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‘50 Pies, 50 States’ Has Classic Takes and Creative Spins

Stacey Mei Yan Fong’s cookbook includes recipes for an array of delicious pies with a side of U.S. history


spinner image stacey mei yan fong sitting on chair against blue background with pie slice cutouts on it
Photo Collage: MOA Staff; (Source: Alanna Hale)

Pie is more than a delicious baked good; it’s a reflection of the place where it was baked. And no one knows this better, possibly, than Stacey Mei Yan Fong.

Fong spent her youth primarily in Hong Kong before immigrating to the United States to attend the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. It was in the U.S. that Fong discovered sweet pies — her first was an apple pie à la mode. “There’s so many different kinds of pie in America, like custard and fruit and icebox, that I was, like, ‘Whoa,’ because before that I really only thought it was chicken pot pie or steak-and-kidney pie or some sort of meat-and-gravy pie,” Fong, 34, tells AARP. “It kind of opened up a whole new world of what pie could be for me.”

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After college, Fong stayed in the States and worked as a fashion designer. In 2015, a friend gave her a copy of The Four & Twenty Blackbirds Pie Book, and she fell in love with the process of crafting the perfect crust and fillings. This led to a baking stint at the famed pie shop of the same name in Brooklyn.

Then, in 2016, she began baking her way across America from her home kitchen. She blogged about her pies, which led to the creation of her new book, 50 Pies, 50 States: An Immigrant’s Love Letter to the United States Through Pie (June 2023). It contains classic recipes plus recipes with a Fong twist, as well as historical information to help fellow bakers learn more about the United States through its pies, too.

spinner image 50 pies, 50 states book cover featuring one full pie, one half pie and several different pieces of pie on plates
Voracious

Bake With Stacey

Fong shared a crust recipe and two pie recipes from 50 Pies, 50 States for AARP members to try:

All-Butter Crust

Bakers have their preferences of which fat to use, like lard or vegetable shortening, but I’m all about the butter, baby.

Scallion Bagel Pie With Lox, Onion and Thinly Sliced Lemon

This pie is based on my favorite bagel order and honors my current home in Brooklyn.

Blushing Prickly Pear and Apple Pie (Arizona)

Blushing apples and candied ginger meld perfectly with the prickly pear for this pie, which is best to bake in late summer through early winter, as that’s the peak season for prickly pears in the Northern Hemisphere.

When Fong embarked on the project, some of the themes were obvious. Florida? Key lime pie. Same for Massachusetts and its Boston cream. “Then, for other states, like North Dakota, Michigan, South Dakota, Oklahoma, I got to kind of deep dive into what makes that state so special,” she says.

In doing so, Fong learned historical tidbits that go beyond grade school trivia. “I found out about all these mining towns in Montana, and how they would eat pasties [pie crust filled with meat and vegetables] that they brought over from England and turn that into pie form,” Fong says. Miners would fill half-moon-shaped pastry shells with meats and vegetables on one side and fruit on the other to create a hearty meal that weighed about 2 pounds, Fong writes in her book. Her homage is a sweet and savory recipe with buffalo stew and cherry fillings.

Fong’s book also pays homage to some of the individuals she encountered while doing her research. For example, South Dakota’s wild rice pudding pie, filled with wild rice pudding and sunflower milk, honors Eric Zimmer, a historian from the Black Hills. “I wanted an ode to the Indigenous people that were here before everybody else came, and the foods they ate,” Fong says. Zimmer helped her focus on using different types of grains and substituting fruit in lieu of sugar as a sweetener. The resulting pie stuns with sunflower-shaped petals made of blue cornmeal crust and a vibrant berry-bergamot topping. The sunflower milk, used in the filling, is easily made with seeds.

“In America, there are Mexican restaurants everywhere, Chinese restaurants, Vietnamese restaurants, but there's barely any restaurants that serve Native American or Indigenous cuisine, which I think is kind of insane, because I feel like that's the food that I would like to try,” says Fong.

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Of course, not everyone will agree with Fong’s choice of pie for each state. “It doesn't have to be for everybody,” she says. “And I feel like the discourse and dialogue is what makes this country so interesting, so I'm ready.” Some might even say that the freedom to have such disagreements is as American as apple pie.

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