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Peach Pie A La Mode

Updated on July 11, 2011

Escaping the Summer Heat

Tucson, Arizona is a great place to live.   Except in summer.

The weather is pleasantly warm during most of the autumn, winter and spring months.  These months are a great time to get out and do things out of doors.

However, come summer, the weather not only becomes extremely hot, but the accompanying monsoon brings an abundance of moist air into the area which leads to increased humidity.

Arizonians often rationalize away the high temperatures by saying that it is a dry heat.  And, for the record, up to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit (about 38 Celsius) the the heat isn’t too bad so long as the humidity is low.

However, increase the humidity and the outside air begins to become uncomfortable as the temperature moves into the eighties and nineties.

At 100 degrees and above it becomes intolerable.

So, on this July Saturday, with the temperature in the shade registering about 105 degrees and the air laden with moisture, my wife, son and I had two choices.

Either spend another weekend sitting inside with the air conditioning running full blast or get out of town.

We Choose to Get Out of Town!

Eighty miles south east of our home in northwest Tucson is the small city of Willcox, Arizona. Located in the Sonoran Desert, as is Tucson, Willcox sits in a mountain valley 4,156 feet above sea level - which makes it 1,767 feet higher in altitude than Tucson.

This nearly 1,800 foot difference in altitude was a major reason the temperature in Willcox was only 93 degrees when we arrived. Of course, 93 degrees and humid is still not comfortable but 93 degrees in the sun is no where near as uncomfortable as 105 degrees in the shade.

Our destination in Willcox was Apple Annie’s Orchard a place we have visited frequently in the Autumn but never in the summer.

However, Apple Annie’s orchard includes peach trees as well as apple trees and its fields contain a whole range of various vegetables besides pumpkins.

So, instead of our usual apples and pumpkins, which will have to wait until Fall, this mid-July trip was made to pick peaches. Our goal was to pick some peaches to make a pie and other peach goodies.

Despite the heat, we managed to pick a half a bucket (about 12 pounds) of peaches before deciding we had enough.

Not wanting to leave so soon, we cooled off for a while in the gift shop. It was then that I decided what I really needed to cool off was a slice of their peach pie a la mode - a large slice of freshly made peach pie topped by a large scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Pies and Ice Cream in America

While not an American invention, fruit pies have been a popular American desert since early colonial times.  Pies were common in Europe long before Christopher Columbus stumbled upon the New World while seeing a sea route to the Orient.  However, European pies generally consisted of meat and vegetables wrapped and cooked in a crust for easy transport and eating.

However, the abundance of fruits and berries in American Colonies caused the colonists to substitute fruits and berries for meat in their pies and an American tradition began.

Cream based cold deserts have been served since ancient times. However, ice cream as we know it did not appear in Europe and America until the mid to late eighteenth century.  

The invention of the icebox in the 1830s, coupled with the abundance of ice cut from ponds and lakes in the northern parts of the Untied States during the winter months and stored in insulated ice houses for year round sale and use, added to the availability and popularity of ice cream in the United States.

A Row of Peach Trees
A Row of Peach Trees
Reaching for the high ones
Reaching for the high ones
My Peach Pie A La Mode
My Peach Pie A La Mode

Mixing Ice Cream and Pie - The Story of Pie A La Mode

According to tradition (although I yet to find the article in the old New York Sun newspaper which supposedly substantiates this tradition) the topping of pie with ice cream originated when a Professor Charles Watson Townsend was apparently vacationing at the Cambridge Hotel in the town of Cambridge in Washington County New York in the mid-1890s.  

He had the habit of asking for a scoop of vanilla ice cream to be placed on top of the pie he had for desert after dinner in the hotel  dining room.  One night a Mrs. Berry Hall, who was seated at a nearby table, saw the professor being served a slice of pie with ice cream on top and asked, probably wanting to order some herself, what the dish was called.  When the professor replied that it didn’t have a name, she dubbed it pie a la mode.  

A la mode is French for in the mode (or manner) of so I guess pie a la mode translates to pie being served in a mode in which it is combined with ice cream.  Regardless of the awkward translation (and this is a case of an American showing off her French rather than the simple translation of the name of a French desert into English) the topping of a slice of pie with vanilla ice cream is very good.

Continuing with the legend, back in New York City, the professor dined one evening at the famous Delmonico's  restaurant and ordered pie a la mode for desert.  When the waiter said that he had never heard of pie a la mode, the professor indignantly replied that since the desert was served regularly in the Cambridge Hotel upstate it should certainly be known at Delmonico's.  

The manager was, of course, called over immediately and, after listening to the professor describe the desert, not only had some pie a la mode prepared immediately but also had it added to the menu.  A reporter for the New York Sun newspaper, dining near by heard and observed the incident and wrote an article about pie a la mode which was picked up world wide by the wire services.

Enjoying My Peach Pie A La Mode

The Perfect Desert on a Hot Day

Regardless of whether the above story is true or not, I can attest that there is nothing so good on a hot Arizona day than a piece of freshly made peach pie buried under a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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    • profile image

      marry 6 years ago

      Your images and perfect content makes the blog more insetting for me..

      thank you for this .. appreciate your effort

    • Paradise7 profile image

      Paradise7 7 years ago from Upstate New York

      One of my very favorite deserts, pie with ice cream. And all those fresh peaches--yum!!!

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      We always had pie when I grew up. My wife comes from a more German or Hungarian heritage and her grandmother made strussele. I don't know if they ever had pie.

    • profile image

      Nan 7 years ago

      We had pie a la mode in Northwest Illinois when I was a kid. Good article, and we can use fresh apples or peaches!

    • eovery profile image

      eovery 7 years ago from MIddle of the Boondocks of Iowa

      Fresh peaches, I am so jealous.

      I planted a pear tree, it died and come back from the roots, and it turned out to be a peach tree. The Peaches were wonderful, then it died the next year. I was sad. The growing season is too short here, but it worked for one year.

      Keep on hubbing!

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 7 years ago from south Florida

      Interesting story, Check, about the origin of pie a la mode. Thank you for your tasty culinary research.