“Pie is the American synonym of prosperity, and its varying contents the calendar of changing seasons. Pie is the food of the heroic. No pie-eating people can be permanently vanquished.” -New York Times editor, May 3, 1902
Technically speaking, March 14th marks a day of celebration for a never-ending number named after a letter of the Greek alphabet.
π = 3.14159265359…
Pi is this mathematical constant, defining the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. And we think that’s great. What we can REALLY get into on 3/14 – a.k.a. Pi Day – is the holiday’s joyous association with America’s favorite dessert.
Apple pie wasn’t born in the Americas, but here in the United States it has been elevated to celebrity status. Revered to the point of being part of an American identity, a quick apple pie fix is guaranteed at any convenience store or McDonald’s. However, the true dessert guru knows that the pie you really want is fresh baked with apples from our country’s grand swaths of apple orchards. These farms, concentrated in the Midwest and New England but spanning Washington state through California, prove that although we didn’t create the apple we’ve certainly embraced it as our own. The U.S. comes second only to China – the common apple’s birth home – in gross apple production, and cranks out hundreds of different commercial varieties with distinct colors, sizes, and tastes. An average of 240 million bushels of apples are produced in the U.S. each year, and with such high production it’s easy to assume that mechanization has taken over much of the processes.
“The truth is, every apple that you see in the supermarket is picked by hand,” says Philip Baugher, who runs a fruit tree nursery in Adams County [Pennsylvania].
Those are some busy hands. The average apple farmworker -a real live person with superhuman hand dexterity and an enormous bag tied to their waist – is ten feet up on a ladder throughout the autumn months to pick our favorite pie filling. About 70,000 migrant and seasonal workers gather our fall apple harvest, the bulk of them from Mexico or Central America. Thousands of them are AFOP’s pupils, receiving mandatory health and safety training in pesticide exposure, heat stress, and the EPA’s Worker Protection Standards. Orchards in the northeast, particularly, see a number of Haitian and Jamaican harvesters as well, who helped inspire our training materials written in Haitian Creole.
Not for years, but for many decades, we have had mostly foreign-born workers to thank for bringing our famed apple pie to the table. If those apples are part of your family recipes, if you see them shining at the head of every produce aisle, if they are your toddler’s fruit of choice: recall that just a few centuries back these foreign cultivates found home here, taking root and thriving as a now-integral part of the landscape. Today they are as American – we might say – as apple pi.
To American transplants old and new – happy Pi Day! π
Interactive map of Apple Varieties and Orchards
1984 New York Times Article on Migrant Apple Pickers
How Apple Pie Became “American”