Oh, those sweet pies… pecan pie, pumpkin pie, apple pie… But first, how about the comfort of a savory pie? Maybe a chicken pot pie, a Shepherd’s pie, a spinach pie. So what makes pies — all kinds of pies — the quintessential comfort food?
I suppose we could consider the fact that anything starchy or bready tends to slow us down, and of course, anything sweet will perk up most moods. But pie really ought to be its own food group, don’t you think?
All those in favor… say pie!
Best Pie for an Occasion?
Now, I’m not usually a pie consumer, and nor was I in my younger years. Still, there are times when my usual go-to — chocolate — holds no interest whatsoever. There are times when very specific pies, something like pumpkin or pecan, feel like a nod to tasty tradition. There are also times when pie — almost any kind, but particularly apple (for me) — is just what the doctor ordered for feeling psychologically embraced and, well… safe.
These past few weeks, I’ve found myself on a hunt for pies! These aren’t part of my healthy eating plan (an understatement) as pies tend to be high in calories (they’re high in fat and salt). So all I can conclude is that I’m driven to seek pie by the prevailing atmosphere of deeply disturbing recent events, the sense of powerlessness they engender, and the fact that crusty comestibles offer momentary and significant comfort.
Cataloguing Comfort Foods
Curious about what makes comfort foods comforting, a little exploration on the subject reveals the secret, or at least a few clues. One that comes to mind is the issue of childhood associations — the aroma or taste of something agreeable from “home” is bound to evoke a smile and sense of safety.
How Stuff Works tells us that comfort foods are unique to individuals. This, no doubt, is because of the childhood association aspect, as we are informed that:
… by eating foods that remind us of [happier] times, we symbolically consume that past happiness.
Of course. And we all know that triggering moments yield very specific cravings that differ from person to person. This, however, is a particular type of craving — one that is all about managing an unsettling sort of stress.
Pie in the Sky?
How Stuff Works goes on to tell us that comfort foods actually differ by gender, and of course, for many, they are a response to stress.
So why pie for someone who is not ordinarily a pie eater? What is it about the variations on lovely, flaky baked foods with sweet or savory fillings that does us so much good at certain times?
Psychology Today describes comfort foods as “energy-dense, high fat and sweet” and they list chocolate, ice cream, and fries among the most popular comfort foods. They remind us that when we eat food that’s high in fat, sugar, or salt, our brain registers pleasure.
Okay. But why pie? Especially since my non-sweet go-to comfort food is and always has been a hearty soup. I remain baffled.
As American as… You Know What
Thus far, my research doesn’t explain the appeal of pie, much less my personal craving these past three weeks for apple pie. Homemade apple pie at that.
Is pie somehow so ingrained in American culture that we simply don’t consciously realize? Is it the association with Thanksgiving, which is a time of family and generally, a sense of contentment or belonging? What about the pies and cookies that we make at Christmas time? How about the many scenes of diners in film and television with their slices of pie seducing the eye, and begging for accompaniment with a good cup of coffee?
I still don’t have a clear answer, but I know this.
Savory pies are filling and typically served hot. They do indeed slow us down, which invariably calms us down. Sweet pies? Still no clue, other than to note their power as panacea.
Savory Pies? Just. Say. Yes.
In my childhood? Hmmm. We had chicken pot pies, but the sort that were frozen dinners. Swanson’s, I think. They were fine, but nothing special or anything I would crave. In fact, it wasn’t until I traveled to Europe and had more “pie-like” meals with amazing crusts and entirely fresh-cooked ingredients that I was able to appreciate how extraordinary savory pies can be. And it wasn’t until five or six years ago that I was converted to the caloric delghts of the very British Shepherd’s pie.
(I add plenty of spinach to it. Does that make it any healthier?)
As an adult, and as a mother, over the years I learned to make pecan pies, a staple around my home at holiday time. Extremely sweet? You bet. Something I know how to do decently? Yes. And yet that isn’t the pie that I currently crave.
Pass That Fruity Fix…
Instead, the pie I crave is apple. Old-fashioned, cinnamon-heavy, slightly tart apple pie. And not too long ago, I indulged in exactly that. It was definitely good for what ails me, and I daresay for many of us in this country these days, some sort of comfort food is precisely what we are turning to.
Now if only my jeans weren’t getting tight again. Insert sigh __________.
Do you have a favorite comfort food? Do you have a favorite savory or sweet pie? Any good recipes to recommend? How are you dealing with the heartbreaking, agonizing, stressful events so much in the news?
You May Also Enjoy