As American as apple pie — it’s a phrase synonymous with American identity, aligned with those red-blooded, patriotic symbols like baseball, backyard BBQs, and bald eagles. But how did this sweet, buttery dessert rise to the level of an American icon? What is it about pie that conjures, by its mere mention, those American values we hold so dear?
The origins of the pie predate the United States by entire millennia with records of pielike dishes enjoyed among Egyptian societies as far back as the Neolithic Period, around 6,000 BCE. Later, pies were a staple in medieval Europe that were often served as savory dishes filled with meats like magpie or turtle. When the Pilgrims made their journey to the New World in the early 1600s, they brought with them family recipes along with apple seeds and other ingredients from Europe. Bakers also began to incorporate local berries and fruits native to America into their pies. While pies have since become a cornerstone of Thanksgiving celebrations, there are actually no recorded mentions of pies at the first Thanksgiving of 1621.
As consumerism modernized into the early 20th century, pictures like these aligned baking products for pie-making with American values as a mass-marketing strategy. Apple producers, baking suppliers, and other produce growers seized the opportunity to portray their products as vital to upholding American identity — and it worked. Advertisements quoted the fictional Betty Crocker: “If I were to create a coat of arms for our country, a pie would be its heraldic symbol.” During World War II, a phrase often repeated by soldiers when asked what they were fighting for (perhaps a little sarcastically) was “For mom and apple pie!”
“As American as apple pie” has since become more than just catchphrase. It’s become synonymous with the American dream in pursuit of happiness. But hey, chasing pie in the sky is always better than the alternative — “Let them eat cake.”