June 6, 2011

"Pie is an interloper trading on a false history and a tangle of confusion about its cultural role."

"Its past is unremarkable and un-American. As you may recall from your middle-school history books, many accoutrements of Western life first appeared in Egypt and then spread to the Romans via Greece. Prophylactics are a notable example. Pie is another one. The pies of the ancients, rather than being oozing desserts, were combinations of savory foods baked in a pot made of tough dough. (In our evolutionary tree of Western cooking, pies, tellingly, share a branch with the most hit-or-miss of all edible things, the casserole.) This crust-pot baking method spread through Europe and gained popularity through the Middle Ages, since the dough shell, called a bake-meat (later, just as appetizingly, a coffin), allowed meats to stew without losing moisture. It also helped seal off the meal and slow down spoilage. "For hundreds of years," Janet Clarkson points out in her jaunty account of pie development, Pie: A Global History, "it was the only form of baking container—meaning everything was pie." Pie culture grew with the advent of modern pastry dough during the 16th century, at which point cooks in more ambitious kitchens started to experiment with sweeter fillings. (Queen Elizabeth is said to have eaten some of the first fruit pies.) This is the true origin of our pie tradition. Early apple pies weren't American and sweet at all. They were unsugared, tough, and manufactured by the British."

The anti-pie rantings of  Nathan Heller.

Speaking of pie and tradition: "After I see a movie I like to go get a piece of pie and talk about it. It's sort of a little tradition I have."



"Do you like to get pie after you see a good movie?" "Yeah, I love to get pie after a movie."

53 comments:

Scott M said...

"Hey...that's my Pi!!"

Name that movie without google.

Triangle Man said...

Nathan Heller doesn't like pie people! He doesn't say what he prefers, but everyone should be damn clear that he doesn't like pie and he thinks you should not either.

Irene said...

Pie is the new cupcake.

Calypso Facto said...

Who pissed in HIS pie-pot?

RuyDiaz said...

"Yeah, I love to get pie after a movie."

Naughty. (Or maybe I'm seeing things after the Weiner thread.)

RuyDiaz said...

What an odd column. He makes it sound as if most people don't really like pie, when it's mostly him.

Methadras said...

I love pie more than I love cake. My favorite pie is pumpkin pie, followed by apple, banana cream, chocolate cream, and strawberry.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Obviously he has never had a well made pie.

Lard crust stays flaky and crisp. Why would you ever soak your pie in melted ice cream or pour cream over it?

dustbunnyqueen said...

Testing out my new wordpress id.

Here is a link to asavory pie just to make Nathan happy.

PatCA said...

Ah yes, DBQ. I have great memories of my mother teaching me how to bake a good pie. Is Crisco still legal?

(Slow news day at Slate, I guess.)

Wayne said...

Four and twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie...

lyssalovelyredhead said...

Man, I love pie. Sweet, savory, whatever; it's just so good. I can't wait until I get finished moving and can have my (well, a, much smaller and more temporary) kitchen back. If I ever somehow find myself with some amazing sum of money, to the point that I can piss it away on whatever I want, I will open a restuarant that serves nothing but pie (and hire someone to do all of the un-fun parts of running a restaurant, of course).

Here's my favorite pie: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/summertime-blue-rhubarb-pie-recipe/index.html

You simply must try it.

- Lyssa

Joan said...

I love pie. Pie for breakfast is one of the joys of Thanksgiving day in my family.

And I'm with DBQ -- it is the crust that makes the pie, and well-made shortening crusts are awesome. I bet lard crusts are fantastic but I haven't attempted one yet.

My favorite is mince, but it's impossible to find good mince meat in the US anymore. After that I like so many I can't name a favorite.

k*thy said...

A crust made with lard is a must, I agree. Warm up a slice of peach, cherry or apple with a scoop of vanilla ice cream - the warm and the cold with the tart and the sweet - is my preferred method. My husband, the piemaker, prefers his pie straight up.

A. Shmendrik said...

Three words: Brown Apple Betty.

Steven said...

And elected legislatures, search warrants, habeas corpus, jury trials, enumerated rights, and even the English language are also of British origin, so clearly they aren't American either!

rcocean said...

Heller probably never had a good piece of mince-meat or (fresh)rhubarb pie.

As for Pumpkin - the best isn't that much better than the worst.

Carol_Herman said...

On top of popcorn?

I'm sure more folk have viewed movies and munched popcorn. And, so do not go out for pie, afterwards.

Though Broadway did have a Horn & Hardard ... where you went in. Got change of a dollar bill. So you had 20 nickels. And, you went to their shiny dispensers. And, you could retrieve a piece of pie ... By opening the door up, on your choice.

It still leaves ya wondering how popcorn just doesn't fill ya up. Movie owners didn't want ya to leave the theatre, hungry.

MadisonMan said...

So he's mad because no one has ever made him a delightfully fabulous pie and he's had to suffer with runny ones.

Maybe that's because he's such a bore.

TosaGuy said...

Wow, so a nation of immigrants brought something from somewhere else and adapted it into their culture? I would have never have thunk it possible. That Mr. Heller sure is smart.

MadisonMan said...

Coming soon to my kitchen: A gooseberry pie and a cherry pie, as soon as they ripen outside. Woo Hoo!

Sorry Nathan, you don't get any. Here, choke down some nice dry cake.

Scott M said...

I just got to the part last night where Joffrey opens up his wedding pie, out fly the doves, he tries to get Tyrion to eat some, then croaks.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

My favorite is mince, but it's impossible to find good mince meat in the US anymore.

Ooooh. Somewhere I have a recipe for actual mincemeat, made with real meat. I haven't made it in years and years because my husband hates it. If I find it, I will post on my recipe blog.

Must try the rhubarb pie. We transplanted 3 rhubarb plants last year and they are growing like crazy.

I like ice cream with my warm pie, but on the side, in a dish, instead of drowning the crust and having a soggy pie. To each his own :-)

Mattman26 said...

Boy, sure glad we got that straightened out!

gerry said...

Lard makes the best crusts, but even it must be cut in properly and the dough rolled quickly before it melts and makes the dough one big tasteless cookie.

If you want to use Crisco, put it in the freezer an hour or two before cutting it into the flour. It melts much less quickly then and makes great, flaky crust.

And, of cource, always use ice water.

chickenlittle said...

"Humble"

EDH said...

There is some question whether the Egyptians had discovered pi.

They may have had it, or pi's relationship to the pyramids might be the coincidence of using a wheel to measure distance.

Concerning Khufu's (Cheops') Great Pyramid, twice the length of one side, divided by the height, is approximately pi. The published dimensions vary, depending on the sources, and so the accuracy of any relationship with pi also varies (from errors in the inches (or centimeters) to a few feet (many centimeters)). This relationship may be a coincidence. And, as I said above, knowledge of pi is not very exciting. And the more or less accidental use of pi, measuring distances with a wheel perhaps, is also possible. After all you don't need to know the value of pi to use a circle.

Scott M said...

They may have had it, or pi's relationship to the pyramids might be the coincidence of using a wheel to measure distance.

Isn't there something about a constant unit of measurement being used over and over again in both Egypt's pyramids and those in South America?

lyssalovelyredhead said...

Best way to make crust that I know comes from Cook's Illustrated (as so many wonderful things do): use a butter and shortning blend, chill for and hour, then roll it out and put it into the pie pan, and then freeze it hard, and directly in oven from the freezer. This slows down the fat's melting and creates the most amazing flakes. Beats a lard crust (much as it pains me to malign lard) every time.

- Lyssa

Christy said...

I always liked to go out for a drink after movies. "Leaving Las Vegas" ruined that.

Buttermilk pie is a family favorite. Cousin T will bring buttermilk pie to the family reunion next weekend. He'll keep several hidden and give one to each of the the Aunts before they leave.

Amartel said...

Pie, bad. America, bad. You, bad.
I am leftbot. I am programmed to indict you for your false, interloper, culturally confused, and oozing traditions. I can totally beat a strawman to death, especially if the strawman is a pie, and especially x infinity if the strawman is a strawberry pie. I will talk about pie and rubbers in the same paragraph without remorse. Rubbers remind me of pie.

Phil 3:14 said...

Pie, confusion and history

This'll be the day that I die
This'll be the day that I die


But goes well with Whiskey and Rye

Amartel said...

Also, rubbers remind me of hotdogs, another horrible American tradition that is not really American, I'm sure of it. Only a stupid person from America would believe that.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Lyssa's method is good too and I often use it depending on the pie (sweet or savory), however, I stand by my lard crusts as being the best (lol....pie wars!!!)

I keep the lard in the refrigerator so it is chilled and handle the crust as little as possible. Definitely ice water. Once you get the hang of it, it only takes a few minutes to roll and shape a pie crust and it isn't always necessary to refrigerate the dough.

Shortening (aka Crisco) used to be a good substitute for lard, but since they (government big nanny omnipresent nazis) changed the formula to remove the transfats the stuff sucks for making pies.

gerry said...

Mmmmmm...butter and shortening.

I will definitely be trying that.

Thanks, Lyssa!

Fred4Pres said...

If I get sad about things, good pie makes me happy again. If I knew the world was going to end, I would say goodbye to people I love over pie.

Fred4Pres said...

lyssa, did you try Cook's vodka crust recipe? My wife does that and it really works. The vodka chemcially resists gluten (gluten makes the crust tough) and the vodka being half alcohol evaporates off faster than water making the crust flakier. It is remarkable.

Crunchy Frog said...

Scott M (10:25): Animal House

Great minds think alike.

"Eat a Pi for charity!"

wv: hyped Yes, yes it was.

Scott M said...

NOPE!

But since it's been a while...Revenge Of The Nerds, after the jocks realize the Nerd pies all have pictures of nude Pi's under the filling.

caplight said...

I like pie. It is my favorite dessert. I like savory pies too. I married a lady who is a fantastic pie baker. Never met a pie I didn't like. And I never heard of Nathan Heller.

wv: beeznis - as in Nathan Heller should mind his own beeznis.

Henry said...

My wife and I offered pie instead of cake at our wedding. We must have had 20 pies, all home-made. Everyone loved the pie. The band loved the pie. I bet bands that play weddings get really really sick of cake.

Shanna said...

I just got to the part last night where Joffrey opens up his wedding pie, out fly the doves, he tries to get Tyrion to eat some, then croaks.

Crap, spoiler! I’m only about halfway through book three.

Pie is awesome. Fruit, chicken, chocolate or raisin (which I guess is still a fruit, but is different)…But a good crust is essential.

I want to try the rhubarb pie recipe as soon as I find some rhubarb. Once day I would like to try a crust with lard, but I'm still kind of unsure if the lard they sell in the grocery store is dicey or not. I've never cooked with lard.

Scott M said...

Crap, spoiler! I’m only about halfway through book three.

Well, I'm paraphrasing heavily. Have to say I didn't see that coming, although there were three leeches and Stannis did call out each of them by name.

My wife stopped watching last week. She said it's simply too depressing with all the main good guys getting their asses handed to them constantly.

ken in sc said...

The Bible has Pi correct to one significant digit--3.

Crunchy Frog said...

Oh, the humiliation!

*hangs head in shame*

*removes Man Card from pocket*

Shanna said...

Have to say I didn't see that coming, although there were three leeches and Stannis did call out each of them by name.

I did get to the leeches part so I knew he was going to die.

But yes, it's really depressing right now. I just passed the wedding part. Gah! And then I get irritated because something happens and I want resolution and then I have to read about something completely different. I have no patience for this type of writing and I'm too ocd to skip characters!

ricpic said...

Everything was pie...
Aside from in my mouth
I stuffed it in my nose
I stuffed it in my eye
I stuffed it 'tween my toes
I stuffed it in my ears
I stuffed it up my ass...
I overcame my fears
And blasted purple gas
All over the houth.

rcocean said...

Thanks for the good pointers. Pie is all about the crust and fresh ingredients - except for mince meat.

Suburbanbanshee said...

Re: pie not having sweet ingredients until late

Don't you believe it. Dessert tarts were in there bright and early, and those are just small economical single-serving pies. But even savory meat pies often included plenty of sweet fruit and other sweet goodies, depending on the season; and there were sweet pies.

For example, from Forme of Cury in the 1300's, Tart de Brymlent is figs, raisins, apples, wine, sugar, and chopped fish in a coffin (crust lid and bottom). There were various forms of meat/fruit/nuts mincemeat, too.

But Ancient Cookery from 1381 had Tartys in Applis, made from apples, pears, figs, raisins, and spices in a coffin. No meat.

So his research was deficient.

Suburbanbanshee said...

Oh, and just for the record, sweet cheesecake pie was also around in the 1300's. So were fruit fritters. So were sweet custard and pudding. So were krapfen donuts with sweet fillings. Sweet honeycakes and breads seem to have been around since Sumer and the most ancient days of China.

The time for tough pastries was when you were making, say, an entire weightbearing castle table decoration out of pastry dough. Medieval people could make tender pastry dough when they wanted.

mariner said...

I'm too full of popcorn and Coke to think about pie after a good movie.

mariner said...

Steven,
And elected legislatures, search warrants, habeas corpus, jury trials, enumerated rights, and even the English language are also of British origin, so clearly they aren't American either!

At the rate we're going, none of those will be American much longer.

mariner said...

rcocean,
As for Pumpkin - the best isn't that much better than the worst.

Or, the worst is almost as good as the best.