Historic Foodways Society of the Delaware Valley

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Spotlight on Food History

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Apple Pie Is Not All That American

Neither apples nor the pie originally came from America, but Americans have made this dish their own


By Kat Eschner                                     


May 12, 2017


Apple pie is a longstanding symbol of

America, but the dessert didn't actually

come from America, and neither did the



Apples are native to Asia, and have been

in America about as long as Europeans



According to Melissa Blevins for Today I Found Out, the early colonists of Jamestown brought European apple tree cuttings and seeds with them.




The only native apple in North America was the

crab apple, and the colonists found its tiny fruit

“a poor substitute for Malus domestica.” Settlers

primarily used the apples to make cider, which

was preferred to water as a drink and easier to

produce than beer, which required labor-intensive

land clearing.








Later in America’s colonial history, planting trees was a good way to preserve a land claim; colonists who didn't "improve" their land in some colonies, like Virginia, could have it taken away from them.


It’s hard to say which varieties of apple first came to America, because there are so many. Apple trees are easy to cross-pollinate, meaning that deliberately producing new apple varieties is relatively simple. By 1800, writes Tim Hensley for the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, American farmers were growing a mind-boggling 14,000 varieties of apple, many of which had been bred in the country.


The first apple varieties raised in the United States were intended for cider, not eating, which means they were more tart. But by 1800, writes Emily Upton for Today I Found Out, some of those 14,000 varieties of apple were a good fit for apple pie.


Around the same time, John Chapman, otherwise known as Johnny Appleseed, had brought the apple to American folklore fame. “Chapman’s beloved apples became

‘American’ by association,” she writes.


The 19th century "was a time of unparalleled public interest in new fruit varieties," Hensley writes, "when apples, pears and peaches were critically reviewed and rated with the enthusiasm now reserved for Hollywood movies and popular music." 


Americans had made the apple truly their own. But the apple pie isn’t a uniquely American dish either, Upton writes. “In fact, the first recorded recipe for apple pie was written in 1381 in England, and called for figs, raisins, pears, and saffron in addition to apples,” she writes. There were other differences, too: early apple pie recipes generally didn’t include sugar, and their pastry crust was “coffin” pastry, which was intended as an inedible container, not a part of the pie. There are also recipes for Dutch apple pies as far back as 1514, she writes.


The actual genesis of the expression is harder to track, Upton writes. In 1902, a newspaper article wrote that “no pie-eating people can be permanently vanquished.”

A 1924 advertisement appearing in the Gettysburg Times promotes “New Lestz Suits that are as American as apple pie.” And by World War II, Upton writes, the association was cemented. American soldiers would tell journalists that they were fighting for “mom and apple pie,” Upton writes, giving rise to the expression “As American as mom and apple pie.”


Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/why-apple-pie-linked-america-180963157/#CFv6PEOMBrHAW3vd.99


Website link of interest on Heritage Apples:









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Updated September 3, 2017


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Susan Luczu—Webmaster—2014-2017

September 2017












Cider or Birch beer bottle and shard dug from Susan Luczu’s yard.  Bottle is intact except for the small nick where it was hit by the shovel digging it out of the ground. Photo courtesy of Susan Luczu

An example of a mincemeat or “forced meat” pie