Pie, the New Cupcake—And the New Controversy!

I’ve been resisting the whole “Pie is the New Cupcake” thing—until now. Now, I have jumped in with both feet. It all started, as far as I know, last Thanksgiving, when the New York Times ran a big piece titled “Pie to Cupcake: Time’s Up” detailing the thrills and chills to be had in the world of pie. Then, everyone jumped on the bandwagon; the Huffington Post did a nice sum-up of everyone tootling their own version of “Here Comes the Sun,” in which the word “sun” is substituted for the word “pie.” Sing it yourself—or read this.

After that, my wonderful co-blogger, Elizabeth Dehn, got me thinking about local pie, and the final straw was put into place earlier this week when the LA Times rushed in with statistics. Statistics like: “Americans ordered 722 million servings of pie at restaurants nationwide last year, an increase of 12 million slices over 2009, according to the NPD Group,” a market-research company. Meanwhile, according to the same company, “servings of cake—propelled for the last few years by the cupcake craze—were down at eateries and specialty bakeries last year in the United States. And in homes, per capita consumption of cupcakes was down 18 percent.”

I have no idea how this is measured. “Honey, how many cupcakes did you eat least month? 17.2? That was against 2009’s 19.7, wasn’t it? That’s what I thought.”

Well, that’s all I can stand, and I can’t stand no more! I have to get on this bandwagon before it sails through the cracks!

The ironic (or unfair, or ridiculous) thing about all this is: The coasts are rediscovering pie—but we’ve had it the whole time! Pie is ours; it’s Midwestern. I’ve been particularly amused to note that leading the pie revolution is a bakery run by two South Dakota sisters—in Brooklyn, New York City. The bakery is called Four and Twenty Blackbirds, and the sisters are from Hecla, which is due west of Alexandria, on the South/North Dakota border. I feel so proud and happy that everyone who writes about them notes that they’re from South Dakota, as if it’s a selling point. Which, of course, it is and always has been. Ask me who I want on my team and the answer will always be some people from South Dakota. Those are good people! (And good chefs, as evidenced by the career of South Dakota native Landon Schoenefeld at Haute Dish.)

But, back to pie. Now that everyone and their sister is making pie, let’s celebrate the great, great pie we have here.

First, did you know that the unspeakably controversial Betty’s Pies is opening a new location this spring at the Mall of America? True! I talked to someone up in the North Shore location who wouldn’t disclose a date but said it’s happening soon, and definitely by spring. Now, if you didn’t think Betty’s was controversial, guess again: I mentioned Betty’s on the Current and whoa—the hate mail!

Tim wrote, aggrieved: “Obviously it is a North Shore landmark, but my entire family has boycotted Betty’s for years now…” Boycotting! Phew. That’s strong talk! Did they deny someone civil rights or…? 

Tim explained: “The last time we ate at Betty’s was about five years ago. My triple-chocolate pie tasted like cinnamon, not even a single chocolate let alone triple! My wife’s key-lime pie was a jello-desert disaster! …. I’m wondering if you’ve actually tasted a pie from the taken-over Betty’s? It seems to me they are just preying on the gullibility of the those who have heard of it but don’t know that the original Betty and her relatives have no part of it anymore. I know you can’t do a retraction on live radio but you have done the pie-loving public a disservice.”

Well, that’s pretty strong language, Tim. I have been to the second-generation Betty’s and thought it was what it ever was: A lot of pie, much of it sweeter than anything, but isn’t that the style? However, now I can promise you I’ll visit the new Betty’s when it opens at the Mall of America and really put those pies under a microscope. Till then, here are other pies I have tasted within the last week, and found awesome and excellent:

The tart and fruitful raspberry pie at Turtle Bread. I had one this week and: Swooooon! Fresh, tart, bright as a summer’s day, with a crispy, crackling crust glittering with sprinklings of sugar. Get one, spread a picnic blanket out on your living room floor, and pretend it’s summer. In other news: Turtle insiders tell me the new Longfellow Turtle Bread location will likely open in March.

The lemon meringue at Patrick’s Bakery: This lemon meringue is nothing short of a technical show of world-class virtuosity. Perfectly piped meringue like sticky silk with a roasted edge, tart and vital fresh lemon curd—it’s perfect.

Jerabek’s in St. Paul: Homey, old-school, you’d-swear-a-grandma-made-it pie classics. I love their classic apple pie. It’s wonderfully rustic and cries out to be the showpiece of a big family Sunday supper.

Sarah Jane’s: In Northeast Minneapolis, Sarah Jane’s makes classic old-school Minnesota pies. This week I tried the coconut cream (humble, light) and the strawberry-rhubarb (crust light as a feather, fresh and fruity filling touched with a bit of cardamom—so good you want to eat the whole thing).

Birchwood: The home of the state’s greatest Key Lime pie, and a fabulous assortment of ever-changing pies, fruit, and custard all.

Now that I’m occupying as much space on the pie bandwagon as I can, only a few questions remain. One: Is the continued existence of Betty’s an affront to pie lovers everywhere? Two: Are you looking forward to the Mall of America location—or indifferent? Three: Will the rise of pie ever heal the wounds of coastal indifference inflicted on South Dakota’s good and valiant hearts? Four: Will any of us get through this long and brutal winter without going stark staring mad? Or will we all be locked in our snow caves making cherpumples when our coastal overlords fly over us in spring? Cherpumples, of course, being last fall’s internet sensation: cherry, pumpkin, and apple pies baked into the layers of a layer cake. Like a turducken, but made of pie. I don’t know. It’s winter. Everyone is going crazy— but somehow it seems nicer to go crazy with pie.