Failing The Pie Test

The Washington Post recently ran a thought-provoking piece on its opinion pages about pie. That’s right, pie — the warm, flaky, delectable dessert concoction. The writer’s point is that America, which apparently invented pie, is letting its salutary contribution to the dessert realm wither away, because Americans are forgetting how to make a good pie crust.

The piece, while alarmist in tone, has a point. The crust of a pie is as important to the whole pie experience as a crisp, delicately flavored, non-doughy crust is to a fine pizza–which makes sense because it is a pizza pie, after all. As the writer notes, more and more Americans are buying store-bought crusts that aren’t up to snuff, and in her experience even professional artisanal bakeries aren’t producing the light and flaky pie crusts that her mother and grandmother routinely pulled from the oven during her childhood.

The notion that America may be losing its collective pie crust know-how is a very disturbing thought and, for those of us who have personally experienced piece crust artistry, cruel news, indeed. My grandmother made an excellent pie crust, and the Harbor Cafe here in Stonington produces some excellent graham cracker crusts to go with its famous banana cream pie. But there is no doubt that the knack of making a great crust is the kind of thing that could be lost forever if not carefully handed down from generation to generation or, alternatively, reinvigorated by a new generation focused on preserving this important American institution.

I like baking, but I’ve always limited myself to cookies. I have considered baking a good pie crust to be akin to climbing Mount Everest. I’m taking the Post piece as a kind of challenge, however. I like pie–apple pie, like the kind shown in the photo above, is my favorite–and I’m not willing to stand idly by and watch pie die. When the winter rolls around, and it’s prime baking season, I’m going to take a crack at some pie baking, and hope that some of that pie artistry was passed down in the family genes.

Pie De Resistance

In French, the piece de resistance is the most important or exceptional feature of something. At the Harbor Cafe in Stonington, Maine, it’s really the pie de resistance — because no meal is complete without a piece of homemade pie for dessert. Our favorite is the coconut cream pie, which is light as a feather and filled with crunchy coconut. It’s the perfect end to dinner.


If you’re on the road in a faraway place, how do you know where you’ll get good food?  My theory is that you look for pie.  And, if you see a place with a sign touting the pie offerings, so much the better!  The concept underlying the theory is that anyone who has the patience to make a good pie with a light, flaky crust is likely to care about the quality of all the food she serves.  

It’s a theory that’s held up pretty well.

Here, in West Glacier, the theory was again put to the test — and I’m happy to report that the Glacier Highland Restaurant, right across the street from the west entrance to Glacier National Park, affirmed the theory with flying colors.  The grinning Cheri, proprietor of the Pie Bar, conveyed the truth.  Kish raved about the coconut cream pie, my apple pie a la mode, shown below, was excellent, and every morsel of food we’ve had there has been good.

We’ll be heading over there for breakfast tomorrow.  Say, have I mentioned that people used to eat pie for breakfast?