Food Facts & Lore, Fricassee of Words

Fricassee of Words – As Easy as Pie

The Fricassée of Words is a stew of musings on food-inspired expressions, words and word play. Sit a while and savor today’s food-inspired expression.

As Easy as Pie

Mark Twain is the most cited source when the expression “As easy as pie” is considered. If you’ve read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), you’ve certainly come across the following words: “You’re always as polite as pie to them.” Chapter 2, page 5, in case you’re curious.

In the late 19th century, the word “pie” was frequently used to emphasize how easily a task or job was expected to be accomplished. It was used when describing someone’s good disposition as well, as in the above line from Huck Finn.

Pie was a common dish in the 1800’s; and not merely sweet dessert pies. A typical family meal may have consisted in mixed ingredients, including wild game meat and root vegetables, baked in crust. This was an especially nourishing and convenient meal for the large families of the time.

However, as you know, making a pie is not as easy as pie, at least not at a time when the dough is made from scratch and gathering the ingredients demands much labor and time. The ease of the pie is found in the eating. Easy to serve, easy to indulge, easy to love, easy to want seconds!

According to most idiom dictionaries and articles, the use of the closest phrase, “As nice as pie,” appears for the first time in the following passage from an 1855 text titled, Which: The Right or the Left?

“For nearly a week afterwards, the domestics observed significantly to each other, that Miss Isabella was as ‘nice as pie!”

Finding the name of the original author to verify the quote proved to be far less easy than pie. The author of this blog abandoned the search as the evening light began to make the keyboard difficult to navigate without indoor lighting, and she had a cookie. No pie in sight.

Philadelphia-based weekly newspaper Sporting Life (1883 – 1917) used a variation of the expression that restores it to its very essence in its May 1886 edition, where it is observed that, “As for stealing second and third, it’s like eating pie.” Hmm, not sure about that.

The June 1887 edition of Rhode Island’s “Newport Mercury” featured a comic strip depicting a conversation between two struggling New Yorkers. It reads as follows, in the vernacular of the day. It reads, “You see veuever I goes I takes away mit me a silverspoon or a knife or somethings, an’ I gets two or three dollars for them. It’s easy as pie. Vy don’t you try it?”

This article would be as good as half-baked if we failed to consider the expression “half-pie” before we conclude, which is attributed to the Maori language (New Zealand) whose word “Paì” means “good.” The connection to New Zealand leads some historians to dispute the American origins of the phrase “As easy as pie.” You’d think that the trek from way down-under to the Americas might not be as easy as pie in the 19th century, not even for words. “Half-pie,” is not as widely used here in the US, but it is another way of saying “second rate,” “incomplete” or “half-baked.”

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