On a cold, damp Thursday, I’m thinking of comfort foods associated with fall and winter: chili, other soups, hot chocolate, steaming casseroles and pie.
Yes, those foods are on dinner tables year-round, especially pie if you’re a baker. Which I’m not.
I link pie with fall because it crosses my culinary path more during fall festivals, Thanksgiving, Christmas and other events where pie is on the menu or is a mosaic of colorful, tasty slices on a help-yourself table.
During our Sept. 28 Junk Jaunt scavenger hunt, Mary Jane Skala and I stopped at Ansley United Methodist Church in search of a baby Husker item. We didn’t find it, but there was a pie table as part of the sloppy Joe dinner being served.
I was so hungry I could have chewed the furniture, but we decided to move on to the fairgrounds in Broken Bow for more shopping and a well-past-noon meal. Sadly, we saw no pie.
A story by Gabriella M. Petrick in the September 2019 edition of Smithsonian magazine gives a short history of pie in America, starting with English settlers who changed their savory pie recipe by substituting locally grown fruit for meat. By the late 1800s, there were pie debates between healthy food advocates and traditionalists who could trace pie, including a pumpkin pie recipe, back to the founding fathers.
Reformers have described pie as “unmoral,” “corrupting” and associated with “lower classes.” A Kansas State Normal School home economist believed that, like alcoholism, eating pie was a cause of divorce.
Traditionalists ramped up pie’s ties to patriotism during World War I. A Boston Globe editorial linked craving pie with a hunger for democracy, adding that, “Patrick Henry might as well have said, ‘Give me pie or give me death’ because what is liberty without pie?”
In 1960, during the Cold War, a Texas woman sent a 5-pound package to a New York City hotel where Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was staying. A bomb squad determined it contained an apple pie and message about American values.
There were no pie debates at our farm table south of Wilcox, Pleasant View Christian Church dinners, school and community events or the Wilcox Cafe, where owner Doris Fries was especially known for her cream pies.
One day when I was at the cafe, a huge construction worker called “Tiny” sat at the counter, nearly occupying two stools. He ordered the daily dinner special that came with dessert and pieces of two kinds of cream pie, which he ate as an appetizer.
Another reason pie is on my mind is I’m enjoying my first 2019 bag of tart, juicy Jonathan apples from Apple Acres south of Riverdale. I’ve loved them for years and orchard owners Keith and Bev Nuttelman don’t try to sell me a different variety, although I know they’re all good.
I know my Jonathans also can be a main ingredient in a tasty — even patriotic — pie. But since I don’t bake, I innovate.
Eating an apple along with soft oatmeal cookies warmed in the microwave is a yummy deconstructed approximation of Mom’s apple crisp that was wonderful hot or cold.
The Smithsonian pie pages also have a history of the Red Delicious apple, America’s most popular variety until it recently was surpassed by Gala. One reason is the growers’ work to make it more beautifully red also made it less delicious in many eaters’ opinion.
My dad often told people he liked only two kinds of pie: single crust or double crust, hot or cold. His saying reflects the truth that some unhealthy foods, if eaten in moderation, are good for the soul.
I’m thinking next week’s topic may need to be chocolate.
Lori Potter is a Hub staff writer.