March 5, 2017


The Real American Pie  : Mince pie was once inextricable from our national identity. Blamed for bad health, murderous dreams, the downfall of Prohibition, and the decline of the white race, it nonetheless persisted as an American staple through the 1940s. So what happened? (Cliff Doerksen, December 17, 2009, Chicago Reader)

As an icon of the American way, apple pie is a johnny-come-lately, a usurper, a pale pretender to its pastry throne. The phrase as American as apple pie is of 20th-century origin and didn't attain wide currency until the 1940s. Perhaps not coincidentally, the 40s are also when mince pie went into eclipse as our defining national dish.

But to its 19th- and early-20th-century admirers, mince pie was "unquestionably the monarch of pies," "the great American viand," "an American institution" and "as American as the Red Indians." It was the food expatriates longed for while sojourning abroad. Acquiring an appreciation for it was proof that an immigrant was becoming assimilated. It was the indispensable comfort dish dispatched to American expeditionary forces in World War I to reinforce their morale with the taste of home. "Mince pie is mince pie," as an editorialist for the Washington Post put it in 1907. "There is no other pie to take its place. Custard pie is good and so is apple pie, but neither has the uplifting power and the soothing, gratifying flavor possessed by mince pie when served hot, with a crisp brown crust."

Moreover, unlike apple pie or anything else on the American menu before or since, mince pie dominated in multiple categories. It was beloved as an entree, as dessert, and, in parts of New England, as breakfast. And although more popular in winter than summer, and absolutely mandatory at Thanksgiving and Christmas, mince pie was eaten year round, unconfined to the holiday ghetto it now shares with iffy ritual foods like eggnog, green bean casserole, and marshmallow candied yams.

Most remarkably, mince pie achieved and maintained its hegemony despite the fact that everyone--including those who loved it--agreed that it reliably caused indigestion, provoked nightmares, and commonly afflicted the overindulgent with disordered thinking, hallucinations, and sometimes death.

Posted by at March 5, 2017 8:47 AM