There aren't many desserts that define the term "comfort food" more precisely than classic pie. Whether it be "everyone's favorite" apple or a French silk, chocolate cream, customers can't resist. And to ensure its continuing popularity, the American Pie Council (APC), Lake Forest, IL, is committed to preserving America's pie heritage and promoting American's love affair with pies.
Pie lover's paradise: Each year the APC hosts the Great American Pie Festival. Commercial bakers, suppliers, chefs as well as amateur pie lovers attend industry seminars, professional events and network—all in the name of pie promotion. And some trendy (yet traditional) pie facts were gleaned from the cognoscenti who attended last year's festival.
"Results from an informal survey given to participants revealed that apple pie is still the No.1 choice, followed by cherry and blueberry," says Linda Hoskins, exec. dir. of APC. In addition, 82% of the pie fans like their fruit pie served warm and an impressive 33% preferred pies over traditional cakes for birthdays.
Many fsds know that holidays, in addition to birthdays, are the perfect time to showcase pies. Customers at Eurest Dining Services' Center Cafe account, located in Portland, OR's Standard Insurance Building, have had a bountiful holiday season, according to exec. chef. and g.m. Christa Collins. "During the holidays we run a 'Pies for the Holidays' program. From November thru Christmas, customers can order over a dozen flavors. The take-home pies are basically a convenience for the harried customer during the busy holidays," she says.
With advance notice: "We provide forms to fill out with the pie choices and prices. Usually we need at least a two-to-three day advance notice. On occasion customers can purchase to-go pies without advance ordering, but we don't ensure availability."
"The pie push for the holidays was offered from the week before Thanksgiving through Christmas day. Obviously, the most sold right before the Thanksgiving break. In total we sold about 82 pies priced from $8.99-$12.99 each. They were boxed and bagged for convenience," she says.
The 11-member staff sees traffic in the vicinity of between 1,000 and 1,300 a day. Made from-scratch, flavors include Dutch Apple, Oregon Blackberry, Lemon Meringue and Pumpkin Cheese.
"On the days we offer pies (2-3 per week), we sell approximately four pies a day depending on the type. More homey pies, like Dutch apple or warm peach pie, sell consistently better than coconut cream or chocolate cream."
The emphasis is on quality combined with convenience at the account—the selection includes baked-goods usually found in a retail bakery.
"There's definitely a big dessert push during the holidays—and pies take the lead. But here we take a retail approach with all our desserts throughout the year. The customers know they don't have to go outside for their desserts," says Collins.
Not having the staff, equipment or time to bake from scratch, many operators turn to the wide selection of ready-made pies.
Bennett Chilson, fsd at Andrews Univ., Berrien Springs, MI, likes the convenience and quality of today's prepared pies. Most of the pies menued in the main cafeteria are purchased from Sara Lee and Chef Pierre. "We offer a lot of fruit pies (flavors include apple, fruits of the forest, apple raspberry, and peach), chocolate cream, lemon meringue and pecan," says Chilson.
Cookies and cake, too: The self-op account sees traffic in the vicinity of 2,000 daily in its main cafeteria. The average selling price for a slice of pie is $1.49, Chilson reports. The pies are positioned along with other dessert choices, which include cookies and cakes.
"The favorite fruit pie here is fruits of the forest, which consists mainly of apples and berries. Most of the pies come in frozen and we just bake off. Of course you don't bake off the creams—just thaw at room temperature," he says.
A variation of the classic pie—the cobbler—is an equally appealing menu choice in certain venus. Similar to the pie, the baked, deep-dish fruit dessert is topped with a biscuit crust and usually sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.
Julie Metz, head dist. cook for the Goldendale (WA) School Dist., feeds approx. 300 daily in the dist.'s elementary school—Goldendale Primary. She and her staff make cobblers from scratch for the students in grades K-4.
Commodities dictate: "We usually serve cobblers on a soup day since soup doesn't have a lot of calories and the cobblers do. Cobbler flavors—apple or blueberry—are dictated by what we get through government commodities. Lately, we've been getting in large shipments of frozen blueberries. The apples usually arrive in cans, sliced and in their own juice." But the apples are the preferred cobbler choice among students, notes Metz.
"For the apple cobblers, we chop up the apples slices into even smaller pieces, since the kids don't like big chunks. We add cinnamon, shortening, sugar, flour and bake for about 45 mins. The final product has a nice cinnamony crust on top. Instead of individual pie pans, the whole mixture is usually baked in a large hotel pan," she says.
When the dish is fully cooked, portions are easily scooped out into individual cups, making it a better choice than the traditional slice of pie for the elementary grades.