As American As Apple Pie:
A Short Pie History

by John Lehndorff
American Pie Council


Recipe: Light and Luscious Strawberry Cheesecake (below)


When you say that something is "as American as apple pie," what you're really saying is that the item came to this country from elsewhere and was transformed into a distinctly American experience.

strawberry pie

"We may have taken (apple pie) to our hearts, but it is neither our invention nor even indigenous to our country. In fact, the apple pie predates our country's settlement by hundreds of years," writes Lee Edwards Benning in "Cook's Tales."

No one knows who ate the first slice, but pie in some form has been around since the ancient Egyptians made the first pastry-like crusts. The first pies were probably made by the early Romans who probably learned about it from the Greeks. The Roman, Cato the Censor, published the first written pie "receipt" or recipe: a rye-crusted, goat cheese and honey pie.

The Romans then spread the word around Europe including England. The Oxford English Dictionary notes that the word pie was "evidently a well-known popular word in 1362."

In 1475, the Italian writer Platina offered a recipe for a squash torta or pie hat concludes:

"Put this preparation in a greased pan or in a pastry shell and cook it over a slow fire. ... When it is cooked, set on a plate, sprinkle it with sugar and rosewater."

More often than not, the early pies were main dish meat pies. Fruit pies or tarts ("pasties") were probably first made in the 1500s. English tradition credits Queen Elizabeth I with making the first cherry pie but it's unlikely that Her Highness actually spent much time in the kitchen. In Tudor and Stuart times, English pies were made with pears and quinces as often as with apples."Thy breath is like the steame of apple-pyes," wrote Robert Greene in "Arcadia" in 1590.

Prior to this time many "pyes" or pies were crustless, being simply hollowed out pumpkins filled with mincemeat (which was mostly meat), baked in ashes and served in wedges.

Pie came to America with the first English settlers but chances are Christopher Columbus knew of his native dish "pizza" which is Italian for "pie." The early colonists cooked their pies in long narrow pans called "coffins." The early crusts were frequently inedible and tough designed more to hold the filling together during baking than to be actually eaten.

"If one were to conduct a survey of Americans to determine the typical American pie, chances are it would be a large, deep-dish, two-crusted affair, which is actually a combination of two European pies: the tartlet and the savoury," writes Lee Edwards Benning.

If the food-loving Pennsylvania Dutch people didn't invent pie, they certainly perfected it. Evan Jones in "American Food The Gastronomic Story" writes:

"Some social chroniclers seem convinced that fruit pies as Americans now know them were invented by the Pennsylvania Dutch. Potters in the southeastern counties of the state were making pie plates in the early eighteenth century, and cooks had begun to envelop with crisp crusts every fruit that grew in the region. 'It may be,' Frederick Klees asserts, 'that during the Revolution men from the other colonies came to know this dish in Pennsylvania and carried this knowledge back home to establish pie as the great American dessert.' "

"I was happy to find my old friend, mince pie, in the retinue of the feast" wrote Washington Irving in 1820.

Pies became a common part of American life. A Vermont housewife, itemizing her baking for the year 1877, counted 152 cakes, 421 pies and 2,140 doughnuts.

In 1878, Mark Twain made up a menu of American foods he missed in Europe for "A Tramp Abroad" which concludes "Apple pie ... Peach pie. American mince pie. Pumpkin pie. Squash pie. All sorts of American pastry."

Every cook knew how to make them. "One of the things noticeable about early pie recipes is their lack of detail; it was assumed that any cook who knew her way around a kitchen could put together a pie" writes Richard Sax in "Classic Home Desserts."

Although modern Americans don't eat pie for breakfast—although we might LIKE to—pie remains a favorite, whether apple, cherry, mince, pecan, chess, lemon meringue, pumpkin or a myriad of others.

"Cakes, pies and sweet puddings have remained the most popular American desserts. They gained popularity because they pleased the palate but also because they satisfied voracious hunger and provided energy for hardworking people," writes Evan Jones.

Provided by American Pie Council

Strawberry Facts

Where are strawberries grown in California?

Strawberries flourish in the warm, sunny days and cool, foggy nights in the coastal growing regions found in San Diego, Oxnard, Orange County, Santa Maria and Watsonville/Salinas. The western ocean exposure provides one of the best places in the world to grow strawberries. Strawberries have been commercially grown in California since the turn of the century.

How long is the strawberry season in California?

The California strawberry season begins in January in Southern California and continues through November in the northern part of the state. Peak strawberry season occurs in April, May and June when all five major growing districts are producing strawberries simultaneously. During peak season, volume rises from about a million trays per week up to five million trays. That's 60 million pint baskets per week!

How large is the annual California strawberry crop?

California provides 80% of the nation's fresh and frozen strawberries and produces about a billion pounds of strawberries to wrap around the world 15 times! There are approximately 23,000 acres of strawberries in California. Each acre produces an average of 21 tons of strawberries, seven times the national average.

Are there different varieties of strawberries?

Yes. Strawberry varieties are developed for differing climates in the growing regions. For example, the varieties grown in Southern California are acclimated for warmer temperatures and earlier fruit production. In the north, varieties have been selected for a longer production cycle which extends through the fall.

California varieties are developed by University of California pomologists through funding from the California Strawberry Commission. This 40-year-old plant breeding program has produced strawberry varieties grown throughout the world. In addition, many individual farming organizations conduct proprietary research into new varieties.

How are strawberries harvested?

All strawberries are picked, sorted and packed by hand in the field. The trays of strawberries are then rushed to shipping facilities where they are cooked down to about 34 degrees F. (A tray normally consists of 12 one-pint baskets.) Within 24 hours of harvest, the strawberries are loaded on refrigerated trucks for delivery to local supermarkets across the country. This unique, sophisticated distribution system ensures this highly perishable fruit reaches consumers in fresh-from-the-field condition.

Is it true that strawberries have more Vitamin C than an orange?

Yes, 8 medium-sized strawberries contain 140% of the U.S. RDA for Vitamin C. In addition, strawberries are good sources of folic acid, potassium and fiber. Strawberries are also fat-free and low in calories.

How should I choose strawberries in the produce department?

Since strawberries do not ripen after harvesting, consumers should select plump strawberries with a natural sheen, bright red coloring and fresh-looking caps. Once you reach home, store strawberries in the refrigerator in another container covered loosely with plastic wrap. Just before using, wash strawberries with the caps attached under a gentle spray of cool water. For best flavor, allow strawberries to reach room temperature before using.

Do small strawberries taste better than large ones?

Flavor is influenced by growing conditions (i.e. weather), stage of ripeness when harvested and the variety. Size is not a factor in determining flavor.

Can I freeze strawberries?

Yes. In a saucepan mix equal amounts of sugar and water. Stir over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and mixture is clear. Cool the mixture completely. Measure one cup of stemmed and sliced strawberries into a pint-sized freezer bag. Pour one-half to two-thirds cup syrup into the bag-just enough to completely cover the strawberries. Seal and freeze the bags in a single layer. Because the moisture content of strawberries varies throughout the season, it's recommended that home frozen strawberries be used in beverages and sauces, not in recipes where liquid variations could make a difference. (Commercially frozen strawberries are consistent in texture and density.)

How did strawberries get their name?

There are many explanations about how this luscious fruit became known as the strawberry. The most common is that children in England during the nineteenth century threaded the berries onto straw and offered them for sale. Another theory is the name was derived from the nineteenth-century practice of placing straw around the growing berry plants to protect the ripening fruit.

The explanation which is widely thought to be correct is that the name originated a thousand years ago because of the plant's production of runners which spread outward from the plant. Thus, the word strawberry was derived from the Anglo-Saxon verb to strew (spread) and so the fruit became known as streabergan to the Anglo-Saxons and later, straberry, streberie, straibery, strauberry, and finally strawberry to the English.

Light and Luscious Strawberry Cheesecake
with Fresh Strawberry Sauce
strawberry pie


  • 1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons melted margarine or butter
  • 1 carton (15 ounces) part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup sugar, divided
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 2 tablespoons grated lemon peel
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup fat free sour cream
  • 3 pints baskets California strawberries, stemmed
  • 4 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup red currant jelly, melted

Heat oven to 300 degrees. In medium bowl mix crumbs and margarine. Press onto bottom and 2 inches up sides of lightly greased 9-inch springform pan; set aside. To make filling, in mixer bowl beat ricotta cheese until smooth. Add 3/4 cup of the sugar, the flour, egg yolks, lemon peel and vanilla; mix well. Stir in sour cream substitute to blend thoroughly. In another bowl, beat egg whites until stiff but not dry; fold into cheese mixture. Pour into prepared crust; smooth top. Bake 1 hour. Turn off oven; cool in oven 1 hour with door ajar. Remove from oven; chill thoroughly. Meanwhile, to make sauce, in blender or food processor purée 2 baskets of the strawberries with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and the lemon juice; strain sauce to remove seeds. Cover and chill. To complete cake, halve remaining strawberries; arrange on top of cake. Brush strawberries with jelly. cut cake into wedges; serve with sauce.

Makes one 9-inch cheesecake (14 servings)

Nutritional Information Per Serving: 244 calories; 8 g protein; 8 g fat; 38 g carbohydrate; 73 mg cholesterol; 203 mg sodium.

Provided by California Strawberry Commission


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This page originally published as a FoodDay article (circa 1997).

Copyright © 2007, Forkmedia LLC. All rights reserved.

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This page modified February 2007

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