Oregon, this idea plays out at the Pacific Pie Company (1520 SE 7th Ave; www.pacificpie.com), run by husband and wife team Chris Powell and Sarah Curtis-Fawley. Powell is Australian, and after several years of living in the United States he began to lament the absence of meat pies. His American wife wanted to address her husband’s homesickness, so she started baking them. The pies reminded him of surfing and chowing down near the beach. Soon Curtis-Fawley was making pies full-time, leading to a booming business in a city renowned for offbeat trends and serious gourmands. “We have expats who come in with tears in their eyes,” she says. “Pie is a very comforting, celebratory food.” It’s also a nostalgic one. In New Mexico, there is a tiny dot on the map called Pie Town. It sits near the historic 5000 kilometre Continental Divide Trail. During a road trip with her family and

Divide Trail. During a road trip with her family and (left to right) Pies freshly cooked

(left to right) Pies freshly cooked and waiting to be devoured at Pie-O-Neer Pies; owner and baker Kathy Knapp and her partner Stan King pictured at the front of their store.

mother in 1995, Kathy Knapp stopped in Pie Town for a slice of “real pie”, as she puts it. The town had gained its name because of a talented baker who sold pie from a small gasoline shop. There was little left apart from a ruined gas station and the Old Thunderbird Trading Post souvenir shop. “This is wrong,” Knapp’s mother declared. “You buy it, I’ll bake the pies, and they will come.” Indeed, so many people came to Pie-O-Neer Pies (US Highway 60, Pie Town; www.pie-o-neer.com) that a filmmaker made a documentary about it called Pie Lady of Pie Town. “Pie was a staple you could make with what you had,” Knapp says, explaining the significance of pies for people who had lived through leaner times in America. “Growing up, there were always pies cooling in my grandmother’s kitchen.” Knapp, who signs off her emails “Your friend in pie”, took over all the baking duties from her mother more than 15 years ago. Things might be a little easier in these modern times, but for many of the campers, musicians, stargazers and lone travellers who pull off the highway into this quiet corner of the country, pies induce nostalgia for an earlier era, when people had time to dwell in the kitchen. “We’re longing for something that doesn’t require an app,” Knapp says. “It’s like anything else you do with your hands. Let’s just keep those things sacred.”

with your hands. Let’s just keep those things sacred.” GETTInG ThERE To book your flight to

GETTInG ThERE To book your flight to the United States, visit www.virginaustralia.com or call 13 67 89 (in Australia).

Great ameriCan bake-offs

Pie baking is serious business in the US, as can be seen in these competitions.

“We love dogs as much as you do, but they are not permitted into the Never Ending Pie Buffet.” So say the organisers of the Great American Pie Festival, held annually along Front Street in the aptly named town of Celebration, Florida (www.piecouncil.org). Every April amateurs, professionals and pie connoisseurs descend on a community originally developed by The Walt Disney Company to try their hand at pie decorating and a pie-eating contest. But the main

event is the National Pie Championships. Americans love their competitions and when it comes to pie this is the Olympics. For something a little more traditional, though, the best place to see the widest range of prize-winning pies is still rural fairs. The annual Iowa State Fair (East 30th St and East university Ave, Des Moines; www.iowastatefair.org) will be held this year on 7–17 August. It would be something like the Sydney Royal Easter Show if you

added a life-sized cow made of butter and

a bacon-wrapped riblet on-a-stick. Farmers

sleep in the stalls and the pie competition

is a spectacle. Categories this year include,

for example, ‘A Pie Story’, where the

contestants must bake a pie, then write

a story about the pie to be read to the

judges. “If it’s a true story about an ugly pie, bring an ugly pie,” state the rules. “Remember that a good story, like a good piece of pie, should satisfy.”

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rules. “Remember that a good story, like a good piece of pie, should satisfy.” 084 |