How Apple Pie became an American Tradition

Did you know that the ingredients for Apple Pie come from everywhere but America?

How did it become such a tradition? 

The Crust

Dating back to before the great migration to America, the British used to combine animal fat, wheat and water to create airtight pastry shells and gave it the unusual name of “coffyns.” These shells were generally stuffed with venison or beef. In America, the crust turned flakier, like a croissant, and was filled will apples to use up any imperfect fruit. 


The Apples

Apples ancestry comes from Kazakhstan an area west of Tian Shan Mountain near Central Asia. Through trade of goods down the Silk Road from Asia to the West, Apples seeds began to spread. Different varieties of apples began popping up all over the nation. From Sour Crab apples to exotic Malus sieversii. The Romans then crossed it with astringent apples used for making ­cider.



Wheat has been cultivated for over 9,000 years. It's been found in Iraq, Iran and throughout the Middle East. The “king of grains” spread through Europe and then to the New World, where it failed miserably, which is why colonists relied on a Native American staple for baking: corn. In the late 1800s, Russian immigrants brought a wheat variety known as Turkey Red, which was better suited to our climate.


Lard and Butter

Native to Asia, Europe, and Africa, Wild boars (the ancestors of lard-producing pigs) were migrated from Spain to the New World by Christopher Columbus, on his second voyage in 1493. He also brought pigs and cattle, the source of all things dairy.


Sugar and Spices

Columbus also brought sugar, which originated about 4,000 years ago in Indonesia, India, China and what is now Papua New Guinea. Cinnamon comes from an evergreen tree native to Sri Lanka. The variety most commonly found on super­market shelves today is cassia cinnamon, which originated in southern China. Cloves and nutmeg, indigenous to the Banda Islands of Indonesia, were considered so precious that Ferdinand Magellan brought 50 tons of them back to Spain after he sailed around the world in 1522.


Becoming an American “Original”

You'd think once you have all the ingredients, it'd be easy as-- well, you know. It actually didn't become an popular until the 1800s. 

“During the Civil War, both Union and Confederate troops scavenged for apples and commandeered the hearths—and flour bins—of white farmers and black tenants to bake pies,” writes John T. Edge in Apple Pie: An American Story.

“Wartime adversity fixed the taste of apple pie on the palate of generations to come.” By 1902, an editorial in the New York Times proclaimed that pie had become “the American synonym for prosperity.” In the 1920s, the phrase as American as apple pie started to appear in print, and by World War II, soldiers declared that they were fighting “for mom and apple pie.” Apple pie—wholesome and comforting—had woven itself into the way we see our country.

Originally published on NPR July 3, 2016.