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“As American as Apple Pie”

In my story, “Pie in the Sky”, a wedge of apple pie on a business flight leads to an enchanting surprise for Derek Smith, a successful young bachelor. Apple pie is Derek’s favorite dessert, a delicious slice of Americana he enjoys every Thanksgiving at his grandmother’s table. But he has no idea how his desire for apple pie will change his life.

We are familiar with the expression, “as American as apple pie.” Yet this darling of American desserts was not always American; even the tasty apple wasn’t always American. Apples are native to Asia (originating in the area of modern-day Kazakhstan), not to America (with the exception of crab apples). Over time, apples found their way into and throughout Europe. In one form or another, apple pies have been around since medieval times. In the fourteenth century, the pastry portion of the pie was just a receptacle in which to hold the apple slices and not meant to be eaten. Back then, sugar was scarce and very expensive; the apple desserts were sugar free. The lattice-style pastry we know today was first created in fifteenth-century Holland. By the middle of the sixteenth century, sugar had become more available and affordable, and the pastry shell was now meant to be eaten. Europeans loved these delicious apple desserts.

Apple pie
Apple pie baked by the author. Photo © Ariel Lepor

In the seventeenth century, European colonists, all set to set out for the New World, were not about to give up their favorite fruits. So they brought apple-tree cuttings and seeds along with them on their journeys. But the soil in America was not well suited to growing these apple trees. Grafting would yield apples more closely resembling the ones from their European past. But grafting requires work and dedication. It was far easier to just throw seeds around (with unpredictable results) or to rely on crab apples (suitable for cider but too sour for eating) native to America. And there were farmers whose religious backgrounds categorically prohibited grafting, anyway. So, whereas there were some apples appropriate for apple pie, they were far from plentiful. Preserving whatever apples one could find, would help; by late in the eighteenth century, Dutch immigrants to America brought their method for preserving apples. Around this time, German immigrants contributed their technique for making flaky pastry crusts. Armed with this new information, Amelia Simmons published American Cookery in 1796. Her cookbook contained the first apple-pie recipes published in the United States.

Over time, as the country expanded westward, Americans planted apple trees—lots of them. Settlers were offered one hundred acres each, with the proviso that they plant fifty apple trees and twenty peach trees. By the nineteenth century, Americans were growing over fourteen thousand different varieties of apples; many were perfect for pie. Easy to prepare and affordable, apple pie was now a staple of the American diet, eaten for multiple meals throughout the day, and on multiple days per week. It was served as a side dish or even as a main dish (with cheese). By 1902, all this apple-pie eating led one man to assert that it was time to cut back on apple-pie consumption. Well, a New York Times editor who heard this was quick to defend his favorite food. In his editorial, he wrote: “Pie is the American synonym of prosperity, and its varying contents the calendar of the changing seasons. Pie is the food of the heroic. No pie-eating people can be permanently vanquished.” In 1926, another article in the same publication proclaimed: “The Tourist Apple Pie Hunt is Ended: American Army Abroad Has Failed Again to Find in Europe ‘the Kind They Make at Home.’” Though this assertion is dubious, it solidified the view of the apple pie as a symbol of American ideals like motherly love, purity, wholesomeness, and the comforts of home. It soon became associated with nationalism and patriotism. Hence, the often-repeated line heard from American soldiers during World War II, “I’m fighting for Mom and apple pie.”

Though apple pie originated in Europe, its storied history eventually led to its becoming fully integrated into American culture and cuisine. The blending of culinary contributions from a variety of national backgrounds, among other factors, led to the apple pie’s emergence as the classic symbol cherished by millions of Americans today.

And Derek Smith, savoring his apple pie aboard that fabulous flight, was never more thankful.


1. Emily VanSchmus, “The Historical Reason We Associate Apple Pie With the Fourth of July,” Better Homes and Gardens, October 16, 2022

2. Meagan Peoples, “How Apple Pie Became the Epitome of American Patriotism,” The Johns Hopkins News-Letter, October 27, 2016

3. “Apple Pie History,” What’s Cooking America

4. Lauren Cabral, “The History of Apple Pie,” Back Then History, May 11, 2021