50 Pies for 50 States
Americans sure do love pie! In all 50 states, bakers have created their own classics—rich regional history expressed in a delicious dessert. So, which pie is tops in each state?
Creamy, custardy buttermilk pie was a forerunner of the elegant cheesecake, but is a not-elegant-sounding “desperation” pie. Desperation pies stepped in when fresh fruit was scarce. They’re making a comeback, and it’s easy to taste why after one bite!
Rhubarb and berries are big in Alaska because they grow there! In the early 20th century, Henry Clark—the Rhubarb King of Alaska—offered Gold Rush-ers a rare taste of fresh produce. Choose any berry you like—Alaska is home to nearly 50 varieties (most of which are edible).
Spanish settlers brought citrus to Arizona in the 18th century; today, Arizona is one of only four citrus-producing states and is second only to California in lemon production.
We may never know where chess pie got its name. Some say it was originally “cheese,” due to its soft, curdlike texture; others say it’s “chest,” because the pies could be stored in pie chests instead of refrigerated. Different chess pies use lemon, vinegar or buttermilk for tartness, but all contain cornmeal.
Sure, California is called the Golden State because of the Gold Rush, but it might as well be named that for lemons, too. The first citrus seeds planted in California were by Spanish missionaries in 1769, and the state’s first commercial citrus farm was planted in 1840 in what is now downtown Los Angeles.
We picked Rocky Road for the mighty Rockies! Legend has it, ice-cream maker William Dreyer used his wife’s sewing scissors to cut marshmallows to size for the original batch of ice cream.
History’s first recorded pie recipe was for a rye-crusted goat cheese and honey pie, published by the Romans. Today, honey pie’s flavor depends on the honey used, and Connecticut produces delicious honey. Use local honey, and your pie will have the flavor of your region—wherever that may be!
The Florida Keys gave the Key lime its name, but a hurricane wiped out the orchards in 1926. Nevertheless, the famous pie is still closely identified with the Sunshine State. Legend has it, the first Key lime pie was made on a boat, from just Key lime juice, egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk.
Despite its peachy nickname, Georgia’s state crop is actually peanuts. There are thousands of peanut farmers in Georgia, but former president Jimmy Carter is probably the most famous. (Psst: President Thomas Jefferson farmed peanuts, too!)
Forget the stereotypical pineapple, coconuts are the beloved fruit in the Aloha State. If you visit Hawaii, try Haupia Pie, a sweet, custardlike pie made with coconut milk and topped with whipped cream. In the meantime, whip up a coconut cream pie and dream of the islands!
The fiercest pie fight might be between Idaho and Montana—both claim huckleberry as their own. It makes sense: The delicious berry has never been domesticated, must be harvested by hand, and only grows in northern Idaho and Montana.
This distinctly American pie was created when European settlers adapted their traditional squash pie to the New World pumpkin. The pie is loved and baked throughout the United States, but Illinois nabbed it as their official state pie in 2015.
The Sugar Cream Pie is also known as the Hoosier Sugar Cream Pie, in case anyone was confused over just who it belongs to! This pie traces its origins to the Indiana Amish and Shaker communities in the 1800s, and it was named the official state pie in 2009.
If you’re from Iowa, you’ll definitely know this pie. It’s a classic of straight-from-Grandma’s-kitchen cooking, with generations of cooks reading from the same tattered recipe card. Soak the raisins so they’re plump and juicy, fold them into a tangy and sweet custard filling. Delicious!
Hazelnuts are the world’s fifth-largest tree nut crop, thanks in part to how they complement coffee and chocolate (hello, Nutella)! Hazelnuts grow in many parts of the U.S., including Kansas, and are also called filberts, probably in homage to the French St. Philbert, whose feast day coincides with the nut harvest.
This luscious mix of nuts, bourbon and chocolate is traditional eating on Kentuky Derby Day—but you can’t call it a Derby Pie. The name is trademarked by Kern’s Kitchen, home of the official Derby Pie. Some restaurants get cute, though, with names like “Derby Dessert” or “Not Derby Pie.”
People have eaten blackberries for 2,500 years—we have scientific proof from a prehistoric find in Denmark—and the succulent berries are found all over the world. In Louisiana, “Pick Your Own” farms bustle from mid-May through the end of July.
Maine is justifiably proud of its wild (lowbush) blueberries, which are smaller, brighter and have a more intense flavor than commercial (highbush) kinds. Maine has more than 60,000 acres of the blueberries, which grow on creeping bushes, and blueberry pie was named the official state dessert in 2011.
Who says sweet potatoes are the only potatoes for pie? Not the folks in Maryland! Geo. W. Arnold, on West Fayette Street, Baltimore, was advertising Potato Puddings (baked in a crust, so yes, pie) back in 1856. Marylanders have been making this special treat at least that long.
Other states may have claim to apple pie, but the Bay State gets a special shout out because of the special spin New Englanders put on their apple pie. New England apple pie must have cheddar—either slices on top, on the side or baked into the crust.
Traverse City, Michigan, is known nationally as “The Cherry Capital of the World,” while Eau Claire, Michigan is known as “The Cherry Pit Spitting Capital of the World.” There are more than 3.5 million tart cherry trees in Michigan. Every year, each tree can produce enough cherries for 28 pies.
Bananas might not scream “upper Midwest,” but in fact, the first recorded banana cream pie recipe was published in Minneapolis in 1880—right around the time bananas were first imported into the U.S. The dairy-loving Minnesotans got right on that.
Named after the muddy, rich ground along the banks of the Mississippi River, the Mississippi Mud pie comes in various forms—but all of them include chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate!
A staple from the Heartland, Butterscotch Pie is another in the family of custardy, pudding-y pie. In fact, many modern cooks skip to the finish and use a packet of butterscotch pudding. The custard for this pie is made from scratch, and is topped with the thing every butterscotch pie must have: meringue!
We finally called the fight for huckleberry pie a tie, and offered up two different recipes using the berry. Huckleberries are wild-growing, with a bright purple juice and a thicker skin. Visit Montana in the summer and you can choose from delights you can’t get anywhere else—except Idaho!
In Nebraska, they like their pies savory (pot pies, shepherd’s pies), and their desserts in the form of a hand-held pastry called a kolache. We crossed a fruit-filled pastry with a crumble topping suited to America’s breadbasket and present this pie in colors of red and white for the Cornhuskers!
Nevada is home to Las Vegas, famously known as Sin City. And is there any pie more sinfully delicious than chocolate cream? You can make it with instant pudding, sure, but if you make the custard from scratch, as in this one, it’s simply heavenly.
New Hampshire produces close to 90,000 gallons of maple syrup annually; how better to celebrate it than with this decadent pie? Use bold syrup (either dark amber or Grade B syrup—you’re not looking for a delicate maple taste) and be sure to let the pie cool completely so it sets!
There are two types of green tomatoes, for which New Jersey is famous: those that are green when ripe and unripe red tomatoes. Both can be used in baking. Ripe green tomatoes will often have vertical stripes or other color variations, will feel soft when pressed, and will taste much like a red tomato. Yum!
During the chile harvest season, roadside roasting stands pop up everywhere in New Mexico’s Hatch Valley. Locals buy chiles in 20-pound (or larger) bags, have them roasted, then freeze them to use all year.
In the South, sweet potato pie beats pumpkin hands down—and the people of North Carolina get to claim the sweet potato pie because they produce up to 60 percent of the nation’s crop. In 2016, the Tar Heel State farmed 95,000 acres of sweet potatoes—more than the next three producers combined.
No, you’re not confused. Bumbleberry isn’t a real berry—but it is a real pie! It’s a jumble of some combination of strawberries, blackberries, blueberries or raspberries, plus apples and rhubarb. Canada claims bumbleberry pie as a native invention, but North Dakotans, right across the border, have adopted it.
Even though the nuts of the buckeye tree are poisonous, that hasn’t stopped Ohio (the Buckeye State) from going buckeye mad. The buckeye pie is made of chocolate and peanut butter fillings, artfully layered to imitate the appearance of the nut—or the namesake candy.
The strawberry, the official state fruit of Oklahoma, is the only fruit that wears its seeds on the outside. Botanists consider each seed on a strawberry to be its own separate fruit; what you’re eating is actually the stem. Each strawberry has an average of 200 seeds. Who knew?
Oregon is known for Pinot Noir wine, but they call their marionberries “the Cabernet of blackberries.” Oregon produces 30 million pounds of them every year, but they’re not widely available outside the region. You can use blackberries for this pie until you get your hands on the real thing.
Shoofly pie comes two different ways: Dry-bottom pie is cake-like; wet-bottom has a gooey custard underneath the cakey surface. Depending on whom you ask, this pie gets its name from the flies that were “shooed” away as it cooled, or from a 19th century touring celebrity, Shoofly the Boxing Mule.
Rhode Island’s connection with coconuts dates back to 19th century, when whaling vessels brought them back from the tropics after voyages that could last up to three years. With custard pie already a favorite in New England, cooks quickly incorporated the exotic new food.
In the early 19th century, South Carolina persimmons were served dried, or made into beer. The native fruit is quite astringent, and needs to be fully ripe before achieving its sweet, aromatic flavor. Many Southerners say a persimmon can’t be picked—it’s not ripe until it falls off the tree.
While not technically pie, kuchen can’t be separated from South Dakota. According to the state’s Legislative Manual (yes, they legislated kuchen), the official state dessert is “a sweet dough crust filled with custard, which is served plain or studded with fruit…” Sounds enough like a pie to us!
What makes a Tennessee pecan pie different from a regular pecan pie? The answer’s easy—bourbon! A pie like this is where the sweet wood, vanilla and caramel flavors of bourbon (as opposed to the peaty edge of Tennessee whisky, which by law must be charcoal-filtered) scores big.
Why does Texas get pecan pie? Well, Texans really love pecans. The official state tree, state nut, and state dessert—all pecan. And because official state anything isn’t big enough for the Lone Star State, San Saba, Texas is the “Pecan Capital of the World.” Yes, Texas gets it.
Because it thrives even in cold climates, rhubarb is a favorite in cooler states (remember Alaska’s pie?)—and it grows abundantly in northern Utah. Because rhubarb is so tart, it’s usually either cooked with a whole lot of sugar or a sweet fruit—here, Utah’s state fruit, the cherry, does the honors.
No surprise what represents Vermont: The state leads the country in maple syrup production, tripling over the last decade to 1.8 million gallons per year. But the boom actually pales next to the 9 million gallons produced annually in the 1860s, when maple sugar was cheaper than cane sugar.
If you’re snacking on “peanuts and Cracker Jack” at a baseball game, those peanuts are sure to be Virginia peanuts. Now grown in other states as well, the Virginia peanut is the largest of all peanut types. They’re also commonly used in all-natural peanut butter.
Washington is the nation’s apple powerhouse, with more than 175,000 acres of orchards producing 125 million boxes—or 2.5 million tons—of apples every year. It takes between 35,000 and 45,000 pickers to harvest the crop during peak season: Apples are picked by hand, rather than machinery.
Now forget about Washington, the Mountain State is the official home of the Golden Delicious apple—it was first grown by Andrew H. Mullins in Clay County, in 1912. No relation to the Red Delicious, it is the mama apple for Galas, Ambrosias, Pink Ladies, Mutsus and Jonagolds.
Originally called the “crane berry” (because its blossom looks like a sandhill crane), the official state fruit of Wisconsin was first harvested there in 1860; the oldest bed still active was planted 140 years ago. The Badger State now produces nearly 60 percent of the nation’s cranberries.
Wyoming is another northern, cold-weather state that welcomed the hardy, tangy vegetable (did you think it was a fruit? Many people do!) and made it a staple for desserts. When buying rhubarb for a pie, look for medium to thick stalks; they’re the most tender.