May 13, 2019: National Apple Pie Day (As Un-American as Apple Pie…)

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A Brief History

On May 13, 2019, we celebrate National Apple Pie Day, the most American of desserts.  Right?  Wrong!  While Apple Pie in its many iterations is indeed loved by Americans, including This One, Apple Pie is not an American invention at all.  Still, Apple Pie is just so darn good that having a National Apple Pie Day makes good sense anyway.

Digging Deeper

As American as apple pie? NOT! Since the only apples native to North America are crabapples, Americans did not even have the apples for apple pie until trees could be grown from seed brought from Europe. Europeans have been making apple pie for centuries, with a recipe in England dating from 1391. Many European countries have distinct varieties of apple pie, and it is likely that early examples did not contain sugar. Somehow, in the late 19th century and early 20th century people started associating apple pie with America. (Probably better than crabapples!)

Flowering crabapple blooms.  Photograph by Kilo22.

Much deserved thanks goes out to Ohioan John Chapman (1774-1845), better known as “Johnny Appleseed” for spreading edible apples across the American frontier.  Chapman spread apple seeds in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Indiana and Illinois, as well as the Canadian Province of Ontario.  Chapman is remembered by the Johnny Appleseed Museum in Urbana, Ohio, and in the Johnny Appleseed Heritage Center of Ashland County, Ohio.

As stated above, North America was home only to the Crabapple variety of apple before Europeans brought tastier examples with them from Europe.  Europe and Asia were home to many apple varieties, and today there are an amazing 7500 varieties of apples.  Certain varieties of Apples are particularly well suited for making Apple Pies, and bakers can choose fresh Apple slices, diced fresh Apple, dried Apples, or canned Apple Pie filling.  China is the world’s largest producer of apples, accounting for more than half the total world production!  So you see, the American Apple Pie, although much loved and ubiquitous, is something of a misnomer.

An apple pie is one of a number of American cultural icons.  Photograph by Scott Bauer, USDA ARS.

When it comes to Apple Pie, Americans make some darn good ones.  Often using some sugar and a little Cinnamon spice, tasty Apple Pies can come with a completely covered crust on top, a lattice work of partially open crust on top, a crumb type crust, or even Cheddar Cheese slices baked on top.  Of course, eating Apple Pie à la mode, with a nice scoop of Vanilla ice cream atop a warm piece of pie is a wonderful treat as well.  Perhaps you would prefer the “deep dish” variety of a nice thick pie with no crust on top at all?  Maybe a mini sized one serving pie would do you fine, especially in your lunch box.  Other nations value Apple Pie highly, and varieties such as English, French, Dutch and Swedish are well known, some of which include other fruits in the “apple” pie as well, such as raisins, pears, figs, or even chopped Walnuts.

Then we have the modern phenomenon, the “fry pie.”  A single serving sized “pie” completely enclosed by dough and usually fried (sometimes baked) can often be found at fast food restaurants (such as McDonald’s) as well as by mass market snack makers (such as Hostess).  A variety of fry pie that is really, really good, is that produced in Amish areas of Ohio and other Mid-West states, usually called “Amish Fry Pies,” whether they are made by Amish people or not.

A McDonald’s fried pineapple pie, July 2013 in Chengdu, China.  Photograph by Dman081.

Question for Students (and others): What is your favorite type of Apple Pie? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Hunter, Carolyn. Killer Apple Pie. Amazon Digital, 2017.

Kellogg, Steven. Johnny Appleseed. HarperCollins, 1988.

Taylor, Chris, and Paul Arguin. The New Pie: Modern Techniques for the Classic American Dessert. Clarkson Potter, 2019.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by Willis Lam of Old Fashioned Baked Apple Pie, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.  This image was originally posted to Flickr by Pest15 at https://flickr.com/photos/85567416@N03/17419219428. It was reviewed on  by FlickreviewR 2 and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-sa-2.0.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.