March 13, 2014 – American Food Roots is a relatively young organization with a mission I support: Chronicling and celebrating the culinary traditions of all 50 states. For National Pie Day (January 23), they interviewed me about Colorado’s pie connection. In a circular way, I’ll pass it on in honor of National Pi Day (March 14):
BY JULIE GILKISON
American Food Roots
Charlie Papazian would rather have pie than cake for his birthday. So on his 26th birthday, in 1975, Papazian — then a teacher in Boulder, Colo. — proclaimed Jan. 23 to be National Pie Day forevermore.
Charlie Papazian, left, started National Pie Day and founded the American Pie Council in 1975. He turned over leadership of the APC to John Lehndorff, shown here with Dana Derischweller. / Lehndorff photo courtesy of John Lehndorff
His young students — from kindergarten through second grade — brought in dozens of pies for his celebratory day, and they contacted Chase’s Calendar of Events, a McGraw-Hill product, to make the day official. Until 1995, according to Chase’s, the U.S. Congress determined special observances. It still issues the occasional commemorative resolution — as do states, governors and the U.S. president — but not in the volume of the past. The Chase’s editorial staff includes a special day, week or month in its annual reference guide “based on the authority of the organization observing it,” among other factors.
Papazian and his students needed a national organization with a phone number before the day could be recognized. So they created the American Pie Council, which Papazian quickly handed off to his fellow pie-lover, John Lehndorff. Papazian was too busy starting a national craft and homebrewing beer movement, organizing the Great American Beer Festival and writing homebrewing books. The next organization he founded was the American Homebrewers Association.
Lehndorff, 59, was happy to stick with pies. He grew up in Massachusetts, surrounded by pumpkin and fresh blueberry pies. He learned to make pie when he relocated to Boulder and worked in restaurants, where he met Papazian.
Lehndorff says Colorado has a long history of pie making, introduced by early European settlers. Pie competitions throughout Colorado were precursors to state and county fairs, with pumpkin the filling of choice. When the railroad reached the Rocky Mountains in the late 1800s, it brought along apples. Today, apples are Colorado’s largest fruit crop, according to the Colorado Department of Agriculture.
Colorado pie making was in its prime during the 1940s. Jack Kerouac, the author of “On the Road,” made his way across the country eating ice cream and apple pie. He stopped for it at the Loaf and Ladle in Longmont, Colo., which still serves ice cream and apple pie.
Lehndorff led the American Pie Council through the early 1990s, creating the Great American Pie Festival as a sister event to Papazian’s Great American Beer Festival. (He also launched The Pie Times, a seasonal newsletter.) For the last 15 years, the APC has partnered with shortening maker Crisco on the festival. Now held in Celebration, Fla., the annual affair features a never-ending pie buffet, creation stations, demonstrations and pie competitions — which last year drew more than 800 entries.
Last year, Lehndorff traveled across his state in search of the best pies, which inspired the 2014 Colorado Pie Trail Calendar. The calendar — sprinkled with Colorado pie trivia — features photos of the pies and people who make them, including those at Granny Scott’s Pie Shop in Lakewood, Corner Pie Cafe in Colorado Springs and Wednesday’s Pie in Denver.
Lehndorff hosts a weekly radio show about Colorado regional food. For National Pie Day, he’ll be on the air all day talking pie. He’ll celebrate with his favorite: wild blueberry pie. Pie lovers, bakers and eaters will celebrate with hometown festivals, bake-offs and tastings.
All because Charlie Papazian wanted pie for his birthday.