The Great IDHH Baking Blog: Pies

“As American as apple pie.” While the first recorded recipe for apple pie was written in England in 1381, this quotation has become synonymous with Americana and speaks to a country’s love of the versatile baked dish. Centuries before this catchy phrase was featured in advertisements of the Roaring Twenties, colonists of the fledgling United States found their wheat from England unsuited to North American soil and instead channeled their small amount of grain for use in pies rather than bread. With their flourishing New England apple orchards, this environment sowed the seeds for a nation’s embrace of the pie as a culinary favorite and cultural signifier. 

From springtime fairs to end-of-the-year holidays and festivals, it’s difficult to think of an event or season in which some kind of pie would not be welcome. The dessert is so ubiquitous that ten U.S. states claim a pie as their “official” state dessert, state treat, or state pie. Maine even lists two iconic pies for the state, claiming blueberry pie as the state dessert and whoopie pie as the state treat (though the whoopie pie is not quite a pie and more a type of soft cookie). The IDHH’s own state of Illinois proudly lists the pumpkin pie as the state pie and today produces the most pumpkins used for processed pie filling.  

While eating pies may be the more traditional way to enjoy the classic American dessert, some of our favorite items from the collection below show more inventive uses of the dish, from thrown projectile to animal treat:

Campus Photograph Collection: Campus Life. circa 1972-1976. University of Illinois Springfield. Campus Archival Documents. Courtesy of the University of Illinois Springfield.
Student Life. 1978. Illinois Wesleyan University. IWU Historical Collections. Courtesy of Illinois Wesleyan University.
Hog gets pie, 1947. January 22, 1947. Photograph by Frank Bill. McLean County Museum of History. Pantagraph Negative Collection, 1946 – 1949. Courtesy of the McLean County Museum of History.
Eureka Pumpkin Festival Queen Serves Pie to Attendants, 1955. September 15, 1955. Eureka Public Library District. Pumpkins, Parades and Pies- Eureka’s Pumpkin Festival Past, 1939-1961. Courtesy of the Eureka Public Library District.
Flunk Day pie. circa 1980’s. Knox College. The Way to Knox. Courtesy of Knox College.

Want to see more? 

View more items related to pies on the IDHH.  

View Illinois Highlights blog posts published in 2019 and 2017 featuring the Eureka Pumpkin Festival items from the Eureka Public Library district.

Celebrating Illinois Writers

July 21 marks the 120th birthday of Illinois-born, internationally-acclaimed author, Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961). To celebrate, the IDHH highlights collections that include materials on several Illinois literary giants, including Gwendolyn Brooks, Carl Sandburg, and Hemingway himself.

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000) is one of the most celebrated U.S. poets, poet laureate of Illinois, and longtime Chicago resident. In 1949, She became the first African American writer to win a Pulitzer Prize. Brooks has a deep connection to African American history and culture, public life, and academics in Illinois. Throughout her life, Brooks spoke at libraries and campuses throughout the state, as demonstrated below in the photographs from the Lake Forest Academy and Ferry Hall Archives collection and Elgin Community College’s campus history collection. Gwendolyn Brooks came to Ferry Hall in 1969 and Lake Forest Academy in May of 1994 to speak to classes and give a reading of her poems. She visited Elgin Community College in 1995 to speak to high school and college English students. Brooks has perhaps the strongest connection to Illinois Wesleyan University, visiting the campus five times from 1972-1999, receiving an honorary doctorate there in 1973. See materials from her visits to Wesleyan here. See all of material in the IDHH on Brooks here.

Coincidentally, July also marks the death of another of the most celebrated writers in the state and the U.S., Carl Sandburg (1878-1967). Though best known for his poetry, especially his breathtaking naturalist and modernist pieces on urban life in Chicago, he was also a musician, editor, and prose author. One of his three Pulitzers was awarded for a biography on Lincoln. Sandburg was an advocate for civil rights and received an award from the NAACP in 1965. In the photo below from the Chicago History Museum’s Prints and Photographs Collection, Sandburg sits with his biographer, Harry Golden. Sandburg lived most of his life outside of Illinois but occasionally returned to his home state, including a visit to Knox College in 1958. Search all of the materials in the IDHH relating to Sandburg here.

Writers Carl Sandburg (left) and Harry Golden sit in Golden's office following the publication of his biography of the poet titled Carl Sandburg
Haun, Declan, 1937-1994 (photographer). Carl Sandburg and Harry Golden in Golden’s office. 1961. Chicago History Museum. Prints and Photographs Collection. Permission to display was given by Chicago History Museum.

Finally, the remarkable photographs below from the Ernest Hemingway Foundation, digitized by the Oak Park Library collection in the Illinois Digital Archive, showcase the early life of the author and his family in his hometown, a suburb of Chicago. Hemingway authored more than a dozen novels and short story collections throughout his life, receiving a Pulitzer for The Old Man and the Sea in 1953 and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954.  He is pictured below with his siblings, two of whom, Marcelline and Leicester, also became talented writers. Check out all of the IDHH materials on Hemingway here.