TGIP: Thank God it’s National Pie Day!

Pie purveyors create sweet comfort by the slice

Pie, in a word, is my passion. Since as far back as I can remember, I have simply loved pie. I can’t really explain why. If one loves poetry, or growing orchids, or walking along the beach at sunset, the why isn’t all that important! To me, pie is poetry that makes the world a better place.
―Ken Haedrich, Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie

Good morning. There are many things to celebrate today: National Handwriting Day, Measure Your Feet Day (I only ask….why?!), and National Pie Day!

Friday’s Fried Chicken, Shiner, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

January 23: National Pie Day

National Pie Day is today, a January 23 holiday. Today is a special day that is set aside to bake all of your favorite pies. On this day, you are also encouraged to bake a few new pie recipes. And most importantly, it’s a day to eat pies! The American Pie Council created this day simply to celebrate them.

A great way to celebrate National Pie Day is to bake some pies and give them away to friends, neighbors, and relatives. You never know, you may be starting a tradition of pie giving between your friends and family.

Mom’s Pie House, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Pie Day celebrates one of America’s favorite desserts. No matter how you slice it, pie in just about any form makes a crowd happy. Fruit pies, berry pies, cream pies, pecan pies—they are mouthwatering servings of homemade goodness. 

Whether it is apple, pumpkin, blueberry, raspberry, cherry, peach, Key lime, lemon meringue, coconut cream, sweet potato, mince, or countless more, the sweet, savory tastes are as American as… well, you know.

Many people think that Pie Day is March 14, but that is Pi Day—the celebration of the famous mathematical constant when people also eat pie.

Krause Berry Farm, Langley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Boulder, Colorado, school teacher named Charlie Papazian takes credit for founding National Pie Day. Around 1975, he declared to his students that his birthday—January 23—would be known as National Pie Day. Charlie likes pie and he celebrates with candles on his birthday pie.

Charlie also founded the American Pie Council and that group registered the holiday and began promoting National Pie Day celebrations in 1986.

It’s a holiday simply to celebrate pie, because pie so deserves to be celebrated!

I’ve been pondering pie lately and why it, perhaps more than any other food, is so endearing. Pie somehow takes us back, like old songs do, to those who remember when moments worth recalling. And why I wonder, does it seem as if the pie has become the cool kid on the dessert block … again? Trendy or not, pie satisfies our sweet tooth and carries us back in time to those fun times. It deserves its own day.

You can join the celebration by baking your pie since it’s easy as, well, pie. Or consider your options: Plenty of pie purveyors have perfected the art of creating sweet comfort by the slice.  A good pie, after all, is like a hug. The better the pie, the bigger the embrace! I recently went looking for full-on-tackle hugs—the ultimate pies—and found them.

Julian Pie Company, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History of pies

Pie has been around since the ancient Egyptians. The first pies were made by early Romans who may have learned about them through the Greeks. These pies were sometimes made in reeds which were used for the sole purpose of holding the filling and not for eating with the filling.

The Romans must have spread the word about pies around Europe as the Oxford English Dictionary notes that the word pie was a popular word in the 14th century. The first pie recipe was published by the Romans and was for a rye-crusted goat cheese and honey pie.

The early pies were predominately meat pies. Pyes (pies) originally appeared in England as early as the twelfth century. The crust of the pie was referred to as coffyn. There was more crust than filling. Often these pies were made using fowl and the legs were left to hang over the side of the dish and used as handles. Fruit pies or tarts (pasties) were probably first made in the 1500s. English tradition credits making the first cherry pie to Queen Elizabeth I.

Krause Berry Farm, Langley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pie came to America with the first English settlers. The early colonists cooked their pies in long narrow pans calling them coffins like the crust in England. As in Roman times, the early American pie crusts often were not eaten but simply designed to hold the filling during baking. It was during the American Revolution that the term crust was used instead of coffyn.

Over the years, pie has evolved to become what it is today—the most traditional American dessert. Pie has become so much a part of American culture throughout the years that we now commonly use the term as American as apple pie.

Friday’s Fried Chicken, Shiner, Texas© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Pie Day by the numbers 

  • 6000 BC: Earliest date pie is traced back to
  • 186 million: Pies sold in stores each year in America alone
  • 23,236 pounds (10,540kg): Weight of the largest pie ever baked
  • 1675: Pumpkin pie makes its first appearance in a cookbook
  • 47: Percentage of Americans think pie is comforting
  • $9,500: Price of the world’s most expensive pie
  • 1 in 5: Americans have eaten a whole pie by themselves
  • 9: Percentage of Americans prefer eating the crust first
  • 1644: Year that pie was banned by Oliver Cromwell for being a pagan form of pleasure
  • 18: Percentage of men that say their wives bake the best pie
Mom’s Pie House, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to celebrate National Pie Day

Eat some pie: Naturally, the best way to celebrate National Pie Day is to eat a slice of your favorite—or try a new and adventurous flavor

Bake a pie: Baking a pie can be as easy as, well, pie. Look up a recipe online, in a cookbook, or ask a family member to share a favorite recipe

Share a pie: If you make or buy a pie, share it; by its very nature, pie is meant to be eaten with others

Sample different slices of pie: When life gives you choices, you don’t have to only pick one

Krause Berry Farm, Langley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Share your favorite pie recipe with friends and family: Baking with others brings a whole new ingredient to your recipe.

Eat a whole pie by yourself: Sometimes you just need to indulge in the sweeter things in life but I recommend eating a pie in more than one sitting.

Host a pie night: Gather family and friends for a pie celebration—everyone must bring one homemade pie for the pie buffet (More than 100 folks with 100 pies?)

Julian Pie Company, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enter a pie bake-off: Many organizations hold pie baking contests; if you’re feeling proud of your baking skills, try showing them off at your local bake-off

Host a pie-making contest: Invite the best pie-makers in town to compete for prizes in various categories; ask cooking teachers, pastry chefs, and pie lovers to be judges (Contact the American Pie Council and they will send you a sample pie judging sheet)

Eat more pie: You can always have another slice, preferably warm and a la mode.

Do pie stuff: Sing pie songs, read pie books, quote pie poems, make pie charts.

Mom’s Pie House, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun Pie Facts

The oldest known pie recipe was for a rye-crusted goat’s cheese and honey pie in ancient Rome about 2,000 years ago

Related pie days

  • National Pi Day (March 14)
  • National Cherry Pie Day (February 20)
  • National Blueberry Pie Day (April 28)
  • National Pecan Pie Day (July 12)
  • National Peach Pie Day (August 24)
  • National Pumpkin Pie Day (December 25)

No matter how you cut it, pies are a great reason to celebrate.

So preheat your oven or visit your local bakery, grab a slice, and celebrate the simple, delicious pleasures of good pie.

Julian Pie Company, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

>> People are also reading…

Worth Pondering…

Cut my pie into four pieces, I don’t think I could eat eight.

―Yogi Berra

I ate another apple pie and ice cream; that’s practically all I ate all the way across the country, I knew it was nutritious and it was delicious, of course.

―Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Why the Saying Should Be As American as Pumpkin Pie, Not Apple

I think we should be saying as American as pumpkin pie

When life gives you pumpkins, make pie.

—a play on Elbert Hubbard’s words

Pie is revered in the modern American household. Juicy apples mixed with sugar and cinnamon make much-anticipated appearances in the kitchen throughout fall and winter. Rich, creamy spiced pumpkin and sweet potato pies are delivered on Thanksgiving. Deep burgundy red cherry pies are served on Christmas.

Pumpkins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’ve all heard the phrase countless times before: As American as apple pie. Many people never question it. Apple pie is on the menu at most American diners and Normal Rockwell featured the dessert in several of his illustrations. It’s unmistakably American—and yet that well-worn cliche isn’t historically accurate. When you dig into the history of the earliest days of the American colonies you’ll find that the pie most connected to this country’s roots is pumpkin, not apple.

Pumpkin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pumpkins are native to North America. Columbus wrote about pumpkins he saw from his voyages and brought some back as did subsequent explorers so people in Europe were familiar with them as early as 1492. Pumpkins and other squash were some of the first crops colonists planted when settlers arrived in America in 1621.

And then there’s pie. There’s been a love for pie in North America from the very first settlers to their present-day ancestors. Early settlers cut up pretty much anything that could grow, baked it between two pieces of crust, and called it a pie. Culinary tastes of the era meant that almost all vegetables grown in the colony were baked in a pastry crust.

Pie generally meant something a little more savory. Tarts were dishes where they added lots of sugar. That was the difference between a pie and a tart in the 17th century.

Pumpkins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A matter of fillings

Pumpkin, not an apple, was the dominant pie filling in the early American colonies as apple orchards hadn’t been planted yet. New England without apples is difficult to picture but the first decade of the Plymouth colony was mostly appleless.

Related article: How as American as Apple Pie Came to Be

William Blaxton planted the first apple seedlings trees soon after he arrived in Weymouth, Massachusetts just south of present-day Boston in 1623.

Pumpkin patch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once apples were abundant in the colonies, pie recipes popped up that combined sliced apples and pumpkins with butter and a little spice. These original pies, however, were more vegetable-heavy. They used sliced pieces of pumpkin or squash mixed with spices and butter and then baked in a pastry crust. Pumpkin pies with a whipped, fluffy texture became widespread after the advent of Libby’s canned pumpkin puree in the early 20th century.

Pumpkins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How pumpkin pie was traditionally served

Pumpkin pie in the 21st century is relegated to dessert—a savory and sweet cap to an already decadent meal. Thanksgiving seems incomplete without it.

But pies weren’t reserved for special occasions in the pilgrim household. Meals were served family style and pies were set out with the rest of the main courses rather than being presented at the end of the meal. Once the family sat down to eat the pies weren’t sliced, either.

Pumpkins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you served a pie in the 17th century you’d cut the top crust off, scoop out the filling, and then you’d take little bits of crust to go with it. So pie acted like a container to hold the rest of the filling in.

About that crust: There seems to be some confusion about the uses of early pie crust. New England’s early settlers called pie crust pastry or paste and typically the ingredients were simple: hot or cold water depending on the type of pie, butter, and flour. These crusts, sometimes known as the coffyn became rock hard during the baking process leading to the misconception that the crusts were tossed into the garbage once the filling had been consumed. America’s settlers, however, were much more industrious and recycled the pastry for future use.

Pumpkin patch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You would eat the pastry with the next meal with broth to soften the pastry. You didn’t throw it away. Because when people go through all the trouble to grow food like wheat or rye or other grains and harvest it by hand and thresh it and grind it, they aren’t going to throw it away. They might not feed it to the lord of the manor but somebody is going to eat it.

Related article: Julian Is World Famous For Apple Pies

The term coffin might sound off-putting when applied to your dinner but it simply described the pie as a basket or box. This dining method proved popular throughout medieval Europe. For one, it required no additional dishes and could be eaten by hand, no utensils needed. And that’s not the coffin pie’s only practical purpose.

Pumpkins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Janet Clarkson’s book, Pie: A Global History, she writes that this hefty pastry case served as a container similar to a lunch box. It was a way for people to both transport their food and preserve it (especially important before refrigeration when people needed a way to make their food last). Sometimes, the baker carved a hole in the top of the crust and poured melted fat into the hole to act as a seal against intruding air thus keeping it fresh for an extended period.

Pastry crust didn’t catch on in America until the 1640s, however, when the settlers began growing wheat and rye in the colonies. Maize, the corn favored by the Native American people already living on the land the pilgrims had colonized made soggy pastry that fell apart. So, for the first 15 years, the colonies operated there was no crust made in New England—and therefore very few pies.

Pumpkins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

However, there was one exception: When the long-serving governor of the Plymouth Colony William Bradford married in 1623, rye from England was used to make 12 venison pies.

Even before pie crust became commonplace what the pilgrims did not do was bake pumpkin pies inside a hollowed-out pumpkin. This cooking method is a widespread myth, plain and simple.

Pumpkins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This misconception might stem from a 16th-century source who wrote that pumpkins the size of an acorn squash were hollowed out then sliced bits of pumpkin and apple were added and baked together. The real dish would have looked and tasted more like an acorn squash side dish, not a sweetened pumpkin pie. But even so, there is no record of that dish even being cooked in the colonies, only in 17th century England.

Related article: 8 Creative Ways to See Some Fall Color

That’s very different than taking this giant field pumpkin and hollowing it and pouring in four quarts of cream and a pound of sugar and baking that forever and a day.

Pumpkins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As American as pumpkin pie

Pies were undoubtedly a major part of the cuisine in the New England colonies. Until Amelia Simmons published her cookbook in 1796—the first cookbook written in America by an American—reprints of cookbooks from England where pies had long been a staple dish circulated in the colonies. The pilgrims ate plenty of pies, just not apple pie.

Related article: Top 8 Tips for Planning a Road Trip this Thanksgiving and throughout the Holiday Season

Pumpkins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It would take a little more than 20 years after the first successful colonies before apples appeared in pies or anything else. America’s earliest settlers filled their pies with what grew most abundantly in their backyards and that was a pumpkin. So next time you’re thinking about celebrating America, pull out the pumpkin pie recipe you’d usually save for Thanksgiving. 

Related article: Thanksgiving & Staying Safe

Worth Pondering…

The pumpkin lies yellow beneath the cold skies, it’s luscious and mellow and ready for pies.

—Walt Mason, The Pumpkin

O’ pumpkin pie, your time has come ’round again and I am autumnrifically happy!

—Terri Guillemets

But see in our open clearings how golden the melons lie; enrich them with sweets and spices and give us the pumpkin-pie!

— Margaret Junkin Preston

I picture pumpkins at a farmer’s market piled happy and high awaiting a new home where children will carve them into scary faces or mothers will bake them into pie or stew.

—Jenny Gardiner, Slim to None

The pumpkin is a uniquely American plant, widely regarded as one of the most magical plants in all the world.

—Seth Adam Smith, Rip Van Winkle and the Pumpkin Lantern

Advice from a pumpkin: be well-rounded, get plenty of sunshine, give thanks for life’s bounty, have thick skin, keep growing, be outstanding in your field, think big.

— Unknown

How as American as Apple Pie Came to Be

How apple pie became American

Pie is…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.

The New York Times, 1902

The saying as American as apple pie has been around for centuries. Traced back as early as 1851, this expression is used to express patriotism, usually heard when discussing things like baseball, beer, or rock-n-roll. But in a country where apples aren’t native to the land—nor is the pie for that matter—how did apple pie become so embedded in the American identity?

Apples and other vegetables at a farmers market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This flaky, fruit-filled dessert conjures memories of holidays huddled around the dinner table, steam rising from the lattice crust of a pie on the windowsill, and generations celebrating and enjoying time together. But apple pie wasn’t invented in the United States. As is the case for many aspects of American cuisine, the majority of its ingredients hail from abroad.

This fall, tip your basket to William Blaxton when you pluck a plump apple from a tree, bob for apples on Halloween, or cherish your grandmother’s amazing apple pie on Thanksgiving.

Apple pies in Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Reverend Blaxton, among other claims to fame, planted the first seeds that would fuel a pioneering nation and give apples an image of all-American wholesomeness.  

A bookish, eccentric loner, the early English settler nurtured what historians believe were the first apple orchards in what is now the U.S. in present-day Boston in the 1620s. His name Blaxton is often modernized as Blackstone. A true pioneer, he settled Boston five years before the Puritans and in Rhode Island a year before Roger Williams. 

There may be historical characters who did more than he did for apples in America but he was certainly the first—or at least the first known—to bring this exotic crop to our shores. 

Apple tarts in Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

America’s national heritage is flavored with references to the sweet, juicy fruit. America’s biggest city is called the Big Apple. Wholesome institutions are as American as apple pie. Johnny Appleseed created an American legend spreading the gospel and the apple across the heartland. 

Food historians and scientists believe the fruit is native to Central Asia in what is today the Tian Shan forest in Kazakhstan. Wild apples were domesticated there and spread along the Silk Road to Europe. The apple evolved along the Silk Road and in Europe before making it to England and then America via the New World’s early colonists.

Apple orchard in late fall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The only apple indigenous to North America is the sour and small crabapple which doesn’t fit in well with desserts. Sweet apples have found a second home in the US; it produces the most apples in the world, next to China.

The apple reached Europe at least by the time of Ancient Greece and Rome and arrived in the Americas only after the explorations of Christopher Columbus sparked the greatest period of food fusion and cultural integration in world history. 

Related article: Apples and Pies Just Part of Julian’s Appeal

The people of the New World in addition to apples soon savored Old World foods such as rice, onions, and coffee. Europeans, Asians, and Africans discovered Western Hemisphere flavors such as corn, potatoes, and tomatoes. 

Mom’s Pie House, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

William Blaxton is believed to have been born on March 5, 1595, in Lincolnshire, England to John and Agnes (Hawley) Blaxton. His mother died when he was boy. He was ordained by the Church of England in 1621 then lost his father the following year.

As the news of English settlements in Jamestown and Plymouth trickled back to England, Blaxton set off for the New World as chaplain aboard the ship Katherine.

Apple pies © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blaxton arrived in Wessagusset in what is now Weymouth, Massachusetts just south of Boston in 1623. It was an ill-fated settlement. Captain Richard Gorges who led the expedition hastily returned to England. Blaxton stayed behind and ventured a few miles north to the Shawmut Peninsula the site of present-day downtown Boston in 1625. The Puritans, led by John Winthrop, arrived five years later. 

The staid Puritan reformers and the oddball Anglican minister did not hit it off. So, for the third time in 12 years, Blaxton (or Blackstone) started a new life on his own. 

Apple orchard in late fall © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Because of theological and territorial disagreements with his new neighbors, Blackstone moved west in 1635 to enjoy the solitude and tranquility of a place he called ‘Study Hill’ in the Lonsdale section of Cumberland on the east bank of the river that now bears his name,” writes the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame. “This move gave him the unique distinction of being present-day Rhode Island’s first permanent English settler.”

Apple experts say the earliest known American varieties likely descended from Blackstone’s Boston fruit trees. Blaxton’s first orchard was planted at the corner of what is now Beacon and Spruce streets in the heart of Boston between Beacon Hill and Boston Common. Blackstone planted his apple orchards from seed according to all reports while controlled varietals are grown by grafting.

Apple Alley Bakery, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Roxbury russet named for a Boston neighborhood is the earliest known American apple variety and is traced to 1635, the year Blaxton left for Rhode Island. Heirloom apples—Rhode Island greening and yellow sweeting—also likely came from his first orchards.

Apples could also be dried, baked, distilled into vinegar—or, most commonly in colonial times—fermented into cider. They proved perfect food for the pioneers who were spreading across the continent. 

Related article: Day Trip: Julian, CA

William Blackstone died on May 26, 1675, in Cumberland, the Rhode Island town he first settled in 1635. The name Blackstone remains common throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island. 

Julian Pie Company, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The land he sold to the Puritans became Boston Common founded in 1634 just before he left the Shawmut Peninsula. It is the oldest public park in America today. It predates Central Park in New York City, for example, by 224 years.

Boston boasts a downtown Blackstone Street, a Blackstone Grill, and a Blackstone Elementary School. The Blackstone River which meanders through both Massachusetts and Rhode Island is named for him. The Blackstone River National Historical Park was created under President Obama in 2015. Rhode Island features numerous memorials including a William Blackstone Memorial Park in Cumberland. The city of Pawtucket, an old mill town on the Blackstone River introduced a monument to Blackstone in 2021. It features him reading a book upon a bull reflecting one of the tales of his eccentricity.

Julian Cafe and Bakery, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When British troops invaded Brooklyn during the American Revolution in 1776, the British were stunned by the splendor of the orchards. The redcoats “regaled themselves with the fine apples which hung everywhere upon the trees in great abundance,” wrote author David McCullough in 1776, his epic work of history. 

According to the American Pie Council, Americans consume $700 million worth of retail pies each year—and that doesn’t include those that are home-baked or sold by restaurants and independent bakers. That’s a lot of apple pie.

Mom’s Pie House, Julian, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though I’ve made the case here that apple pie isn’t so American after all, one could argue that just because something originated somewhere else doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t become a source of national pride elsewhere. America took the apple pie to heights it had never seen before and elevated it as a treasured part of its lore and history. And though it wouldn’t be fair to call apple pie “American” without acknowledging its past, the baked good seems to be just at home here as anywhere else in the world.

Worth Pondering…

Apples are just like us. They come in many colors, many sizes, and many shapes. They are well rooted, just like we all want to be. They are collaborative, communicative, and they gift us with beautiful fruit. Apples teach us what it means to be alive and joyful on earth.

—John Bunker