Pie can be the sweet, gooey goodness of a warm slice of apple pie or the hearty, savory satisfaction of a flaky chicken pot pie. "That's the thing about pie," says Mary Ardapple, owner of Apple's Bakery Northside Market.
If mom's apple pie is all-American, then it must be un-American not to enjoy a slice. Pie can be the sweet, gooey goodness of a warm slice of apple pie or the hearty, savory satisfaction of a flaky chicken pot pie. "That's the thing about pie," says Mary Ardapple, owner of Apple's Bakery Northside Market in Peoria, Ill. Historians believe pie loosely can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians with the bakers to the pharaohs incorporating nuts, honey and fruits in bread dough. But the first pie recipe was apparently published by the Romans - a rye-crusted goat cheese and honey pie. Pyes (pies) originally appeared in England as early as the 12th century, and the crust of the pie was referred to as "coffyn," according to The American Pie Council. "There was actually 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." Pie came to America with the first English settlers, eventually becoming ingrained in our culture, hence the saying, "as American as apple pie." "My grandmother made two pies every day," says Ardapple. "One, my dad, his father and the hired (farm) hands would eat at noon, and the other was for dessert at night." Ardapple well recalls growing up picking and pitting cherries from their trees - "pitting cherries is no fun" - but the results are worth it. "When you make a pie, you are expressing to your family that this is a special occasion. Pie, I think, rivals cookies as comfort food. Those two bakery products are probably wrapped up in more sentimentality than anything else. "Everybody likes pie." Ardapple's personal favorite? "My mom made a rhubarb tapioca meringue - I probably need to find that recipe and make one." One? Ardapple's business makes dozens of pie a day - all from scratch. They peel the apples, make the fillings (no additives - just sugar, cornstarch and spices, if needed) and make the pie dough fresh. The only convenience over the way grandma made it is a machine called a dough sheeter, which rolls and flattens the dough. "Up until three holidays ago, we rolled all our own pastry," says Ardapple. "When we got this, I thought angels were singing from the sky. We now own two; it saves us so much time." Especially considering that on the day before Thanksgiving, Apple's Bakery made "in the neighborhood of 500 pies." Peggy Callahan, former owner of the Kaffee Haus in West Peoria, has given up making her own pie crusts, but her award-winning pies live on at her daughter's restaurant, the Hog Trof in Hanna City, and another daughter's Springfield business, Coco Pies & Confectionaries Inc. Callahan, who won Taste of Peoria's best pie award all five years she participated, might be best known for her peanut butter pie, a creamy confection that is still a best seller for her daughters. "I wanted a good peanut butter pie," says Callahan, who recalls her serendipitous moment of creation years ago at the Kaffee Haus. "I wasn't having much luck getting the exact consistency I wanted, and then one day the cook up front got real busy and I went to help her." When she came back to her pie, the mixture was all runny. She put it in a pie shell anyway and tucked it in the refrigerator, joking to her staff that they would all have peanut butter soup. Instead, it turned out to be the creamy perfection she was looking for. Her other specialties just come to her, she shrugs - like her banana split pie, which is a white chocolate mousse layered with fresh bananas and strawberries and homemade fudge. "It actually tastes just like a banana split," she says. Both pies were winners, along with her triple fudge, caramel nut fudge and apple caramel pies. Callahan knows she's not alone in missing her little coffee shop, but she only leased the building. She closed in 2004 after the land was sold for a new Walgreen's. Still, she happily creates her favorite pies at the Hog Trof. "If I'm making five or six pies, I'll make my own (pie crust), but when I'm making 40 to 50 pies, I don't," says Callahan, who adds that everything else is from scratch. Ardapple notes that as a child growing up in the '50s practically everything she ate was from scratch. "We thought Chef Boyardee pizza out of a box was uptown." She worries that today's children think anything not out of a box is homemade. "As a culture, we seemed to have tipped towards, 'How much can I buy in one location so I don't have to go anywhere else?' Are you shopping for all your staples, all your treats, all your gas in one location so you have higher quality use of the time you've saved or are you someone who finds value in seeking out higher-quality goods?" Ardapple counts on people who value that swirl of homemade frosting on a cupcake or hand-sprinkled sugary pie crust oozing with fresh berries. "We have an older woman who comes in all the time and always orders coconut cream pie. "When I see that little twinkle in her eye, I know that we've done our job for that day." Jennifer Davis can be reached at email@example.com. Fun facts about pie First slice always the hardest: Apparently the poem, "Sing a Song of Sixpence," which included the lyrics, "Four and 20 blackbirds baked in a pie" wasn't just a fairytale. In the 16th century, the wealthy English were known for their "surprise pies" in which live creatures would pop out when the pie was cut open. Birds move outside shell: At the coronation of 8-year-old English King Henry VI in 1429, a partridge pie was served. This dish consisted of a cooked peacock mounted in its skin, placed on top of a large pie. Other birds like partridges, swans, bitterns and herons were frequently placed on top of pies for ornament and as a means of identifying the contents. Taken for granted: It also wasn't until the 16th century that recipes for pie pastry began appearing in cookbooks. Before that, pastry was such a staple ingredient in medieval menus and so taken for granted that recipes weren't included. Sweet treat: A pie of sweetbreads was one of President George Washington's favorite pie recipes. His wife Martha authored a cookbook, which is a prized possession of the Pennsylvania Historical Society. A recipe for such a pie is included. Huckleberry lunch: Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, was a big fan of pie. His lifelong housekeeper and friend Katy Leary often baked Huckleberry pie to lure Clemens into breaking his habit of going without lunch. Not just dessert: Pie was not always dessert. In the 19th century, fruit pie was a common breakfast food. Not Thanksgiving original: Pumpkin pie was introduced at the pilgrim's second Thanksgiving feast in 1623. Too good to be legal: At one time, it was illegal in Kansas to serve ice cream on cherry pie. Sources: The American Pie Council and What’s Cooking America.net. Pie perfection Mary Ardapple offers the following tips for making perfect pies: - For pie crusts: If you want a more tender crust, add more shortening. Ardapple's favorite pie crusts growing up used lard, but she doesn't do that anymore for health reasons. - Do not overwork the dough or you'll make it tough. "We're used to putting our hands in something and squishing it. You don't want to mush it together," she says. "You want to handle it as little as possible. Just push it together." - Trust your senses. Ardapple says not to follow the recipe exactly. "When you put in your dry ingredients and shortening, you're making a marriage of the two. Add just enough water to hold it together." - For fruit fillings: Ardapple likes to use about two parts sugar to one part cornstarch to get the perfect fruit filling base. She also uses individually flash-frozen berries in the winter. For her famous apple pies, she uses Golden Delicious - "not because they are the best for pies but because their availability is consistent year-round." - For meringue: "No recipe is written, in my opinion, with enough egg whites. I always add a couple extra egg whites, and eggs are cheap. I also don't think they add enough sugar. You want it to look like shaving cream, with a high gloss on it." - Room temperature egg whites will have more volume. Don't get any yolk or have "even a speck" of oil, butter or shortening on your bowl, hands or beaters while making meringue, she adds. - Secret ingredient: "I had a cousin growing up who was a great meringue maker and she always added cornstarch so that's one of my secrets." - Outside in: When putting meringue on a pie, "it's mandatory to make sure you have no air pockets between the meringue and the pie" because that's what causes it to be slick and watery. Ardapple suggests leaving a half-inch space between the filling and the lip of the pie crust and then lay the meringue on top from the outside in, working the sides into the center. Most people do the opposite, working from the center out.