Apple pies or tarts have been around, in one form or another, since the Middle Ages. Before the Pilgrims set sail for the New World, Asia and European cultures had already incorporated apples into their cuisine thousands of years earlier. The first written mention of the apple is that of Alexander the Great in 328 BCE: he noted Kazakhstan’s apples appeared to be ‘dwarfed,’ before bringing them back to Macedonia to be cultivated. By the late 14th century, sweet and savory pies were already an important part of the food culture in England, and so it comes as no surprise that apples made their way into these pastries; however, they traditionally were made without crust due to the high price of sugar. It wasn’t until the 15th century that Dutch bakers transformed the crust-less apple pie into the lattice-style pastry we commonly see today. Just a century later, the pies could be found across Europe.
It wasn’t until the mid-1600s through complex sea trade routes, that edible apples made their way to North America. Even then, they came in the form of trees, and required extensive pollination to bear fruit; as such, the fruit didn’t flourish until European honey bees were introduced decades later. Only one type of apple -- the malus, or “crabapple” -- was native to North America prior to this, and it was incredibly sour and foul-tasting.
According to the American Pie Council, Americans consume $700 million worth of retail pies each year -- and that doesn’t include those that are home-baked, or sold by restaurants and independent bakers. Of those who responded to surveys, 19% of Americans -- some 36 million people -- cited apple is their favorite flavor. That’s a lot of apple pie.
Though we’ve made the case here that apple pie isn’t so American after all, one could argue that just because something originated somewhere else doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t become a source of national pride elsewhere. America took the apple pie to heights it had never seen before -- elevated it as a treasured part of its lore and history. And though it wouldn’t be fair to call apple pie “American” without acknowledging its past, the baked good seems to be just at home here as anywhere else in the world.
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Photos by Morgan Rhodes