24 July 2015

à la mode

Traditional pie à la mode - vanilla ice cream on apple pie.

I had a recent argument with two colleagues about pie à la mode. We did not agree on whether or not the ice cream can be placed beside the pie, and we disagreed on whether or not flavors other than vanilla are acceptable. (FYI: I say yes to both of those.)

But we might also ask why is a dessert with ice cream called à la mode?

Therefore, I was delighted to see that the lofty Oxford Dictionary folks did a post on that last question.

The New York Times credits the spread of this term to Charles Watson Townsend. His 1936 obituary reported that after ordering ice cream with his pie at the Cambridge Hotel, in the village of Cambridge, New York, around 1896, a neighboring diner asked him what this wonder was called. “Pie à la mode,” Townsend replied. When Townsend subsequently requested this dessert at the famous Delmonico’s restaurant in New York City, the staff had no idea what it was. Townsend inquired why such a fashionable venue had never heard of pie à la mode. Bien sûr, the dessert found its way onto Delmonico’s menu and requests for it soon spread.
The French expression translates simply as "in a style or fashion" and, when it came to food, it referred to a traditional recipe for braised beef, which at one time was considered a new fashion.

Oxford says that there was also some evidence that John Gieriet of Switzerland had previously invented the dessert in 1885 while proprietor of the Hotel La Perl in Duluth, Minnesota, where he served the ice cream with warm blueberry pie.

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