Practically every week we walk by a table full of "fresh pies" while marketing at our local grocery store. On many occasions we have stopped and remarked about the beautiful-looking cherry pies that are stacked there in neat rows, wondering, "Could this be one of Jersey's best pies?" But, inevitably, we walk away after reading the product information sticker. These pies have an ingredient list straight out of the chemistry lab. So were we cockeyed when we decided to pick one up and bring it home last week? Maybe. Or maybe we just decided - hey, let's give it a chance; it looks good, maybe we'll like it. So we gave it a chance.
An hour or so after dinner we brewed up some decaf and cut into the pie. It performed well at first. The filling flowed when the first slice was removed, and the crust flaked. We were actually hopeful as we hoisted our forks. Wish we knew how to spell "ohhh!" the way Paulie Walnuts said it when he found out Vito Spatafore was gay. Pretty much our reaction when that pie hit our taste buds. We were expecting fruits! But what we got was a WALL of sweetness, absolutely impenetrable; we could not get past it. This immediately put our previous pie experiences into perspective. Never had we encountered a flavor so one-dimensional. And there were six cherries in a slice. Not tart, not fruity, just some sort of shriveled, pulpy things, more like ghosts of cherries.
We know the ingredients a cherry pie should have: cherries, flour, sugar, shortening/butter, cornstarch/tapioca, water, salt, lemon juice, almond/vanilla extract (optional), food coloring (optional). We also understand that any baked pie will only remain fresh for so long, and that one must consider this when determining how long a pie can remain tasty. (Recently one half of JP was treated to a delicious pie purchased at a small bakery run by Mennonites in the Deep South. It maintained its taste and integrity - covered, at room temperature - for over three days.) Commercially made pies are clearly all about the science of shelf life. Not really FrankenPies, because the experimentation has all been done, these are the widget pies we have referred to before. Or, maybe the experiment is still under way, and all of us who eat widget foods are the subjects, Frankensumers.
One of the curious things about a ShopRite cherry pie is that the ingredients list falls 50% under the category "MAY CONTAIN." Do you remember Mystery Meat from your school cafeteria days? This is a bit of a Mystery Dessert.
A ShopRite cherry pie MAY CONTAIN: eggs, water, sucrose, corn syrup, pectin, citric acid, artificial flavor, carrageenan, sodium phosphate, sodium metabisulfate, paprika, casein, disodium phosphate, soy lecithin, spices, coloring, sugar, molasses, sorbic acid, sulfiting agents, agar.
A ShopRite cherry pie contains 2% or less of: salt, dextrose, yeast, citric acid, high fructose corn syrup, potassium sorbate, soy flour, eggs, nonfat milk, sodium propionate.
A ShopRite cherry pie contains 2% or more of: cherries, wheat flour, niacin, iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid, water, palm oil, soybean oil, and/or cottonseed oil, mono and diglycerides, bleached wheat flour with malted barley, corn syrup, modified corn starch, sugar.
Let's be clear. New Jersey's best cherry pie does not come from ShopRite in Hoboken. Now we were expecting chemicals, because we understand shelf life theory. But, that pie lied about its sweetness, too. Its high fructose corn syrup covered up a dearth of flavor the way a heavy perfume might, or might not, hide the stench of death. It was monstrous, and we wouldn't be at all surprised if one night we and our fellow villagers form an angry mob and descend on ShopRite, armed with torches and pitchforks, demanding the monster be destroyed - or at least a better pie.