Apple pie has long been emblematic of wholesome Americana. There’s even a saying tying the dessert to U.S. culture: “as American as apple pie.” But the classic treat actually originated across the ocean, in 14th-century England. The first known record of an apple pie recipe was in The Forme of Cury, an English cookbook compiled around 1390 by King Richard II’s cooks. The recipe calls for apples, figs, raisins, pears, and spices, but unlike the dessert we know today, it didn’t call for any additional sugar. All of the ingredients were to be baked inside a hard, lard-based shell called a “coffin,” meant to be a container, not a golden, flaky crust.
Eventually, apple pie made its way to America with European settlers; the first recorded mention of the dessert in the U.S. was in a 1697 diary. By the late 1700s, multiple updated recipes were included in America’s first known cookbook, American Cookery. By the early 1800s, American farmers were growing thousands of apple varieties. Apple pie continued to gain popularity through the 19th century, but it didn’t become a cultural icon until the 20th century. As early as 1902, a New York Times editorial called it a symbol of American prosperity, and by the 1920s, “as American as apple pie” started to appear in print. The dessert’s position as a meaningful part of American culture was all but cemented during World War II, when soldiers proudly declared that they enlisted for “mom and apple pie.”