Pie: A Vote For Hard Work And Deceptively Simple Pleasures


As we near the final moments of Pie vs. Cake championship, wherein one dessert shall be granted glory, we’ve asked the team cheerleaders to step forward in a personal appeal for their respective favorites. Sadie’s making the case for Pie.

I’m just going to say it: Pie is the people’s choice.

Look, I like cake. Who doesn’t? Cake is glamorous. It’s festive. Everybody loves showy, glitzy, good-time cake with its fancy frostings and its candles and its glad-handing messages.

Pie, on the other hand, is humble. A slice of even blue-ribbon pie is shleppy and shlumpy-looking. The ingredients are simple and elemental. And even the most glamorous of varietals — meringues or chiffons — started out as practical solutions to the egg-white problem.

And yet. To the pie-lover, there is nothing, but nothing, as appetizing or as basically satisfying as that heavenly marriage of minimally-adulterated fruit and flaky, nearly savory crust. Be it a sweet-tart strawberry rhubarb bubbling over a lattice; a homely, autumnally hued pumpkin with a ghost of oven’s warmth, saved from Puritanical abstemiousness only by a cloud of whipped cream; peach, that celebration of all that is summer in one golden bite; or, of course, satisfying, solid, perfect apple topped with a buttery crumble — well, it just doesn’t get any better.

Despite its deceptive simplicity, pie is hard to get right. Whereas Entemann’s or Pepperidge Farm might turn out packaged cakes (chocolate-marshmallow and Devil’s Food, respectively) that are perfectly respectable, the same companies can’t manufacture a pie that isn’t a glutinous abomination. Gelatinous piles of red goo or mushy slabs of lemon-flavored rubber cement are the going rate for most packaged pies, making the real thing — at a farm stand, a Midwestern diner or, of course, someone’s kitchen table – all the more rare and precious. There is a reason “blue-ribbon pie” still comes with bragging rights — as anyone who’s turned out a lumpen, lopsided specimen that overflows onto the oven floor knows all too well. Good pie is hard to find. While in New York City, for instance, cakes of all kinds — not to mention their twee offspring, the cupcake — can be found on every corner, there are fewer than four good pie destinations, and two of them only bake them at Thanksgiving. Pie-lovers aren’t mere gluttons: We’re purists, connoisseurs. And it’s not the easy path.

As if it needs saying, pie is a part of our heritage. Is it cake that gladdens Pa’s heart in By the Shores of Silver Lake? Ha! Hardly! It’s the alchemy of thrift and lard and green-pumpkin that makes mock apple, or later transforms soda crackers into dessert. And allow me, if you will, to quote Farmer Boy: “Then he drew a long breath, and he began to eat pie, and he wished he had eaten nothing else. He ate a piece of pumpkin pie and a piece of custard pie, and he ate almost a piece of vinegar pie. He tried a piece of mince pie, but could not finish.” (Keeping in mind that he’s started the day with a whopping slice of apple, the best breakfast in the entire world even if you haven’t just done two hours of farm chores.)

In my house, my brother and I preferred pies when our birthdays rolled around: strawberry-rhubarb for me and for him, blueberry. My mother requested lemon-meringue. My boyfriend demands pumpkin. Whereas cakes can be bought, these pies must be made: crusts pinched and rolled and lifted with baited breath into the pan, laboriously patched after they fall apart; filled with the sweetened fruit or carefully-monitored filling, and made reasonably respectable-looking with pastry leaves or just a shower of sugar. They always look decidedly homemade, but no one cares. I ventured into the more rococo world of cream pies when my Grandpa got sick and craved only chocolate pie, a long-forgotten favorite of his childhood. The crust was made of crushed Oreos, the filling a rich chocolate pudding. It was covered in whipped cream. As long as the pie lasted, he’d request a piece for every meal, savoring and husbanding it until the dessert was a forlorn, weepy pile in its dish. Then my mom and I would make another. It was work, but nothing store-bought would do, or bring the same pleasure or nostalgia. And that, ultimately, is pie.

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