Pie. It’s a tasty word. The “p” is emphasized with the lips gently smacking, the “ie” rolling off the tongue into dreamy pie infinity. “I’d like a piece of pie” is quite possibly my favorite request of a server. Scraping the last crumbs of pie from a plate is the perfect ending to a midday culinary respite. Cutting a sliver of pie left from a dinner party dessert is the ultimate midnight kitchen raid.
I prefer to eat pie when sitting in an out-of-the-way restaurant in some rural part of America known for its blue-ribbon confections. You can get cozy with the baker and if you’re very lucky, witness a piping-hot pie being pulled from the oven that, once sliced, begs for a scoop of ice cream.
City pie is good, too—honestly, if you’re a pie lover, no pie prejudice exists when it comes to its origin. But there’s something extraordinary about forking into a slice of pie where a side of conversation with the baker is included. There’s a sense that a deep mystery of the universe will be solved or an unbreakable bond will be forged.
Recently I was in the Arkansas Delta, getting my fill of blues, barbecue, Southern history and pie. Every burg my traveling partners and I rumbled through had pie heritage to share. Our adventure started with pulled pork sandwiches washed down with ice-cold beers while tapping our toes at Helena’s annual King Biscuit Blues Festival. As the trip progressed what we ended up with—quite by accident—was a mini pie anthology. There were fried hand pies filled with pudding-like chocolate; flaky piecrusts glittering with sugar; cream- and fruit-filled pies; and meringue-topped and lattice-decorated pies. We consumed swoony pies whose recipes date back generations and memorable pies served from scarred tins that no doubt made countless appearances at church socials and community potlucks.
Deane Cavette’s well-documented coconut-pecan pie at Ray’s Dairy Maid in Barton, Arkansas, is a poster pie for Southern goodness, hospitality and comfort food. Over in Caraway, Arkansas, not far from the cotton fields where Johnny Cash grew up, The Feed Lot’s proprietor Elise Staggs serves up generous slices of town baker Kim Couch’s divine toasted coconut pie.
And then there’s Beth Howard in speck-on-the-map Eldon, Iowa, who bakes pies in the house made famous in Grant Wood’s iconic painting, “American Gothic”. What started as a salve for a broken heart after the unexpected death of her 43-year-old husband, Howard has invited the world to her pie party—she has a bestselling book (“Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie”) and gives interviews on NPR and national television about the comforting qualities of pie. People migrate to the tiny southeastern Iowa town just to partake in Howard’s soulful pies.
Although pie is truly seasonless, there’s a sense of pie solidarity this time of year. Summer’s bounty of sumptuous fruit pies that jostled with warm-weather desserts like ice cream and gelato has yielded to fall’s frenzy of golden pumpkin, sweet potato and apple crumb pies. Pie duels with turkey and stuffing for a starring roll on Thanksgiving’s marquee. Pie—whether homemade or store-bought—lends tradition to the annual meal that, no matter where it’s consumed, begins with gratitude. It’s not always just pumpkin pie—my brother-in-law is a double-dipping pie fanatic: pumpkin pie must be on the Thanksgiving menu, but there had better be a French silk pie waiting in the refrigerator. Chocolate pecan pie and a Southern-style pecan pie are usually part of the dessert menagerie, too.
Last week following dinner at Restaurant Paradis in Rosemary Beach, Florida, I politely listened as the server recited tempting desserts. Candied pecan crème brulee, chocolate torte with blackberry compote and strawberry shortcake with house-made biscuits and strawberry whipped cream. The server paused and my heart fell. There was no mention of pie.
Then, with a deep inhale and a quick glance my way, the server nearly whispered: “Finally, we have key lime pie topped with meringue.”
Quivering, I asked his preference.
“Pie,” he said. “And why not? Pie is so delicious. ”
Time to indulge, America. Full-tilt pie season is open—no matter what the flavor.
-Kimberly Winter Stern
Overland Park, Kan.-based freelance writer Kimberly Winter Stern writes travel, food, lifestyle and design. Also known as the gregarious and cuisine-informed Kim Dishes, listeners tune in weekly for her on-the-road segments on “LIVE! From Jasper’s Kitchen,” a popular Kansas City radio food show. Prolific in eating, writing and discovering, this foodie satisfies an innate desire to sample the world’s gastronomic rainbow by meeting food artisans and trendsetters, gaining insight into the culinary points-of-view of everyone from cheese makers, chocolatiers and chefs who set their city’s locavore pace to farmers who are passionate producers. Stern is a sought-after writer, with work appearing in Better Homes and Gardens, Unity, KANSAS! Magazine, 435 South magazine, KC Homes & Gardens, Generation Boom, Shawnee Magazine, KC Magazine, KC Home Design, KC Business and Midwest CEO. Stern is a national blogger for the Dean & DeLuca Gourmet Food Blog where she cooks, styles, shoots and writes about life and cooking … and loves to lick the bowl clean. This writer may have been given product and/or other compensation from Dean & DeLuca for this post.