American Pie: Slices of Life (and Pie) from America's Back Roads

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9780060197360: American Pie: Slices of Life (and Pie) from America's Back Roads

You know you're going on a quest for pie, but you may find something else entirely. Be prepared.

These were the prophetic words uttered to Pascale Le Draoulec as she began her cross-country journey. When offered a job in New York, she chose to drive rather than fly into her new life. As a food writer, she decided to turn an ordinary move into a culinary quest. She chose pie as her grail and guide, because, after all, what's more American than pie?

Crossing class and color lines, and spanning the nation (from Montana Huckleberry to Pennsylvania Shoo-Fly), pie -- real, homemade pie -- has meaning for all of us. But in today's treadmill take-out world, our fast-food nation, does pie still have a place? As a first-generation American raised by two quintessentially French parents, Le Draoulec knew much more about tartes than pies, but as she made her way across the United States, she discovered that mentioning homemade pie to anyone made faces soften, shoulders sigh, and memories come wafting back; that everyone she met had a fond memory of pie.

Le Draoulec and Betty the Volvo (her trusty automotive sidekick) meandered from town to town, meeting the famous and sometimes infamous pie makers in each place, like the little old ladies of Wasta, South Dakota (pop. 70), who had been baking pies from scratch to serve, and sell, on Election Day. They found themselves going head to head with state officials when South Dakota outlawed the sale of food at elections.

Le Draoulec's story, based on her adventure serialized in the Gannett newspapers, will entertain and move readers as she seeks to answer the question of the place of pie in today's world.

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Review:

Is there any dish more American than pie? Seeking to determine its unique place in our cultural and culinary life, journalist Pascale Le Draoulec's American Pie: Slices of Life (and Pie) from America's Back Roads chronicles the author's cross-country pie hunt. Her search by car--from San Francisco to New York--uncovers every native pie variety, from Montana huckleberry to Pennsylvania shoofly; it also reveals, perhaps predictably, an America of towns with 60 churches for 2,500 inhabitants and "white-haired women with calloused rolling pin palms," a breed sadly in decline, as is pie making, which takes time we don't seem to have. Still, pie makers like Oklahoma's Leoda Mueller (coconut cream) and Minnesota's Lola Nebel (raspberry pear) are out there, and for many of them fixing pies remains a link to the past, present, and self. Le Draoulec's journey is also a personal one. Besides learning that we're a land that often likes its pie crusts purchased pre-made, or prepared with butter-flavored Crisco (how quickly we embrace industrial foods!), Le Draoulec completes a pie-bracketed journey of her own, from an unsettled West Coast life to domesticity and an impending marriage in the East. There she plans to bake a marriage pie, "huckleberry and peach, like the one [she] loved at the Spruce Café in Montana." If Le Draoulec doesn't usually manage to get under her characters' skin, and if her narrative lacks conclusiveness, she nonetheless provides an arresting look at an iconic food whose place is both entrenched and precarious. The book includes photos and 25 recipes from the pie makers, such as Mildred Snook's Sour Cream Raisin Pie, Bufford's Dad's Buttermilk Pie, and Mamma Millsap's Open-Faced Apple Pie. --Arthur Boehm

About the Author:

Pascale Le Draoulec is the restaurant critic for the New York Daily News. Her stories ran over the Gannett wire service and in USA Today among other magazines and newspapers. She lives in New York City. This is her first book.

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