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Culture

Author Chronicles The History Of New England Pie

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University of Massachusetts Amherst archivist and author Robert Cox has written a new book called: New England Pie: History Under A Crust. WSHU’s Tom Kuser spoke with Cox earlier to find out why he decided to explore the history of New England one pie at a time.

Interview Excerpts:

What prompted you to write a history of New England, one pie at a time?

Food is one of those things that is common to everybody. Most of us have that habit of eating pretty much every day, and I think foods really tell you a lot about how people interact with one another, with the broader culture and with the natural world around them. So I think they’re a real good gauge if you want to look at a culture, how a culture operates, what a culture thinks about itself, look at the food.

You write that New England pies are more than treats, they’re maps for understanding. What is it that New England pies help us understand exactly?

You can see the history of immigration into New England both from Europe and non-European countries. You can track the evolution of tastes of New England people. And I think you can also see the great shift in relationship between people and the environment in New England. At one point we were very tied to seasonality of the land. New England has very strong winters and very hot summers. It had a very strong impact on the food we produced. Now, if you look around you see apples year round, you see food we throw inside a crust year round. That’s a relatively new development here. So, looking at the pies, you can see that shift in development of people of how they relate to the land and how they relate to each other.

You divide the book and the pies into 12 months of the year. Is that why? To get a feel for what pies are prevalent during certain times of the year?

I needed a way of thinking about so many darn gone many pies that we have in New England. But it became pretty important right away to recognize that the sorts of pies that traditionally eaten late in the summer were very different than the ones eaten in winter. We had these specialty pies that were associated with particular points of the calendar, particular times of the year because that was the food that was available for us. I think my favorite along that line is the Rhubarb pie, which is my favorite pie. When you think about those long cold New England winters, when you think about how people had to make their way through six months of relatively old food. We had canned and pickled and stored and dried and when spring comes along one of the first vegetables to come up is Rhubarb. It made its way into pie at a very early date in New England. For me it’s always signified that we’re now arriving to a gentler time of year from that hardship of winter. People in New England have always loved Rhubarb and I think that’s why.