When you are thinking about iconic American foods, it doesn’t get more classic than apple pie. Thanksgiving dinner wouldn’t be complete without one and if you’ve sucking up to a teacher, there’s no better way than with an apple. Apple pie, though, isn’t actually an American thing.
Brought over on the Mayflower, apple seeds came with the pilgrims and they became an important part in the American settler’s diet. They were easy to grow, store, and use in recipes like preserves and dishes like pie.
American folk hero John Chapman, (Johnny Appleseed), who was born in Massachusetts in 1774, walked almost 10,000 miles planting apple orchards that he would eventually sell. Tales of his barefoot travels with nothing but a knife for protection made him, and his beloved apples, something of a legend and one of America’s first heroic frontiersman.
In 1902, a New York Times writer penned a piece in defense of pie writing,
“[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.” Pie, specifically apple pie, was becoming more and more ‘American’ by the slice. .”
It seems apple pie was trendy before there were even really trends.
As time went by, the fruity, sweet dessert became nostalgic – the dish you think of when you’re fantasizing about home cooked meals and Norman Rockwell paintings. Prevalent in popular culture leading up to World War I, the apple pie only came to symbolize a happier time following it into the Great Depression.
An image of an apple pie cooling on a windowsill, in the 1930s, meant the family was surviving the Great Depression better than most.
In fact, James Montgomery Flagg who designed the famous Uncle Sam poster also painted women baking pies. Apple pies, specifically.
During World War II, journalists asked soldiers why they were fighting and the slogan “For Mom and Apple Pie,” became a war hero’s motto. By the 1960s, the phrase transformed into “American as apple pie.”
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The phrase, and the pie, stuck for a number of reasons. The first is that in the 1950s and 1960s, advertising agencies loved depicting housewives holding fresh-baked apple pies with steam rising. While these ads were for ovens, baking dishes, or just simply baking soda, they definitely did the trick for promoting apple pie.
In 1972, Don McLean released his hit, “American Pie” which remains his signature song to this day. While there isn’t a mention of apple pie in the songs, it shows just how far apple pie has come as a cultural icon. Additionally, in 1975, Chevrolet created the jingle, “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet.” This only solidified its place in American culture.
When Steve Jobs was looking for the name of his company, he chose the apple because of its fun and spirited look. It was a universal symbol that worked to invite new users to the technology boom.
Now, according to the American Pie Council, 36 million Americans surveyed cited apple as their favorite pie. We have a feeling Johnny would be proud.
So not only does the apple pie symbolize America, but it also symbolizes the American Dream. What is more comforting than walking up to your momma’s front porch steps with the sight of a fresh apple pie cooling on the windowsill?