For those among you who know the value of pie

Posted: Sunday, September 22, 2002

We've known for a long time that, for some species, there is far more to food than fuel. Take pie, for example. Many of us have wonderful memories wrapped around a cold or steamy slice of rich and creamy or sweet and fruity pie. Why?

Nita Nettleton can be reached at nitan@alaska.com.

Pie is portable, not limited to any time of the day, keeps well, is usually easy to chew, goes well with coffee or milk, cheese or ice cream. Pie works as an energy-packed snack, comfort food, gift, shared treat, nonpartisan common ground or glimpse of our childhood. Our literature and films are filled with scenes of reconciliation, revelation and healing set in a diner or late at night in someone's kitchen over pie. Pie has power.

What brought all this up was a conversation last week with a woman who had pretty well given up on trying to understand what men want. Normally I wouldn't go anywhere near that, but back in my hash-slinging days, I came to believe that not only was food the way to a man's heart, but specifically cherry pie. In the right hands, it's a secret weapon, a veritable smart bomb. It seemed appropriate to offer this insight to the woman, so I suggested she learn to make and exploit a competent cherry pie. She got a good laugh out of it and said she'd never made cherry, but did a killer lemon meringue and asked it that would work. Suddenly, I was unsure.

Unable to sleep or think about anything else until I had some research in hand to answer the pie question, I asked around. Men who trust me with this kind of information shared their favorite, many having second and third choices. Others obviously didn't care to say, perhaps having been sneakily and painfully manipulated with pie. Yow. From their roles as grandmothers, wives, girlfriends and waitresses, women gave me a lot of data about the favorites of men. I even called the Nugget Restaurant at the Sitka airport for a widely respected professional view.

There is no quintessential guys' favorite pie. Cherry is definitely in the top four, with apple, blueberry and lemon meringue. From there, we're all over the map. Actually, some favorites are site specific. A man in Skagway said his favorite in Skagway was White Pass summit blueberry, in the Carolinas and Georgia it's pecan or chess, in Sitka it's a cream pie. A man in Idaho prefers marianberry. My nephew grew up in small town Alaska where fresh fruit is not always available or affordable, so I am not surprised his favorite (big time, it turns out) is lemon meringue.

Other issues surfaced as people considered the pie question. A friend in Arizona rattled off a list of boyfriends' favorites over many years and several states. "Apple, cherry, apple, peach and blueberry, and one cream pie." She faded out asking herself, "Was it the cream pie?" One man was reluctant to admit his favorite was cherry because it wasn't as patriotic as apple. The marianberry guy says peach is the only pie he won't eat because it smells like gym socks.

My sister in Homer has dealt in pies for many years, but says her top three, in order, currently are apple, chocolate fudge and lemon meringue. She canvassed her neighborhood and the common picks were fruit, heavy on the berries, with no clear favorites in the cream field. She'd never thought about it before, but concluded, "it's the berries." Betty in Juneau says fruit pies are the meat and potatoes of the pie world and that men favor apple and blueberry. The Sitka airport café was quite specific. They said the most popular men's choice is a three-berry crisp they make, followed by strawberry and about 40,000 cream pies. Since I had them on the phone, I had to ask what the favorite of women was, and the immediate and definite answer was banana cream.

I was surprised that pecan didn't rate higher with men in my survey. I remember a man slipping quietly into the dining room of the roadhouse where I worked the night shift many years ago on the Parks Highway. He leaned his snowshoes by the door, sat down and whispered a wish for pecan pie. He ate slowly, did not want to talk, quietly paid and slipped out. Maybe he was dreaming. I'm telling you, pie is powerful stuff.

Where do I go from here with my pie research? Two immediate calls for action are clear. First I'm calling the government because the pie question will greatly simplify and speed up the census. It tells far more about us than whether or not we have indoor plumbing. Then I'm going to introduce my nephew to the woman with the killer lemon meringue pie.

Nita Nettleton can be reached at nitan@alaska.com.



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