Charlie Papazian would rather have pie than cake for his birthday. So on his 26th birthday, in 1975, Papazian — then a teacher in Boulder, Colo. — proclaimed Jan. 23 to be National Pie Day forevermore.
His young students — from kindergarten through second grade — brought in dozens of pies for his celebratory day, and they contacted Chase’s Calendar of Events, a McGraw-Hill product, to make the day official. Until 1995, according to Chase’s, the U.S. Congress determined special observances. It still issues the occasional commemorative resolution — as do states, governors and the U.S. president — but not in the volume of the past. The Chase’s editorial staff includes a special day, week or month in its annual reference guide “based on the authority of the organization observing it,” among other factors.
Papazian and his students needed a national organization with a phone number before the day could be recognized. So they created the American Pie Council, which Papazian quickly handed off to his fellow pie-lover, John Lehndorff. Papazian was too busy starting a national craft and homebrewing beer movement, organizing the Great American Beer Festival and writing homebrewing books. The next organization he founded was the American Homebrewers Association.
Lehndorff, 59, was happy to stick with pies. He grew up in Massachusetts, surrounded by pumpkin and fresh blueberry pies. He learned to make pie when he relocated to Boulder and worked in restaurants, where he met Papazian.
Lehndorff says Colorado has a long history of pie making, introduced by early European settlers. Pie competitions throughout Colorado were precursors to state and county fairs, with pumpkin the filling of choice. When the railroad reached the Rocky Mountains in the late 1800s, it brought along apples. Today, apples are Colorado’s largest fruit crop, according to the Colorado Department of Agriculture.
Colorado pie making was in its prime during the 1940s. Jack Kerouac, the author of “On the Road,” made his way across the country eating ice cream and apple pie. He stopped for it at the Loaf and Ladle in Longmont, Colo., which still serves ice cream and apple pie.
Lehndorff led the American Pie Council through the early 1990s, creating the Great American Pie Festival as a sister event to Papazian’s Great American Beer Festival. (He also launched The Pie Times, a seasonal newsletter.) For the last 15 years, the APC has partnered with shortening maker Crisco on the festival. Now held in Celebration, Fla., the annual affair features a never-ending pie buffet, creation stations, demonstrations and pie competitions — which last year drew more than 800 entries.
Last year, Lehndorff traveled across his state in search of the best pies, which inspired the 2014 Colorado Pie Trail Calendar. The calendar — sprinkled with Colorado pie trivia — features photos of the pies and people who make them, including those at Granny Scott’s Pie Shop in Lakewood, Corner Pie Cafe in Colorado Springs and Wednesday’s Pie in Denver.
Lehndorff hosts a weekly radio show about Colorado regional food. For National Pie Day, he’ll be on the air all day talking pie. He’ll celebrate with his favorite: wild blueberry pie. Pie lovers, bakers and eaters will celebrate with hometown festivals, bake-offs and tastings.
All because Charlie Papazian wanted pie for his birthday.
Pie pro and food blogger John Lehndorff always uses three or more varieties of apples to create complex taste and texture in his fillings: hard fruits that hold their shape and add tart flavor; slightly sweeter, crispy ones that cook down a bit; and soft-textured apples that, in baking, become applesauce. For best results, chill everything involved in making the crust: ingredients and utensils alike. This recipe first appeared in Edible Front Range magazine.
- 2½ cups flour
- ¼ tablespoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon granulated sugar
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold
- 1/3 cup lard or shortening, cold
- 5 to 7 tablespoons ice-cold apple cider vinegar
- 9 apples (mix of tart and sweet varieties), peeled and cored
- ½ cup light brown sugar, divided
- 3 tablespoons maple syrup
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
Prepare crust. In a large bowl, thoroughly blend flour, cinnamon, salt and sugar.
Cut butter and shortening into small cubes and work them into the flour mixture, until the mixture has the consistency of peas. Slowly dribble in cider vinegar, mixing with a fork. Work the dough until it easily forms a ball.
Divide the ball in half and, on a floured cutting board, flatten each into a disk; wrap in plastic and refrigerate for an hour.
Preheat oven to 450 F. Roll out one chilled disc of dough on a floured board with a floured rolling pin or wine bottle. Place in deep-dish glass pie plate and press into place.
Prepare filing. Cut a third of the apples into chunks; set aside. Thinly slice another third of the apples and finely chop the remaining third.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, cook the apple chunks (only) with ¼ cup of the brown sugar, the maple syrup and butter until mixture is bubbling hard and getting syrupy.
In a mixing bowl, toss the remaining sliced and finely chopped apples with the remaining ¼ cup brown sugar, flour, cornstarch, nutmeg and salt. Arrange loosely in pastry-lined pie plate. Pour warm apple mixture over apples.
Roll out second dough disk and place on top of pie. Press down gently so that crust fits snugly against the apple -- this prevents doming. Dampen edge of dough with cider and crimp tightly. Cut four to six slits in the top to vent steam or use several pie birds.
Bake 30 minutes; reduce heat to 375 F and bake about 45 minutes or until juices bubble out and the top is evenly browned. If the edge starts to brown too quickly, cover it with a strip of aluminum foil.
Remove pie from oven and let cool on a counter for at least 2 hours before serving.