For many Americans, there is no better way to end a meal than with a slice of pie.
With its buttery, flaky crust sheltering a secret surprise of some of the most delicious fillings imaginable, American pie is the definition of dessert heaven. Whether you choose to add an extra layer of delight with fresh whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, frothy meringue or even a slice of sharp cheddar cheese (popular in parts of the Northeast and Midwest), there are endless varieties of pie to savor on your visit to the USA. If you're dining in an old-fashioned 10-seat diner or a fine city restaurant, make sure to save room.
For residents of the Northeast, treasured autumn memories include trips to orchards for apple-picking, cider-sipping and scenic drives to see gloriously colored leaves. Regional orchards typically open around Labor Day, the first Monday in September. If you want to bake your own pies, ask a farmer which apple variety he or she prefers – Granny Smiths and Rome Beauties are standouts. If you’d rather enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labor, most orchards offer fresh-baked pies for sale — crisp apples transformed by sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg and cradled in a golden crust.
Luckily for travelers, apple pie is available across the USA, but dessert lovers will find it’s worth a “pie pilgrimage” to pastoral Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the country’s oldest existing Amish settlement, to order shoofly pie. A treacle filling with a brown sugar-and-flour crumb topping, the pie’s name recalls a time when even baking was conducted outside.
Similarly, it’s essential to order Boston cream pie in the city that conceived it. In fact, you can stop by for a slice at the Omni Parker House in central Boston, Massachusetts, where Boston cream pie was invented in 1856. Between bites, enjoy the debate as to whether to classify this dessert as pie or cake, with its spongy layers wedded by pastry cream and swathed in chocolate fondant.
Deep-dish pies among many varieties served all over the USA
As is true with most comfort food, pies in the Southeast are deeply satisfying culinary experiences. Daily pie specials at soul food restaurants are hard to resist, offering choices such as sweet potato, pecan, lemon, peach, strawberry and chess (a custard pie that might be flavored with vanilla, chocolate or even coconut).
In Florida, where pale-yellow Key limes are grown primarily in the southern part of the state, the choice is Key lime pie: a tart-meets-sweet slice of perfection achieved by swirling the fruit’s juice with sugary condensed milk and crowning it with meringue or whipped cream. Pair it with a balmy ocean breeze for a sublime experience.
A decorated slice of tart-sweet Key lime pie in Florida
Midwest, Pacific, West and Southwest
Regional harvests are evident in Michigan, where tart cherries create delightful pies and tarts, sometimes combined with peaches, apples or rhubarb for delicious blends. Throughout the Pacific and West regions, Marion blackberries, raspberries and wild huckleberries add pops of violet and a sweet kick to pie plates.
American pie traditions are tied to the history of the regions they were born in. To eat a delicious fried pie in the Southwest is to imagine cooks putting flaky-crusted, single-serve pockets of fruit into the hands of ranchers. To eat Hoosier sugar cream pie in the Midwest is to follow in the footsteps of generations of farming families who have enjoyed this delicious huddle of three sugars, double cream and vanilla.
As you travel, ask about pie traditions in the area, and be sure to save room after your meal for a slice of Americana.
Pleasing blend of strawberries and rhubarb in a tasty pie
Celebrate Pie as You Travel the USA
- In April, stack your plate at the Great American Pie Festival’s Never-Ending Pie Buffet in Celebration, Florida.
- In Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, sample whoopie pie (another name up for debate since the “whoopie” is actually two half-moons of chocolate cake with a sweet cream), and take a farmhouse tour to meet the Amish community. There’s even a Whoopie Pie Festival, where 100 versions are served.
- In autumn, sample sweetly spiced pumpkin pies. Go with the traditional version served at Thanksgiving the fourth Thursday in November, or try experimental recipes that might incorporate fresh-roasted fruit, a gingersnap crust or a hint of black pepper.
- The USA's “official” dessert, apple pie, is served in nearly every city and town in the country. Notable places to try a slice: Pie Lab in Greensboro, Alabama; The Apple Pan in Los Angeles, California; and the Paris Coffee Shop in Fort Worth, Texas.