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Why is it called Dutch apple pie?

Apple pie is one of the most classic and beloved desserts in many cultures, especially in the United States. With its buttery, flaky crust and sweet, tart filling, apple pie has been satisfying sweet tooths for centuries. But if you’ve ever wondered why this quintessentially American dessert has the word “Dutch” in its name, you’re not alone.

The origins of Dutch apple pie stretch back hundreds of years and across continents. Its development from a relatively simple German apple cake to the elaborate French tart and eventually the classic American pie took place over centuries, with the Dutch being key innovators along the way. Unpacking the name requires digging into the history of apples, pie pastry, and european cuisine, so let’s take a slice out of this dessert mystery and find out why it’s called Dutch apple pie.

The History of Apples in Europe

To understand how Dutch apple pie developed, we first need to learn about the history of apples themselves in Europe. Apples are not native to Europe – most apple species originated in central Asia and were brought westward by travelers along the Silk Road. Historical evidence shows apples first arrived in ancient Greece by the 8th century BC and had spread to the Roman empire by 100 AD.

After the collapse of Rome, apple cultivation declined in Europe until resurgence in the Medieval ages. Monks in monasteries across northern Europe grew apples and experimented with different varieties. As early as the 12th century AD, there is evidence of apple orchards being cultivated in what is now The Netherlands. Dutch traders eventually introduced these apples to England and America in the 17th century.

So while apples are not indigenous to The Netherlands, the Dutch were early and prolific cultivators of European apples. Their orchards produced sour cooking apples that were well suited for baking – laying the foundation for Dutch apple pies.

Medieval European Apple Baking

Once apple varieties spread across medieval Europe, cooks in different regions began experimenting with apples in sweet and savory dishes. While the ancient Greeks and Romans incorporated apples into some dishes, baking apples into sweet pies and tarts truly took off in the middle ages.

In Germany, an early apple cake emerged by the 1300s called apfelkuchen. These rustic desserts combined cooked apple slices with a basic batter in a round cake form. Apfelkuchen remains a staple of German baking today.

Moving into the Renaissance era, French and Italian bakers advanced apple desserts further. In France, the traditional tarte aux pommes emerged, with paper-thin apple slices arranged elegantly in intricate spirals on top of a filled tart. Italy developed a similar crostata di mele cake. These pastries represented height of Renaissance sophistication compared to earlier German apple cakes.

So by the 16th century, most regions of western continental Europe had developed some tradition of baking apples into desserts, often simply called “apple cake” or “apple tart” in their local language. The Dutch version was called appeltaart, producing early forms of what we think of as apple pie today.

Innovations in Dutch Apple Baking

It was in Holland that bakers really began innovating with apple desserts and developing what became the prototypical Dutch apple pie. Unlike German apfelkuchens with their cake-like batter base, Dutch apple pies featured a thin, crisp bottom crust. This crust protected the filling from oven heat and allowed the pies to bake longer into a melting, tender interior beneath the crust.

The Dutch were also responsible for adding ingredients like cinnamon, nutmeg, raisins, and almonds into the apple filling, creating a more complex spiced and sweetened profile. Cider from the flourishing Dutch apple orchards often went into the recipes too, adding moisture and acidity. These spice and liquid additions set Dutch apple pies apart from the relatively plain French tarts and Italian crostatas of the era.

Pie historians believe Dutch bakers were also the first to experiment with covering the fruit filling completely with a top pie crust. Earlier European apple cakes left the apples exposed in the center. A top crust made Dutch apple pies more portable for merchants and sailors to transport, since the apples were fully encased and protected.

The Dutch became globally dominant traders during this period with the growth of the spice trade and their naval fleets. As they traded worldwide, they also shared their apple pie innovations far and wide. Their pies influenced English, German, and other European apple desserts. Soon this Dutch-style apple pie began appearing in cookbooks across Europe.

Dutch Apple Pies Arrive in America

In the early 1600s, the first Dutch settlers began arriving in the colony of New Netherland, located on the east coast of North America. This colony later became New York State. These settlers brought Dutch apple pie recipes and traditions along with them to their new homeland.

As more immigrants from England, Germany, and other European countries populated North America, they also brought their own unique baking traditions. Different regional apple pies fused together into what became the classic American version – far more elaborate than any earlier European apple cakes and pies.

The Pennsylvania Dutch in particular, many of German ancestry, made apple pies popular in America during the colonial era. America’s bounty of apples, along with innovations like double crusts,created the massive mile-high pies Americans now associate with apple pie. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and other spices were used heavily to preserve the pies for longer duration through harsh North American winters.

So while Dutch settlers were not solely responsible for establishing apple pie in America, their early influential apple pies left a lasting mark. Even as apple pie evolved into its distinctly American incarnation, the Dutch adjective remained attached. The name honored the baking traditions first imported from The Netherlands centuries earlier.

Why Dutch Apple Pie Became Uniquely American

After its introduction from European settlers, apple pie evolved in unique ways within the American cultural context. A few key factors caused this dessert to take on its distinctly American identity.

Abundance of Apples

Unlike most of Europe, vast areas of North America have ideal climate conditions for apple cultivation. Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman) traveled westward planting orchards across Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana in the early 1800s. By the mid-19th century, America’s apple output exceeded all of Europe combined. This bounty made the fruit accessible for baked goods nationwide.

Innovations in Oven Technology

Early Dutch ovens with deep solid lids were well suited simmering apple pies gently. As American wood stoves became popular in the 1700s-1800s, their enhanced airflow and temperature control enabled perfecting double crust apple pies with thick, juicy fillings. Americans could bake their pies to golden perfection.

Cultural Melting Pot

America’s diversity allowed apple pies to evolve further. German and Dutch traditions merged with English techniques while Africans and Carribeans added spices like nutmeg. This blend resulted in apple pie becoming uniquely American over time, while still retaining its Dutch roots.

Commercial Production

As American bakeries industrialized in the 19th century, apple pie became their most popular offering. Local bakeries proliferated apple pies coast to coast for just a few pennies, allowing Americans of all backgrounds to enjoy this dessert. Pies became symbolic of American innovation and prosperity.

Family Recipes

Particularly on the frontier, pioneer women baked apple pies from treasured family recipes carried westward. These pies represented home, comfort, and tradition for struggling homesteaders. Their preservation helped apple pie root deeply in American culture.

Pop Culture Symbolism

American pop culture through the 20th century indelibly associated apple pie with tradition, small town values, patriotism, and national identity. Phrases like “as American as apple pie” cemented this dessert as a cultural icon.


So in summary, Dutch apple pie earned its name from the early baking traditions and influence of the Dutch. Their pies differed from earlier European apple cakes thanks to innovations like two crusts, spiced fillings, and use of cider. Dutch settlers brought these baking traditions to America, which then diversified into its own regional apple pie recipes over centuries. Its symbolic resonance in American culture transformed apple pie into a unique national icon while still retaining its Dutch roots. So next time you enjoy a slice of this classic dessert, know that you owe thanks in part to bakers in The Netherlands from centuries ago!