Food for thought at historical society event

It doesn’t get much better than pie for lunch.

Lorraine Spears, front, and Anoka County Historical Society Volunteer Coordinator Kimberly Bauer prepare to sample various pies before learning about the food’s history.

Lorraine Spears, front, and Anoka County Historical Society Volunteer Coordinator Kimberly Bauer prepare to sample various pies before learning about the food’s history.Photo by Olivia Koester

A spread of pies was assembled for a noon meal at the Anoka County Historical Society’s annual Pie Day Nov. 27.

Everyone brought a favorite pie to share the day before Thanksgiving: sweet potato, sour orange, pecan and more.

Sisters Marlene Brooks of Elk River and Lorraine Spears of Champlin have very different pie-baking philosophies.

Brooks bakes pies regularly and brought a homemade apple-cranberry pie to the event. Her Thanksgiving morning was to be filled with pie baking.

“I just go around and see which bakery has the best looking one,” Spears said.

In addition to several pieces of dessert, guests got a history lesson from Program Manager Vickie Wendel.

The historical definition of a pie is “a crust with something filling inside,” Wendel said.

Historians trace pies back to Ancient Greece when the people baked meat inside of a hard crust called a coffin. The coffin was inedible.

Pilgrims brought pie recipes with them to the New World, but traditional ingredients were not available, so they used new fruits and berries, even pumpkin, now the second most popular pie in the United States. Apple pie is the first, Wendel said.

No one knows where the phrase “American as apple pie” comes from, but it became popular after World War II, she said. When asked what they were fighting for, soldiers’ stock answer was “mom and apple pie,” Wendel said.

Colonial women introduced the first round pie pan as a way to cut corners, to stretch ingredients.

Later, when settlers started moving west, they had to get creative. Once again without traditional ingredients, they made the first rhubarb pie. They also made something called opossum pie, Wendel said.

Brooks wondered what that could be, but it’s pretty straightforward.

“I was just wondering if they really made pie out of [opossums] – they’re so ugly,” she said.

In addition to information about pie’s evolution, Wendel provided some fun facts.

President Barack Obama’s favorite pie is huckleberry. Butch Cassidy’s first theft was a pair of jeans and a slice of pie. Queen Elizabeth I is credited with the creation of the first cherry pie.

“One of the things a pie does is it kind of brings back memories,” Wendel said, prompting visitors to reminisce about their own pie stories.

Brooks could remember her father having a slice of cheese with his apple pie. “If you didn’t have apple pie with cheese, it’d be like a hug without a squeeze,” Brooks recalled him saying.

The historical society has hosted Pie Day since the early 2000s and attendance varies, Executive Director Todd Mahon said.

This year, only three community members came, but some years 30 people bring 30 pies to sample.

Full of pie, Wendel jokingly suggested a walk around the block at the event’s conclusion.

Olivia Koester is at
[email protected]

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