Pie a la Mode
|Place of origin||United States|
|Region or state||Minnesota|
|Creator||John Gieriet of the Hotel La Perl|
|Main ingredients||Pie, ice cream|
|Cookbook: Pie à la Mode Media: Pie à la Mode|
Pie à la Mode was first invented and named by John Gieriet in Duluth, Minnesota in 1885. Over five decades later, in 1936, an erroneous claim was made that Pie a la Mode was first invented at the Cambridge Hotel in Cambridge, Washington County, New York in the 1890s. It was said that while visiting the hotel, Professor Charles Watson Townsend ordered a slice of apple pie with ice cream. When asked by another guest what he called the dish he replied it had no name. The guest, Mrs. Berry Hall, named it pie à la mode. Professor Townsend subsequently ordered it by that name every day during his stay. When he later ordered it by that name at Delmonico's Restaurant in New York City, the waiter answered that he had never heard of it. Prof. Townsend chastised the waiter by stating:
Do you mean to tell me that so famous an eating place as Delmonico's has never heard of Pie à la Mode, when the Hotel Cambridge, up in the village of Cambridge, NY serves it every day? Call the manager at once, I demand as good serve [sic] here as I get in Cambridge.
The manager, when called by the waiter, declared "Delmonico's never intends that any other shall get ahead of it... Forthwith, pie à la mode will be featured on the menu every day". A reporter for the New York Sun newspaper overheard the disturbance, and wrote an article about it the next day. Soon, pie à la mode became a standard on menus around the United States.
When Charles Watson Townsend, died on May 20, 1936, a controversy developed as to who really invented Pie a la Mode. The New York Times reported that “Pie a la Mode” was first invented by Townsend at the Cambridge Hotel in Cambridge, New York in the late 1800s. It was later reported by several sources that Townsend ordered pie and ice cream at the Cambridge Hotel in 1896, and thus invented the dessert. The legend also states that a reporter from The Sun newspaper in New York overheard a conversation between the manager of Delmonico's Restaurant and Charles Townsend. The reporter was said to have written about the incident in the very next issue of The Sun.
After an extensive digital archive search of The Sun as well as the New York Tribune and the New York Times, no such article has been found. This casts a serious shadow on the validity of the Townsend story.
A reporter from the St. Paul Pioneer Press read Townsend’s obituary in the New York Times and realized that the Times had incorrectly attributed the invention of “Pie a la Mode” to Townsend. The St. Paul reporter wanted to set the record straight, so the newspaper ran a story on May 23, 1936 about how the dessert was really invented inside a Superior Street restaurant in Duluth, Minnesota in the 1880s. The St. Paul newspaper indicated that the Duluth restaurant specifically served ice cream with blueberry pie. This was over a decade before Townsend first ordered pie with ice cream in New York, making Duluth the true birthplace of Pie a la Mode.
A grand opening bill of fare, for the Hotel la Perl, was published in the March 26, 1885 issue of the Duluth Daily Tribune. The hotel was located at 501-503 West Superior Street in Duluth. The menu showed the hotel restaurant serving both vanilla ice cream and blueberry pie.
The owner of the hotel was John Gieriet. He was born in Tavetsch, Switzerland on February 6, 1829. He later moved to France where he learned to speak French. Gieriet moved to the United States in 1854. In 1856, Gieriet was put in charge of food service at the White House under the administration of President Franklin Pierce. He continued in that position into the late 1850s when he served under the administration of President James Buchanan.
The Gieriets moved to Duluth in 1885 and purchased the Commercial Hotel, which had been built in 1884 by William Dambruck. John re-named the building “Hotel La Perl”. It was a large 2-story wood-frame building with a flat roof. A saloon, that was located on the first floor, was converted into a restaurant and the rear laundry room was remodeled into a kitchen. On the Hotel La Perl’s first day of business, John Gieriet served up a fancy dinner that included French pickles, oysters, French peas, and Lake Superior Trout. For dessert, he served warm blueberry pie and vanilla ice cream. Gieriet called the popular treat “Pie a la Mode”. It was reported in the Duluth Herald that Duluthians in the 1880’s, often mispronounced the local invention as “Pylie Mode”. In 1886, the Duluth Weekly Tribune stated that the Hotel La Perl had gained a “first-class reputation” under the management of John Gieriet. John continued to operate the Hotel La Perl until his wife became very ill in 1886. He ended up selling the hotel in August of that year.
Pie a la Mode wasn’t John Gieriet’s only invention. He received a United States patent for a railroad car ventilating apparatus on June 20, 1882. He also received a patent on October 30, 1899 for a type of fire escape. By 1910, John Gieriet had moved to New York City where he died on May 22, 1912 at the age of 83.
Whoever put ice cream on a pie first is a topic of discussion without a definitive answer. What is known is that it was served at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, where some restaurant venue served slices of pie with a scoop of ice cream on top. The French saw it as audacious, and someone exclaimed in a French newspaper review: “How Modern!” (à la mode translates literally as "in the [current] fashion"). Americans took the name, and called the process of putting ice cream on pie (or anything) as “à la mode.”
In France there is an old recipe called bœuf à la mode that dates to the 1600s. So, braising beef in white wine was "modern" then, and putting a scoop of ice cream on pie or tart was "modern" at the turn of the century. When traveling in France, not many waiters will understand the phrase "pie a la mode," as that is an American adaptation that denotes ice cream. In French, "à la mode" has no relation to ice cream.
Pie a la mode was introduced in post war Elm Grove, West Virginia by William F. Powell, a student at Saint Michael's Catholic Church on December 22, 1950 at Wheeling Hospital.
- Linda Stradley (2004). "History of Apple Pie". What's cooking America?. Retrieved 2009-07-28.
- Christiane Byrd (2006). New York State. Avalon Travel Publishing. p. 400. ISBN 978-1-61238-087-2. Retrieved 2009-07-28.
- Sheboygan Press (WI): July 25, 1963, pg. 14, Nothing French in That Pie a la Mode.
- Lakeland Ledger (FL): August 16, 1984, Apple Pie a la Mode: Origin of Flawless Dessert Pearl.
- New York Times, May 21, 1936, pg.23, Charles W. Townsend
- St. Paul Pioneer Press, May 23, 1936, pg. 8, An Invention in Doubt.
- Duluth Herald, May 25, 1936, pg. 16, Had 'Finger in Pie'.
- Duluth News-Tribune, July 29, 1956, pg. 4-B, Pylie Mode Originated in Duluth.
- St. Paul Daily Globe, February 8, 1889, pg.1, Reached the Three Score Mark.
- Alden, Ogle Illustrated Album of Biography of the Famous Valley of the Red River of the North and Park Regions of Minnesota and North Dakota 1889 pgs. 797-798
- Duluth Weekly Tribune, August 13, 1886, pg. 1, Hotel Change.
- Flaherty, Mike: The Legends of Pie a la Mode, 2012 (Duluth Public Library)