During the decades surrounding World War II, “Apple (pie) was a small way of setting an anxious nation at ease and its preparation and consumption became a way of connecting with the nation’s most basic virtues”. – Rebecca Claire Bunschoten, As American As Apple Pie. 
There’s no better way to say, “I love you”, than the aroma, sight, and taste of homemade apple pie. How do I know? Poet R. Green wrote in 1589, “‘Thy breath is like the steeme of apple pies’”. And that’s what all the men folk ‘round here tell their wives. Well, not exactly…
A husband baits his wife and the conversation goes like this: “What’s that thing called that you made a long time ago”? Wife looks confused and asks, “What thing”? Husband has her hooked and now toys with her, “You know, those round things”. Wife responds, “Round things”? She thinks he has lost his mind. Husband says with a serious and pleading face, “Yeah. Those round things with fruit”. Wife thinks hard and with a puzzled look says, “You mean pie”? Husband grins, “That’s it! Pie. It’s been so long since we had one, I forgot what they were”. Wife rolls her eyes. The next day, she makes him a pie.
Sometimes, when the moon is just right, even men make pies here. My son, William makes a butter-toasted pecan pie every Thanksgiving. My son, Ted makes seasonal Key Lime pies. My son, Rick prefers pizza pie; all year long. And yes, even Keith makes pie. His specialty is a sour cream raisin pie. It’s topped with a mile-high meringue. Don’t say, “Yuck” before you try it. Bets are won on this one! (Right, Ben?) But my all-time favorite has and will forever remain, an “All-American” apple pie. Its origins are as diverse as our nation’s people.
My mouth waters over the thought of amazing apple crumb pie, apple cream cheese pie, apple-raisin-walnut pie, apple pie with melted cheddar cheese, or apple pie ala mode with warm caramel sauce. My favorite? Southern-fried apple pies; hot with a crackled sugar glaze. Sadly, I recently learned that these are “illegal”. They break at least one of four “Pie Laws”. Even when they are made from scratch, they are not “real” pie. I’ve been told “real” pies are baked; not fried. Well, I’ll let you decide for yourself whether fried apple pies count. Why? I don’t plan on starting another Civil War. Speaking of which, both Union and Confederate soldiers stole from black tenants and white farmers to make apple pies. “Thusly, wartime adversity fixed the taste of apple pie on the palate of generations to come.” – John T. Edge, Apple Pie: An American Story Instead, I’d rather wage war on fake apple pies. I don’t like the artificial-apple-flavored-corn-syrup-soggy-crust-desserts that are sold in cardboard triangles. They are marketed to “look” like pie.
Apparently, I am not the only one who has a love-hate relationship with what’s called apple pie. On November 7, 1943, the New York Times featured another article entitled, Pie. “At its best, of course, American pie is something to dream about and remember…Go anywhere and you take your chances with that staple of staples, apple pie. If it is right, it is superb; if it wrong, put it aside and eat the paper pie plate, which is just as tasty.” In 1969, journalist George F. Will wrote, “Pessimism is as American as apple pie- frozen apple pie with a slice of processed cheese”. What a crying shame. It’s obvious that too many folks have never had a delicious apple pie.
Astrophysicist, Carl Sagan once said, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe”. I always thought he meant that pie making was hard and time consuming. However, it’s not that simple. Sagan meant that, “The only way to make an apple pie ‘from nothing’, would be to create the universe yourself”. In other words, I didn’t make the sun, soil, and water needed to grow an apple seed. I also didn’t make the apple seed. I didn’t make the sugar cane plant for the sugar, the grain for the flour, or the cow for the butter. And I didn’t make carbon… “the carbon in our apple pies (was) made in the interiors of collapsing stars”.  Wow! This means I am justifiably unable to make an apple pie from scratch. You can’t either. And neither can the world’s pastry chefs. Huh. I’m in good company.
So did I give up? Nope. I began with the Big Bang. As usual, I made a mess in the kitchen. I knocked over a bowl and dropped an egg. It’s okay. I’m used to it. Besides, I’m the one that has to clean it up. Well… that’s not quite true. Our dog, Timber relishes a chance to clean up after me. Anyway, one egg is key to a successful pie crust for me. It makes the dough elastic and pliable. It’s very forgiving. Years ago, Keith’s mom gave me the recipe. It also includes a tablespoon of vinegar. For the flakiest crust, I use our rendered pork lard.
For pie filling, I have quart bags of frozen fruits. They were hand-picked the previous year. I can choose from wild blueberries, June berries, raspberries, and apples. Of course, the best apple pies contain more than one variety of apples. Mine have five. They are all locally grown, compared to store bought. Once the filling is ready, it’s layered onto the bottom crust. The center is mounded and the edges are tapered. I dollop small bits of butter across the filling. Then I prepare the top crust. Personally, I think a lattice crust is most attractive. However, since this crust tastes so good, I also like a solid and vented top.
There is no need to cover the pie with aluminum foil when baking. It took some research, but I found the old-time method to control browning. Brush the top and edges of the pie with cold water. It’s hard to believe, but it doesn’t make it soggy. Then I sprinkle Turbinado sugar on top. It’s golden cane sugar with coarse crystals. It makes a lovely finish. (If it’s a savory meat pie, I sprinkle it with fresh ground peppercorns and herbs.)
Once the pie was in the oven, I made bread dough. The first batch made two loaves of white bread. It holds up the best in Keith’s lunch bucket. The second batch made two loaves of multi-grain bread. It’s the most flavorful, and likely the healthiest. It’s a mix of whole wheat flour and bread flour, flax, oatmeal, and walnuts. By the time the breads completed their first risings, the pie was done.
When I use the oven, I try to bake more than just one item. For me this is tricky. It’s hard to time everything just right. My lack of culinary skill is often troubling. After all, there are stereotypes. I grew up in a family where women are supposed to cook. And most are expected to do it well. However, I also grew up in the generation where women were “freed from the slavery” of cooking. Oh, the battle. Is it any wonder that it’s taken decades for me to learn?
I’m now fifty and I think that my cooking is improving. While my family may still disagree, at least there’s no longer the waste. These days, I can immediately flip failures. Flopped pancakes make bacon and hot wings. Squealing pigs and clucking chickens just love me for it. Although, when meals turn out okay, I do enjoy sharing with two legged animals. Usually, they don’t complain; at least not to my face. And pies? Sometimes, it’s still a toss-up.
Keith arrived home to the smell of apple pie, hot from the oven. Like a magnet, it led him directly to the cooling rack. He inhaled deeply. He looked tempted, but chose to wait for dessert. I began cooking supper right away. It was the perfect night for a soup or stew. We opted for a quick fish chowder. Just as the bread came out of the oven, the chowder was done. Chunks of cod and potatoes were al dente. Both swam in a spicy broth of our homegrown, canned tomatoes. It was ladled and poured steaming hot, into Shenango china bowls.
The bowls are hand-me-downs from Keith’s mother. These ivory orphans with green ribbons are no longer part of an intact, family set. They’re rugged misfits that don’t get along well with others. But they’re vitrified and made for hard and relentless work. These plain Janes have quietly endured the tests of time. Such bowls are now retired. They’re antiquated and the manufacturer no longer exists. Sadly, they couldn’t compete with today’s temptresses.
Modern Americans have an insatiable hunger for cheap china from China. Such American craftsmanship and quality is from yesteryear. And if only for that reason, I prefer the Shenango bowls. They’d grace Keith’s grandfather’s oak table. While I sliced the hot bread, Keith pulled the butter and honey from the cupboard. We sat on chairs that had outlived their maker and generations of owners. These days, most folks don’t want them either. Then we bowed our heads. I was grateful. So was Keith. Neither of us took any of it for granted.
As we ate, someone was sitting on a car seat, in a drive through. They were counting pennies for a happy meal. Elsewhere, a little someone was mindless eating an uncooked, frozen pizza. Television was their only company. Next door was another little someone. One that was sent to bed without supper. An ignorant adult boasted it was a smart punishment. Miles away, an older someone was dumpster diving for an expired corndog. If they were lucky, they’d get an expired muffin for breakfast, too. Hidden in a public bathroom, a thin teen-some ate cotton balls to stave off hunger. This someone could afford food, but couldn’t afford to gain weight.
Meanwhile, a middle-aged and single someone binged on everything in sight. Junk food was a poor substitute for what they lacked, but it was what they had. Then there are the other someone’s. Their tables and bellies remained empty. A few were simply too exhausted or forgetful to eat, let alone cook. And far too many were at war. Some even battled cravings stronger than food. Such hunger and voids will be filled with heroin or cocaine, instead. Yet, there was one constant for us all. We live in the same town.
After dinner, Keith and I completed our evening chores. We didn’t hurry, but we didn’t waste any time either. The horses and cows had ample hay. Keith slopped the hogs. I gave the dogs and cats some boiled eggs. The goats had hay and received a handful of grain. Next, I collected the fresh eggs and shut-up the chickens for the night. They and the turkeys were already roosting.
Finally, Keith and I both fed Natasha. We usually call her, Ungh-Ungh. Our tiny pig princess has her own little palace for now. She’s vociferous and sings for her supper. We can’t resist watching her. And she can’t resist her meals of fermented slop. Although, she’ll wait if it’s topped with a scoop of mini-marshmallows. She’s smart.
Ungh-Ungh’s dinner reminds me of the famous, “marshmallow test”. Years ago, Dr. Walter Mischel did it. Preschool children played along. One marshmallow (cookie or pretzel) was put on a plate. Then it was set on a table in front of a child. The researcher told the kid they’d be back later. Meanwhile, the kid was given a choice. If they didn’t eat the marshmallow and waited for the adult to return, they could have two. If he or she couldn’t wait, a bell needed to be rung. The adult would immediately come back. But, the child would only get one marshmallow.
So, what’s the big deal about marshmallows? This study was about self-control and delayed gratification. We all know folks that can’t wait for anything. A few would’ve eaten the marshmallow before the plate hit the table. At the same time, we know folks who’d have no problem. They’d “wait as long as it takes”; even ninety years. What wasn’t known was if self-control changes over time.
When the same kids became teenagers, the results were similar. Those with more self-control were less distracted. They handled frustration better. And they scored higher on tests, like the SAT. Forty-years later, the same kids were studied again. This time they were adults. Yet, their willpowers still behaved the same way. MRI’s were done. Those with high self-control had more “pre-frontal cortex” brain activity. Those with poor control, showed more activity in the “ventral striatum”. It’s the area related to addictions. These folks were more “tempted” and sensitive to “emotional triggers”. 
There have been other similar studies. An early one had been done in Trinidad. It showed similar results. It also showed that age and an intact family plays a part. And it suggests that self-control isn’t related to family income. Still, there are many questions and few answers. Most believe self-control involves a messy mix of family environment and genetics.
Meanwhile, I teased that some folks didn’t like marshmallows. And I joked about scientists using chocolate instead. I said, if they ever do, there goes my pre-frontal cortex. And seriously, I wondered about it for years. Were those that couldn’t wait to eat marshmallows starving for something else? Their brains hinted at desperation. Perhaps, they were desperately hungry. And what if it had nothing to do with food? Keep in mind, in addition to lacking self-control, there was increased “sensitivity” to emotional triggers, too. In 2012, a study found that trust in others plays a big part in one’s self-control. By the way, trust or mistrust is first developed with an infant’s own mother.
Ungh-Ungh ignored her grain slop and paced back and forth. It looked like she exhibited a great deal of self-control. She was anxiously waiting for marshmallows. As we dropped them one at a time, she carefully paid attention. Before any hit her bowl, she caught them in her mouth. Each pastel pillow of sugar was relished. However, all it took was one boiled egg and she lost all control. The marshmallows were ignored. Meanwhile, she licked up every speck of egg yolk and white and begged for more. There was no more egg. She continued to wait and beg.
Eventually, Ungh-Ungh returned to the marshmallows. Then without pause, she slurped up the slop. In a hungry stomach, there’s little room for delayed gratification. Some would argue she’s not so smart. Yet, she chooses our farm eggs over marshmallows; every time. So, maybe she’s smarter than she looks. But what about self-control? If given the choice, would Ungh-Ungh eat marshmallows until she popped? I suppose with enough human manipulation or abuse, it’s possible.
Whether it’s viewed as good or bad, humans manipulate. One reason is training. It can include manipulating natural eating habits. Humans often substitute natural foods. And messing with an animal’s natural habits is powerful stuff. It can alter an animal’s natural control systems.
How can there be “self” control when man-made manipulation removes “self”? What if the only food and water is manipulated and unhealthy? Then what happens to brain development, function, and self-control? Interestingly, obesity in wild animals differs from obesity in modern humans and now, their domestic pets. Sadly, even some wild animals are now adapting to our garbage. And guess what? They’ll eat it. They’ll eventually fight over it, too.
After her dinner, Ungh-Ungh showed ample gratitude. We left her with a full belly. Her developing body needs it. We dropped our muddy boots on the porch and hung up our damp jackets. Keith headed for the living room. He seldom gets to relax or spend time there. It wouldn’t last for long. Still, he made the most of it. He sat in a chair and propped his feet up.
Meanwhile, it was time for apple pie. I cut a generous wedge for Keith and a smaller one for me. I topped each with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Instantly, the warm pie began melting it away. Keith took a bite. Then he took another. Keith closed his eyes for a moment and smiled. Then he sang its praises. The crust was my flakiest yet and the filling wasn’t too sweet. It had been well worth the wait. It was wonderful. And I was grateful.
More than 100 years ago, there was a debate over whether pie or ice cream had been the “greater service to mankind”. It was the men vs. the women. The men were to defend pie. As I read the article, I figured the outcome would go one of two ways. Maybe, the men would easily win with a fight to the death. Or maybe, it would be a tie, as the men would never concede. I was shocked. The men outright lost. In the audience there was a male editor for the New York Times. He was more than shocked and took the loss quite personally. He felt his fellow brothers “were not faithful to their important trust”.
The editor responded, “An appeal to history would show that this is not the first great cause which has been betrayed and lost through woman’s…influence over man”. He’s saying that the guys let the gals win. A sexist statement to be sure. One that would start a gender war between some women and men today. Regardless, the men in my life would have a hard time understanding why there was ever a debate in the first place. Why argue when the time would be better spent just making a pie? Once it’s sliced, everyone can have a scoop of ice cream on their piece. Then they can both be right. Guess what? The guys just won at our house. Pass the pie, please.
After pie, I wanted to hibernate. Hibernation sounds tempting. You could stuff yourself all year long. Afterwards, you could nap for three months. Then come Spring, you’d wake up trim. Unlike human diet fads, hibernation doesn’t harm the organs. Hibernating black bear mothers can lose up to 40 percent of their body weight. Males can lose 15-30 percent of their body weight. I quickly do some calculations. It seems I’d only have to hibernate one time. And believe it or not, “Human hibernation may not be as far-fetched as it sounds”. Science is busy trying to make it possible.
Meanwhile, our nation is busy throwing tantrums. Folks have trust issues that began with their very own mother and father; or rather, lack of. Folks are also addicted to junk food, alcohol, drugs, drama, and hypnotic-entertainment. Their bodies and brains are nutritionally starved. And their minds are sleep deprived. It’s a volatile mix. And it goes way beyond just being emotionally, trigger-sensitive. Truly, brains have suffered.
Our whole nation needs a time-out. We need to unplug and take a long nap. Deep sleep is when the brain works to heal itself. We also need to eat something other than just junk food. And what about the need to tear something up or rip something apart? Awesome! Let’s start with ground beneath your feet! Tending a garden and orchard can nurture deprived bodies and minds.
And let’s not forget about pie. How ‘bout making one or two? They don’t have to be fruit pies or loaded in sugar. They can be savory egg, vegetable, or meat pies (think: chicken pot-pie). For those with gluten allergies, there are alternative crusts. Of course, some will work harder at it than others. Obstacles will vary. And a few will have lots of failures, too. But, this is America. Don’t give up. Get creative and keep at it. Honest, a piece of your very own, All-American pie is worth the effort. And if you share, your family, friends, or neighbors may praise you, too! After all, there’s no better way to say, “I love you”.
“(Eating pie twice per week) is utterly insufficient, as anyone who knows the secret of our strength as a nation and the foundation of our industrial supremacy. Pie is the American synonym of prosperity. Pie is the food of the heroic. No pie-eating people can be permanently vanquished. In our own glad and fortunate country the seasons are known by their respective dominant pies-for each there is an appropriate pie, with apple pie for all year ‘round.” 
 (Bunschoten, 2014)
 (Mayer, 2008)
 (Sethi, 2016)
 (Bunschoten, 2014)
 (Will, 1969)
 (What Did Carl Sagan mean when he said…, n.d.)
 (Carl Sagan’s Most Famous Quotes Include the One About Apple Pie…, 2017)
 (What You Need to Know about Willpower: The Psychological Science of Self-Control, n.d.)
 (Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, n.d.)
 (Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, n.d.)
 (Tyson, 2000)
 (Tyson, 2000)
 (New York TImes Pie, 1902)
 (Crockett, 2015)