Eating humble Midwest pies made with simple, regional ingredients

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A man distributes slices of pie to young contestants in a pie-eating contest at a 4-H club fair in 1939. The first recorded pie-eating contest was held in Toronto, Canada, in 1878. Photo by Russell Lee, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

Pennsylvania Dutch pies are a favorite of Clevelander Meredith Pangrace. Born of long winters when fruit trees were barren, they rely on simple ingredients from the farm — eggs, milk, sugar. In her book, Midwest Pie: Recipes That Shaped a Region, Pangrace shares recipes that are unique to the pantheon of circular baked pastry.

Although a vinegar pie doesn't sound appealing, Pangrace explains that the inclusion of apple cider vinegar adds acidity without requiring fruit. When in season, apples, black walnuts, Concord grapes, persimmons, and maple syrup are popular fillings. 

While researching pies of the Midwest, Pangrace kept coming across a recipe for Angel Pie. An inverted pie where the filling is poured into the meringue, it looks like the filling is floating on clouds.

The region is also known for its pumpkin pie. Libby's, the company that produces those ubiquitous cans of puree you see on supermarket shelves, is based in Illinois.

A woman making a pie in 1943. Photo by John Collier Jr., Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

In an Impossible Pie, which is of Amish origin, ingredients separate during the baking to create their own crust. Modern versions use Bisquick baking mix. 

A combination of blueberries and rhubarb (also popular as a jam) is the basis for another Midwestern classic, the Bluebarb Pie. When in season, the fruits meld to give the pie both sweet and tart flavors. 

Jell-O, pudding, and Cool Whip provide nostalgia and comfort while a cottage cheese pie is baked like a custard with the inclusion of crushed pineapple in a graham cracker crust.

Meredith Pangrace can walk around her Cleveland neighborhood and collect black walnuts, a favorite pie ingredient in the Midwest. Photo courtesy of Belt Publishing.

Midwest Pie: Recipes That Shaped a Region
looks back on classics like Sawdust, Funeral, and Millionaire pies. Photo courtesy of Belt Publishing.