As American as Apple Pie: Where does apple pie come from?

In the United States, it’s not unusual to hear that something is “as American as apple pie,” and this November, thousands will try to perfect their apple pie recipe for their Thanksgiving table. But when and where was apple pie truly invented, and how did it become such a vital part of the America landscape?

Apples in America
Although the United States is one of the world’s top five apple exporters today, when European colonists arrived on North American soil, there were almost no apples to be seen. In reality, the only truly indigenous apples to North America are crab apples, or malus coronaria. Unlike the large, sweet apples that we commonly choose for an apple pie, crab apples are typically small fruits only a few inches wide, and usually tart in flavor.
In truth, apples are native to Asia, and were slowly brought over the Silk Road and other trade routes to Europe. Once they arrived on the European continent, however, apple trees flourished. Easy to grow and maintain, apples became a staple of European diets, and were included in multiple dishes, including pies, or “tarts.” One of the first European recipes for apple pie dates back to 1381, and was called “For to make Tartys in Applis.”

A 1381 recipe for apple pie.
A 1381 recipe for apple pie. Public Domain image via Wikimedia Commons.

Like Europe, the New World was also very hospitable to apple trees, and apple pie was a popular dessert throughout the late 17th and 18th centuries. By the 1900s, generations of bakers had made the apple pie into a nostalgic dish, and many Americans associated the dessert with happier times and home. The symbolism of the apple pie only grew during the Great Depression and World Wars – an image of a pie on the windowsill in the 1930s indicated a family was well off during the depression, and the phrase “for Mom and apple pie” became a common refrain of soldiers headed into World War II.
By the 1960s, apple pie had become a fixture of the American landscape, and the phrase “as American as apple pie” had begun to take root. Today, like hot dogs, baseball, or a cheeseburger, apple pie has become a symbol for the United States, and the American Dream.
For this year’s Thanksgiving dessert, try a slice of the American classic, and create a homemade apple pie with the help of Chef Barrie Boulds and The Big Sky Bounty Cookbook:

Chef Barrie Boulds' apple pie. Reprinted from The Big Sky Bounty Cookbook by Chef Barrie Boulds and Jean Petersen, courtesy of Chef Barrie Boulds (The History Press, 2018).Apple Pie

Serves 6–8

“Nothing says America like
apple pie. This is a great pie to
bring to a family get-together
and is delicious with a side of
vanilla ice cream.”
—Chef Boulds


6 to 8 tart apples, like Granny
Smith, peeled and sliced

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

¼ cup water

½ cup white sugar

½ cup brown sugar

Perfect Pie Crust (see page 161 of The Big Sky Bounty Cookbook)

1 egg mixed with 1 teaspoon
of water

1 tablespoon turbinado sugar

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Peel
apples and combine with next five
ingredients. Put into prepared pie
crust. Cover or lattice remaining
pie crust over the top of the pie.
Brush top with egg wash and
sprinkle with turbinado sugar.
Cook for 20 minutes, turn heat
down to 350 degrees and cook
another 25 to 30 minutes, until
lightly browned.