As today marks National Boston Cream Pie Day, I thought it only fitting to recognize this classic American dessert, among others, as a delicious attribute of American cultural identity. Food, though often overlooked, is an important unifier among people. It provides opportunities for communal gathering, whether it’s in celebration of a holiday or simply coming together around the dinner table for supper. It also offers the chance for individuals to take part in history in the sense that recipes are often handed down from one generation to the next, sometimes with changes or additions that give insight into distinct time periods.
While different types of foods are generally associated with specific cultures, they are not necessarily exclusive to those ties. The beauty of food is that it speaks to all individuals and allows for each person to partake in a new cultural experience, further informing their understanding of different peoples and areas of the world. As cultures influence one another and fuse, so too does cuisine. This is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in American society, being shaped by so many immigrants with unique culinary traditions.
Such was the case when M. Sanzian, an Armenian-French chef, created the world’s first Boston Cream Pie in 1856 in Boston, Massachusetts. He originally titled the dessert “Parker House Chocolate Cream Pie” in honor of the opening of Boston’s Parker House Hotel that year. As chocolate was primarily consumed in beverage or pudding form during this time, Sanzian’s decision to coat the “pie” with ganache was seen as cutting edge and quickly grew in popularity. Eventually, Boston Cream Pie grew to such levels of esteem that it was declared the official dessert of Massachusetts in 1996.
Sanzian’s creation is not the only confection to be hailed as an American classic, however. The list of well-known favorites hailing from American origins stretches on and on and includes treats like the chocolate chip cookie, red velvet cake, the sundae, jelly beans, German chocolate cake, and not to mention the endless list of pies. While American cuisine is often stereotyped as anything fried, one cannot ignore the many contributions Americans have made to the confectionary world.
Regardless, American desserts have a special place in the hearts of the nation’s citizens not only for their taste but also the fond memories and emotions they evoke. The sense of nostalgia and cultural identity that’s associated with classic desserts is a commonality among Americans during a time in which society is quick to point out differences. Perhaps the way back to solidarity is through the nation’s stomach, starting with a nice slice of Boston Cream Pie.