Know Your Sweets: Apple Pie

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

"Apple pie is used throughout the whole year, and when fresh apples are no longer to be had, dried ones are used. It is the evening meal of children. House pie, in country places, is made of apples neither peeled nor freed from their cores, and its crust is not broken if a wagon wheel goes over it."

Dr. Israel Acrelius, Swedish historian of the American Dutch Colonies, 1759

The Basics

There's nothing more quintessentially American than apple pie, and no wonder: the dessert has been a United States favorite since before Martha Washington's signature recipe became all the rage with new colonial brides. While it might be the perfect patriotic dish, this sweet combination of crisp apples, flaky crust, and rich spices has been enchanting sweet lovers across Europe since the time of Chaucer.

Similar Desserts

Tarte Tatin, Apple Turnover, Apple Cobbler, Apfelstrudel, Mock Apple Pie

Key Ingredient Spotlight: Apples

Ben Fishner

While everyone has their favorite apple to use when making a pie, some are better suited for the job than others. Jonagold, Honey Crisp, and Braeburns have a good balance of sweet and tart flavors if you're planning on using a lone apple in your filling. The best bet, though, is to blend apples in order to find the perfect balance of sugars and flavor to your individual liking. (See our guide to the best apples for pies for more tips.)

Key Country: The United States

Let's face it: apple pie basically comes out of the oven waving a tiny American flag. Apple pies have been served since the first colonists landed on American shores, and the dish has become not only a delicious post-meal treat, but a cultural touchstone.

The majority of apple pie propaganda began in the early 20th century. In 1902, in response to reports of American weakness, newspapers claimed that, "No pie-eating people can be permanently vanquished." This was further cemented during World War II, when soldiers frequently gave the stock answer, "For mom and for apple pie" when asked about their reasons for going to war. Advertisers have also capitalized on apple pie, such as in Chevrolet's "baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet" jingle from the 1970s.


Takes on the apple pie are almost as vast as the United States, with whipped cream, double cream, and cheddar cheese all acting popular pie sidekicks. When it comes to the crust, a lattice, double crust, Dutch-style, or strudel are all acceptable variations. The most interesting apple pie partner-in-crime, though, is assuredly ice cream.

Legend has it that apple pie à la mode was created by Professor Charles Watson Townsend at the Cambridge Hotel in Cambridge, New York in the mid-1890s. The professor often ordered ice cream and apple pie together, eventually dubbing it "apple pie à la mode." Some months later, when visiting the esteemed Delmonico Restaurant in New York City, Townsend asked for his favorite dessert by name, only to be told the staff had never heard of the combination. Townsend chastised the Delmonico staff for their "lack of service" and the next day, the restaurant placed apple pie à la mode on the menu. The resulting publicity from the story quickly made pie and ice cream an inseparable dessert combination nationally.

Apple pie à la mode. Anna Markow


Apple pie has been a popular dish since the Middle Ages, with numerous letters, journals, and recipe books documenting the earliest versions of the dessert. Those early versions, such as the recipe in King Richard II's 1390 cookbook, often did not contain sugar as the sweet stuff was very expensive, and was made in a pastry crust called a cofyn that was not meant to be eaten. By the 1600s, though, pastry crusts were edible and sugar more affordable, making pies more like those we know today.

When colonists first arrived in the United States, they were surprised to find that the only native apples growing in the United States were crab apples. Much of the produce that colonists brought from England had spoiled or been eaten on the voyage, requiring them to wait until a second ship could bring apple trees for planting. Planting from seeds was more popular than grafting the apple trees, which led very quickly to the development of hundreds of original, American-bred apple tree varieties.

Pop Culture

There are numerous laws—both real and rumored—related to how apple pie should be served in various states. For example, local legend says it's illegal to serve apple pie in Wisconsin without a slice of cheddar cheese, however nothing on the books supports this claim. In Vermont, however, apple pie was named the official state pie in the late 1990s, including provisions that one serving the pie should, "make a good faith effort to serve either a glass of cold milk, a 1/2 ounce or larger slice of Cheddar cheese, or a large scoop of vanilla ice cream" with the pie.

Get the recipe

Try out our Perfect Apple Pie at home or switch things up with these 11 variations.