Apple? Blueberry? Pecan? Pumpkin? Lemon Meringue? Mincemeat? Strawberry rhubarb? Banana cream? Unadorned, with a slice of cheddar, whipped cream or a la mode? The list of popular pies (and toppings) just might encircle the globe, and the colloquialisms derived from our appreciation of this deserved dessert (pie-eyed; pie-in-the-sky; cutie pie, to name just a few) only serve to reinforce our love affair with it. And what about President John F. Kennedy’s famous campaign song, “High Hopes,” recorded by Frank Sinatra, with lyrics that included a reference to apple pie? Thankfully, pie pundits agree it’s only fitting that pie should have its own national holiday: January 23rd.
For so many of us, half the delight in eating a slice (or two) of pie comes from biting into a buttery, flaky crust or perhaps from the texture, taste, and sound of a sweet, grainy graham cracker one. But according to pie historian Janet Clarkson, pastry, or crust, was originally designed as a baking dish and storage container–something that traveled well, and nothing more. In fact following the long cooking process it was often too hard and tough to consider eating.
Accordingly, records reveal that the first pies were called coffins or “coffyns,” meaning basket or box, and were fashioned for savory purposes using meats and poultry like beef, lamb, duck or pigeon and perhaps spiced with currants or dates. Open-crust pies were called “traps,” with meats and sauces, baked as today’s casseroles are but with no pan (again, the crust was the pan and had to endure many hours of heat).
And what about the origins of smooth holiday favorite: pumpkin pie? First noted in an English cookbook circa 1675, the dish consisted of boiled and spiced squash and was not seen in America until the early 1800s. As time went on, the concept of sweet pies including the modern version of pumpkin slowly escalated. A 1796 cookbook identified just three, but recipe records from 1947 describe 65 varieties.
Today, and with crusts defining the types of pies we eat such as single-crust, double-crust, and top-crust or cobbler, pie has become an integral part of the American vernacular– in some cases evoking wistful memories of mom. Try these special recipes to honor National Pie Day, January 23rd, and sweeten your post-holiday season!
Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie
(my sister Susan’s specialty)
3 large eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup granulated white sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons margarine or butter, melted
1 tablespoon bourbon
1 cup pecans – halved
1 large (family size) chocolate bar — milk or dark — NOT baking chocolate!
1 9-inch unbaked or frozen deep-dish pie crust
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cut chocolate bar into pieces and place on pie crust. In medium bowl, beat eggs slightly with fork. Add sugar, corn syrup, butter and bourbon; stir until blended. Stir in pecans. Pour into pie crust.
Bake 50 to 55 minutes or until knife inserted halfway between center and edge comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.
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