It’s safe to say the holidays are not going to look like anything they have before. Post-election and still in the middle of a pandemic, it’s more important than ever that we find little ways to disconnect from our phones (TikTok can wait, I promise) and find little pockets of joyful normalcy for ourselves. This could be riding your bike around your neighborhood or finally learning how to knit the iconic JW Anderson Harry Styles cardigan.
For me, however, there are few greater joys in life than eating a warm slice of apple pie on a foggy San Francisco autumn day. I could publish my family’s apple pie recipe, but many would probably argue that their grandma’s recipe is better, and who am I to tell you it’s not? Typically though, apple pies consist of a rather simple list of ingredients — sugar, butter, flour, apples, and cinnamon. Personally, what makes an apple great is a lattice top, thick-sliced apples, and lots of cinnamon — it’s classic!
But the seemingly classic American dish, much like almost every other “classically” American thing, isn’t so American after all.
According to Food52, “Rather than the good old US-of-A, apple pie as we know it first originated in England, where it developed from culinary influences from France, the Netherlands, and even the Ottoman Empire.” The apple pie we know today was brought over via French, English, and Dutch settlers.
This explains why the pie consists of an amalgamation of ingredients from around the world. Wheat for the crust came from the Middle East, and spices like nutmeg and cinnamon came from Southeast Asia, notes Food52. Even apples aren’t native to the U.S. and had to be imported from various countries.
The Smithsonian Magazine added that in England in 1381, Geoffrey Chaucer (best known for “The Canterbury Tales”) wrote the first apple pie recipe, which called for figs, raisins, pears, and saffron, as well as apples. The additional ingredients weren’t the only differences from the typical recipes we know today. “Early apple pie recipes generally didn’t include sugar, and their pastry crust was ‘coffin’ pastry, which was intended as an inedible container, not a part of the pie,” the magazine says.
Nonetheless, apple pie has transformed over time into an American staple, associated with everything from Fourth of July barbecues to Thanksgiving Day feasts. Food52 wrote that Ruth Berolzheimer solidified apple pie’s place in American history by publishing “The Victory Binding of the American Woman’s Cook Book: Wartime Edition,” which included a recipe for “victory apple pie.” The recipe, published during World War II, was adapted to accommodate the rations at the time.
Even though apple pie has managed to seep into the nation’s very fibers — we’ve even coined the phrase “as American as apple pie” — it was never our own creation; we just integrated it into our culture and traditions. As Food52 explained, “It’s American because it embodies the way cultures and traditions from all over the world have blended, reshaped, and ingrained themselves into the fabric of this country to define the reality of our national narrative.” And nowadays, according to the Huffington Post, there are more than 2,500 variations of apples in this country alone — meaning you can make countless variations of the dish to suit your own tastes.
The holidays can be rough even during a normal year, so while we’re all living through what feels like an eternal Groundhog’s Day, apple pie might just be the little bit of comfort we’re all in search of this holiday season.
But, if you are looking for an apple pie recipe (while I can’t divulge my own), one of my favorite ones to bake at home is Apple Pie by Grandma Ople from Allrecipes.