Note: We're kicking off a new column called How America Ate. In the inaugural post, we'll be looking at pie (it seems only right, being Thanksgiving week and all) through the words of one of America's first culinary chronicler, Clementine Paddleford. Take it away, Stephanie! —The Mgmt.
Is there a more American dish than a beautiful, crusty pie sitting on top of the dessert table? The French might have fancier tarts, the Austrians their kuchen and the Spanish their tartas, but a proud apple pie, fresh peach, or lattice crust blueberry is my favorite any day of the week.
Clementine Paddleford is largely forgotten now but in the mid-twentieth century she was a groundbreaking writer, traveling the country in her self-piloted plane as the food editor of the New York Herald Tribune. Her 1961 opus, How America Eats, is a 450-page recipe-book-cum-travelogue, taking readers through barn raising parties in Iowa, clambakes in Maine, and chic cocktail parties in New York. Even today, with food trends deviating somewhat from Scotch Broth, Pine Bark Stew, and Orange Dumplings, the recipes hold up remarkably well.
There are an astonishing 61 separate pie recipes in How America Eats. The names themselves conjure up a nostalgic longing for the good ole days: Popham Shrimp, Mother Bowles's custard, Hoosier "punkin," lime chiffon. Recipes are arranged by state, and are introduced with details from interviews and meals Paddleford shared with home cooks throughout the country.
For instance, the recipe for cracker pie comes from the esteemed kitchen of Mrs. Mayor Gordon Clinton of Seattle. The interview with Clinton quickly devolves into a Q&A session with the two older Clinton children, eager to praise their mother's crab burgers, crab molds, and ox-blood cakes. The cracker pie recipe is an old one, made with soda crackers and almonds, designed to taste good using only the ingredients most housewives kept in their pantries.
Boston Marlborough Pie recipe might be old-fashioned, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't have a place at your holiday table. It's an apple pie, sure, but not the usual double crust, cinnamon-spiced one we're used to eating. The hallmark of a Marlborough Pie is applesauce instead of sliced apples, with lots of lemon to tart things up and eggs for thickener: a sharp, delicious apple custard, "a glorification of everyday apple."
Bake one this Thanksgiving and raise your fork to old family traditions made new.