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{united states} TRAVEL
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 STYLINGLEE BLAYLOCK
GOTHIC HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHY KATHRYN GAMBLE
Pie

COUNTRY
The famous
American Gothic
House is home
to Pitchfork
Pie Stand.
(opposite) Fresh
cherry pie.
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 pieandsquashpie. Clearly, piewasan 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 fromAmerica. 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
fromthewilderness. Aspioneersmovedwest acrossthecontinent,
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
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 knewit would. There’s one simple fact any traveller
would do well to remember in this country: if you want to get to
theheart of America, it’s asure-firebet togothroughthestomach.
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. Howardsees pie as something restorative —a way toraise
spirits and spread goodwill. After her husband died suddenly in
2009, she climbedintohis RVanddrove aroundthe 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 newcookbook, Ms. AmericanPie, 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
communityreeling froma tragic shooting. “I don’t believe inthe ▶
{united states} TRAVEL
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(clockwise fromlef) The road into Pie Town, New Mexico; Pacifc Pie Company co-owners Sarah Curtis-Fawley and Chris Powell specialise
in Australian meat pies; Beth Howard has made baking pies big business; Pacifc Pie Company’s freshly baked goods and its Portland
store sign; Sweetie-licious serves up a delicious assortment of pies fromits two Michigan stores.
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 ofeat 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
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.”
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 permited into the Never Ending
Pie Bufet.” 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 litle 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 buter 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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(lef 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.
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