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A la Mode: In Fashion or Not?

Here’s another confession: I prefer my pies plain, without whipped cream or ice cream or other toppings.

Celestial Blueberry Pie

Imagine a piece of Celestial Blueberry Pie with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Yum!

If you use good ingredients, then why mask the delicate flavor of the fruit and the texture and delight of fine pie crust?

I recognize, however, that I am probably in the minority on this issue. Pie “a la mode” has become the accepted way to serve pie in America, it seems. Fine, if that’s how you like it. But do me—and yourself—a favor next time. Before you top your pie with whipped cream or ice cream, just taste it plain. Savor the fruit and flavor. If you still want to make it a la mode after that, go ahead. But I’ll wager some of you will agree with me and stick to the naked pie.

A la mode is French for "in style" or "in fashion," so I wondered how the term came to be applied to pie.

As the story goes, the Cambridge Hotel in Cambridge NY was the original home of pie a la mode.

In the 1890s a Professor Townsend was a regular customer there and liked his pie with ice cream. Another diner, Mrs Berry Hall, observed this and (for reasons that are never explained) called it a la mode.

Professor Townsend ordered it all the time, and when some time later he visited Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York, he was astonished when they did not recognize his order for pie a la mode. The embarrassed manager, not wanting to be out of fashion, added pie a la mode to his menu.

A newspaper reporter who happened to be dining there picked up the story, and the rest is as American as apple pie.

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