Pie of the beholder

For those who don’t bake, here’s a guide to buying apple pies

You have your weather report, your vital stats, sports reports, political analysis ad nauseum, and yet in this “land of the free and home of the brave” we have not a single report on one of the three pillars of our republic. So in response to requests, I refer not to God, nor mother, but apple pie.

So how do you compare apple pies? The method I used was a combination of how much it reminded me of my mom’s pies and how long the pie in question lasted on the kitchen counter. I was looking for a pie that wouldn’t see morning.

OK, you say, show me the data.

Sadly, I suppose, the need for apple pie first struck me last August at Albertson’s. They’ve got a bakery. They’ve got apples. I’ve got a cart. I can do this!

As it turns out, Albertson’s has its apple pies shipped in. They’re only $4.99, and although I ended up eating the whole thing within a couple of days, it was not what I would call “great” apple pie. For those of you who insist on a ranking, I gave that pie 2 1/2 forks.

Safeway was next. I asked, as always, for their best plain apple pie. No Dutch crumb crust, no French apple—I’m just trying, without leaving town, to find a great, plain apple pie. I got, for $6.99, a good-looking pie from a bakery “department,” a place that I was sure had an oven. It looked better than the Albertson’s pie. Nice crust, nice box, nice pie. But not great. As difficult as it is to make these comparisons, I have to say three forks for Safeway’s pie.

At this point, I began to notice a trend, as I am sure the astute reader has as well. I was looking for pie in all the wrong places. While the aforementioned, well-meaning establishments had bakeries, none of them were bakeries.

So guess how many regular bakeries there are in Chico? If you believe the phone book, the answer is three. Of those, guess how many will even make you an apple pie if you ask them? Only one—the Upper Crust, bless their hearts.

I left immediately for the “bakery.” Eleven dollars and three days later I had my prize. That’s right—they don’t stock ’em. I couldn’t believe it, and it should have been a clue, but I was patient and persistent. Good things come to those who wait, right? Right. The crust was better. The pie itself was a little bigger and better, but I felt the slices of apple were just a little large and a little too turgid to achieve my subjective and unscientific judgment of great. Still, a really good four-fork apple pie can be had at the Upper Crust, the sentimental favorite.

But there is another place in our environs that specializes in pies. No waiting and open till 10 p.m. It was 9:40—maybe I could still get there. By 9:59, I was in the door of Marie Callender’s—$9.99 for the clerk, and I was out with my pie. Once in my kitchen, I opened the box. Perhaps someday there will be a formal competition, but for my money so far the winner was Marie Callender’s.

The pie didn’t last 24 hours. Five forks.

Then it occurred to me, I have heard Kalico Kitchen is known for its pies. My research was not complete. Off to Kalico Kitchen. And I am not kidding you: I am prepared to announce a tie for first place in this year’s Apple Pie Report. You heard it here first—Kalico Kitchen’s apple pie also got five forks.

All and all, my gut feeling is I haven’t gained that much weight. And while the anticipation in front of each new pie was fun, I felt compelled to commit this research to writing so at least I might remember the results, while unlocking some of the local pie-quality mystery for my pie-buying friends.