As we near the final moments of Pie vs. Cake championship, wherein one dessert shall be granted glory, we've asked the team cheerleaders to step forward in a personal appeal for their respective favorites. Sadie's making the case for Pie.
I'm just going to say it: Pie is the people's choice.
Look, I like cake. Who doesn't? Cake is glamorous. It's festive. Everybody loves showy, glitzy, good-time cake with its fancy frostings and its candles and its glad-handing messages.
Pie, on the other hand, is humble. A slice of even blue-ribbon pie is shleppy and shlumpy-looking. The ingredients are simple and elemental. And even the most glamorous of varietals — meringues or chiffons — started out as practical solutions to the egg-white problem.
And yet. To the pie-lover, there is nothing, but nothing, as appetizing or as basically satisfying as that heavenly marriage of minimally-adulterated fruit and flaky, nearly savory crust. Be it a sweet-tart strawberry rhubarb bubbling over a lattice; a homely, autumnally hued pumpkin with a ghost of oven's warmth, saved from Puritanical abstemiousness only by a cloud of whipped cream; peach, that celebration of all that is summer in one golden bite; or, of course, satisfying, solid, perfect apple topped with a buttery crumble — well, it just doesn't get any better.
Despite its deceptive simplicity, pie is hard to get right. Whereas Entemann's or Pepperidge Farm might turn out packaged cakes (chocolate-marshmallow and Devil's Food, respectively) that are perfectly respectable, the same companies can't manufacture a pie that isn't a glutinous abomination. Gelatinous piles of red goo or mushy slabs of lemon-flavored rubber cement are the going rate for most packaged pies, making the real thing — at a farm stand, a Midwestern diner or, of course, someone's kitchen table - all the more rare and precious. There is a reason "blue-ribbon pie" still comes with bragging rights — as anyone who's turned out a lumpen, lopsided specimen that overflows onto the oven floor knows all too well. Good pie is hard to find. While in New York City, for instance, cakes of all kinds — not to mention their twee offspring, the cupcake — can be found on every corner, there are fewer than four good pie destinations, and two of them only bake them at Thanksgiving. Pie-lovers aren't mere gluttons: We're purists, connoisseurs. And it's not the easy path.
As if it needs saying, pie is a part of our heritage. Is it cake that gladdens Pa's heart in By the Shores of Silver Lake? Ha! Hardly! It's the alchemy of thrift and lard and green-pumpkin that makes mock apple, or later transforms soda crackers into dessert. And allow me, if you will, to quote Farmer Boy: "Then he drew a long breath, and he began to eat pie, and he wished he had eaten nothing else. He ate a piece of pumpkin pie and a piece of custard pie, and he ate almost a piece of vinegar pie. He tried a piece of mince pie, but could not finish." (Keeping in mind that he's started the day with a whopping slice of apple, the best breakfast in the entire world even if you haven't just done two hours of farm chores.)
In my house, my brother and I preferred pies when our birthdays rolled around: strawberry-rhubarb for me and for him, blueberry. My mother requested lemon-meringue. My boyfriend demands pumpkin. Whereas cakes can be bought, these pies must be made: crusts pinched and rolled and lifted with baited breath into the pan, laboriously patched after they fall apart; filled with the sweetened fruit or carefully-monitored filling, and made reasonably respectable-looking with pastry leaves or just a shower of sugar. They always look decidedly homemade, but no one cares. I ventured into the more rococo world of cream pies when my Grandpa got sick and craved only chocolate pie, a long-forgotten favorite of his childhood. The crust was made of crushed Oreos, the filling a rich chocolate pudding. It was covered in whipped cream. As long as the pie lasted, he'd request a piece for every meal, savoring and husbanding it until the dessert was a forlorn, weepy pile in its dish. Then my mom and I would make another. It was work, but nothing store-bought would do, or bring the same pleasure or nostalgia. And that, ultimately, is pie.