PIE VS. PIE: Behold my ultimate, completely unscientific once-and-for-all Thanksgiving baked good smackdown
It's Piemageddon! Live and Let Pie! Pie Hard! I'm on a roll! GOOD LUCK STOPPING ME NOW!
I recently saw a piece by very funny person Kev On Stage that was one of those “One Gotta Go” things where readers are presented with four things in the same category - singers, TV doctors, Disney princesses - and asked to consider which you’d relegate to non-existence if you were forced to. I generally find these dumb - why is everything a competition? And why are we wishing Jasmine into the cornfield? She didn’t do nothing to you!
This particular one was pie, specifically whether apple, pecan, pumpkin or sweet potato “belonged in the trash.” I don’t believe in throwing away pie for any reason, but Kev picked pecan as the throwaway, describing it as “dreadful.” (It must also be noted that Kev is a noted pumpkin pie truther, and a famed hater of sweet potato pie, which he acknowledges makes him an exception to popular Black culture assumptions that sweet potato is the delicious thing that your granny makes that reminds you of your childhood, while pumpkin is some dry sad thing that you eat when there’s no sweet potato.) (Ahem).
I enjoy Kev’s comedy, even when he’s wrong - pecan pie is a nutty, gooey crusty treasure, and pumpkin is literally responsible for the success of Redi-Whip because you eat more pumpkin pie when you can’t taste it. I am not a rich comedian with hundreds of thousands of followers but I sure do like pie - my husband and I didn’t even have a wedding cake, opting for little tiny pies and pastries instead. Also I have this newsletter and I get to write about whatever I want, and I have more pie puns y’all haven’t heard yet, so here’s my rankings of some traditional holiday pies, and a few you might not have considered. (Spoiler alert: It does not go well for pumpkin.)
One caveat: I admit not to having had everybody’s pie in the world, because how would I, even though I have tried? So there is going to be someone reading this who says “If you had the pumpkin pie at this diner on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, or at my granny’s house, you’d love it!” or “I have never had a sweet potato pie I liked” or “What is bean pie?” This is, as the title implies, completely just my opinion. Also, if you want to send me your granny’s pumpkin pie, I’ll consider it.
Pumpkin pie: Admittedly, I hadn’t really had a lot of pumpkin pie before my early 20s, as in many traditional Southern-ish Black homes, it’s way down the pie list. And it’s at the bottom of this one. I have to admit that part of my distaste for sweetened gourd innards comes from moving to York, Pa. in the winter of 1994 from Florida. After a year and half at the beach, I was all excited to settle into some good Northern holiday piestuffs, which, to me, meant sweet potato (more on that later.) But invariably, someone would say “We don’t have that, but that’s OK, we have pumpkin” which, to me, is like saying “We’re out of caviar but we do have powdered eggs! With whipped cream on top?” (It was also around that time that I noted the line in “Home For The Holidays” about the guy in Tennessee heading home to Pennsylvania for pumpkin pie. And I have to ask if he just knew a good pie hookup or just needed to get out more.) I’m not saying that all pumpkin pie is bad - I’ve had some delicious ones. But I have had too many that are unseasoned, bland, dry, brown lumps of congealed strangeness that nobody seems to have loved before foisting on the world. And you can’t untaste that.
5. Apple: I am sorry that apple is so close to pumpkin on this list, which is more a testament to how much I love other types of pie rather than anything inherently wrong with the pie itself. Indeed, the best apple pies are heaven in a crust - flaky layers woven around caramelized, well-spiced, tender fruit. I will also say that some of the worst pieces of pie I’ve ever had are apple, because it seems so simple that it’s easy to do wrong - for the apples to be overcooked and mealy, for the crust to be leaden and bland, and for the baker to have lost the key to the spice cabinet. Ha ha I’m joking. Most cabinets don’t have locks! Some of y’all just don’t season your food! What did cinnamon ever do to you? You nasty.
4. Key lime: Some of you may have never have had Key lime pie, and if you did, it may have been some sad grainy thing you got frozen somewhere. And I weep for you. When done right, Key lime pie is creamy, tart and rich. I spent a collective 19.5 years living in South Florida, and actually took a road trip to Key West during which one of my buddies was writing about pie, and we stopped at every diner and roadside stand to share a piece with plastic forks at the ready. It might seem like a summertime pie - and the season for Key limes is June to September - but it doesn’t mean that I don’t want to eat it all the time.
3. Bean pie: I was unable to find an image of a bean pie in the image library I subscribe to, and I wasn’t shocked at all. Bean pie is a very Black thing, specifically originating with the Nation of Islam and sometimes sold on city street corners by brothers also selling copies of The Final Call newspaper. And that experience doesn’t translate everywhere - a lot of my friends from less-ethnic places had never even heard of it. But there are an increasing number of bakeries around the country that specialize in it, and you’re lucky, because a good bean pie is a wonderful - dense and velvety, with notes of vanilla and nutmeg. It’s got all of your familiar holiday flavors, PLUS PROTEIN. Make one if you can’t buy one. Bake two. Send me the other one.
2. Sweet Potato Pie: Speaking of Black pies, apparently the humble sweet potato has become known as the unofficial African American dessert of the holidays or something. I don’t know. I didn’t vote on it. But if I did…yeah. Like I said, sweet potato pie is what my family most served, what was most likely to be wrapped in foil on the table at my grandmother’s house, or sitting on top of her body-sized freezer with a knife sitting next to it so you could chisel off a piece on the way to rest of the leftovers. What makes a good sweet potato pie? It slices solidly and creamily but gooey. You can smell the nutmeg, and the love. The crust is flaky. There’s no pumpkin in it.
1. Pecan pie: What’s not to love about pecan pie? It’s drama in a crust! It has literal layers - the crunchy, nutty top, all brown and crisp, with more nuts suspended in gooey, sugary waves of goodness. As a vegetarian, I stand by this and bean pie as actual nutrition, what with all the protein. Also, Billy Crystal made it fun to say. This is about to be in your head. I’m sorry. (And how hot was bearded 1989 Billy Crystal? It’s a holiday gift I’ve given to you.)
Listen, at the end of the day, pie is amazing, and it’s wonderful that there are so many kinds. If pumpkin’s your thing, good on ya. Eat that thing and enjoy. If you don’t like pecan, like our friend KevOnStage, that’s OK, too. I mean, you’re wrong. But that’s OK.
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