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American as apple pie

Updated: Mar 18, 2022

Have you heard of the phrase, as American as apple pie?

Despite the fact that apples have been traced back to Kazakhstan and apple pie was invented by Brits who were heavily influenced by Dutch and French cooking, in America, apple pie is defiantly American and always associated with goodness.

The lore began with John Chapman, who is more famously known as Johnny Appleseed. Chapman planted thousands of trees, including many varieties of apples, across the Midwest during the late 1700s. Around the same time as Chapman’s birth, women in Pennsylvania’s Dutch country invented new ways of preserving apples that made it possible to have apple pie year round. I can’t say for sure whether Chapman’s entire vision for life came from eating apple pie as a youngster, but I also can’t say for sure that it didn’t.

Approximately 100 years later in 1902, a fierce debate broke out in the pages on the New York Times. Responding to an article suggesting apple pie should only be eaten a maximum of twice per week, a passionate editor responded with one of the greatest paragraphs in American history:

“[Eating pie twice per week] is utterly insufficient, as anyone who knows the secret of our strength as a nation and the foundation of our industrial supremacy must admit. Pie is the American synonym of prosperity, and its varying contents the calendar of changing seasons. Pie is the food of the heroic. No pie-eating people can be permanently vanquished.”

World War II is when apple pie truly cemented its legacy as American. When journalists at the time asked soldiers why they were willing to fight in the war, the typical response was “for mom and apple pie,” a phrase that has come to mean “something that cannot be questioned because it appeals to universally-held beliefs or values.”

Furthermore, pie played a significant part of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s. Led by Georgia Gilmore, Black women made and sold pies to support families impacted by the Montgomery Bus Boycotts -- either by donating extra funds to the cause or selling pies to people who were missing work at little to no cost. With its unparalleled ability to bring joy and sustenance, pie is an unheralded champion of liberty.

There are a lot of reasons we do the work we do at Roots Down. But if I could boil it down to it’s essence, we do this for mother earth and apple pie so that we can live freely and never be vanquished. While neither apples nor apple pies are actually American, a local food system based on apple pie is as American as it gets and a future worth fighting for.


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