The Surprisingly Un-American History of Apple Pie
To start, apples aren’t even native to North America.
Arguably the country’s most iconic dish, it’s been showing up at Fourth of July barbecues and Thanksgiving feasts for generations. But don’t let that fool you. Apple pie isn’t nearly as American as most people believe. In fact, apples aren’t even native to North America, and didn’t grow here until the arrival of European settlers. And cinnamon and nutmeg? Those came from as far away as Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
According to Food52, apple pie first originated in England, where it arose out of culinary influences from France, the Netherlands, and the Ottoman Empire as early as 1390—centuries before the Pilgrims set foot on Plymouth Rock.
Eventually apple pie was brought to the colonies by European settlers, where the dish quickly caught on. America’s first cookbook, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, published in 1796, included two recipes for the fruit-based dessert.
Easy and affordable, apple pie was in American cuisine by the 18th and 19th centuries. But, as Food52 reports, it didn’t become associated with our cultural identity until the 20th, when advertising, news, and two world wars transformed the dish into a nationalist symbol.
Though the exact origin of the phrase “as American as apple pie” is unclear, a 1928 New York Times article used it to describe the homemaking abilities of First Lady Lou Henry Hoover. By WWII it was a symbol of feminine love associated with the warmth of home, and soldiers were proudly proclaiming that they were fighting for “mom and apple pie.”
Phony symbolism aside, apple pie actually does represent America, but not for the reasons most people think. Apple pie is American because it represents how cultures from all over the world can join together to create something new and altogether wonderful. Like apples, we’re all transplants.
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As John Lehndorff of the American Pie Council explained to Food52, "When you say that something is 'as American as apple pie,' what you're really saying is that the item came to this country from elsewhere and was transformed into a distinctly American experience.”