With almost every food blogger this month writing cupcake’s obituary and declaring pie the new belle of the bakery, it occurred to me the psychological subtext of these two desserts could reveal a deeper trend in society. As sweet indulgences, both cupcakes and pie are enjoyment foods, but each evokes a different emotional response.
Cupcakes are fun and exciting-what mommy brought to school when you had a birthday. Pies are cozy and comforting-what Aunt Mildred baked for Sunday dinner. If baked goods were humans, cupcakes would be six-year-olds; pies, their grandmas.
Culture Map: “Rachel Ray says pie is the new cupcake . . . “
During cupcakes’ recent heyday, boutique cupcakeries seemed to magically appear out of nowhere. The financial bubble had burst; it was difficult to cope with the economic and emotional aftershocks.
Many of us reverted to our childhood pleasures, escaping into a world of child-sized cakes with fanciful frostings. It was as if a modern day Marie Antoinette (Barbara Bush?) had commanded, “Let them eat cupcakes,” so we did.
With their serious foundational crusts, pies connote strength and stability. They contain wholesome good-for-you fruit and, unlike childish cupcakes, are not overly sweet.
Pies evoke a Norman Rockwell feeling of nostalgia, a happier and simpler time in American history, if only because societal cracks were airbrushed back then instead of magnified under the relentless cable news microscope.
NPR: “Texas and New York restaurants offer pie happy hours . . . “
Some food forecasters are predicting that pies will adopt some of cupcakes’ traits; for instance, miniature one-serving pies (think Hostess fruit pies but better). Others are predicting a merger with the locavore trend, with serious pie bakers using only fresh local fruit.
NPR reports pies are even being served at weddings (let’s just hope passive-aggressive brides and grooms don’t smash pie in each others’ faces).
The return to pie could mean we are ready to go back to a roll-up-your-shirtsleeves (and pie dough) era. Or it could just signify Americans have grown tired of cutesy cupcakes. As Freud might have said, “sometimes a pie is just a pie.”