Nothing is as American as apple pie, unless you ask Iowa’s grandmothers, who have something else in mind. Namely: rhubarb, peach, gooseberry, bumbleberry and triple berry.
Every summer across Iowa’s sleepy highways, 20,000 cyclists come together for RAGBRAI, an annual bike ride that runs the length of the state. The biggest draw, however, is the local fare along the route, notably Iowa’s fruit pies. From each small town to the next, Iowa’s grandmothers, guardians of generations-old recipes, dole out an estimated 10,000 pies at $2 a slice.
Riders fuel up with traditional favorites like apple or cherry, but true pie lovers look for the unusual: banana, strawberry, pear. Ice cream on top is a rarity because of the heat. Cream pies are borderline blasphemy. Blueberry goes the quickest, says T.J. Juskiewicz, director of RAGBRAI, which stands for the (Des Moines) Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa.
Mark Hilton, a veterinarian known as Dr. Pie, judged RAGBRAI’s baked goods for almost a decade, regularly averaging 25 slices a week. Seven a day, he has found, is his limit. “There’s nothing more unique to Iowa than homemade pies by ladies from the local church,” says Dr. Pie, who’s partial to the rare grape pie.
Julie Andress, a member of Team Pie Hunter, which turned its bike helmets into giant pie slices, says the strangest she’s eaten is a syrupy Dixie pie made with coconut, pecan and raisin. “I don’t think there’s any pie I’ve wanted and couldn’t find,” she says.