An Ode, À La Mode: 1 Baker Savors America, Creating 50 Pies For 50 States
Before the pandemic trapped Stacey Mei Yan Fong in her Brooklyn kitchen, the 32-year-old handbag designer was baking her way across America, one pie at a time.
Fong loves the United States, and she loves its signature dessert. Born in Singapore, raised in Indonesia and Hong Kong, Fong moved to the U.S. to attend the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. She brings the singular passion of a pop-culture-obsessed immigrant to her project 50 Pies/ 50 States. In 2016, while applying for a green card, she started baking a pie to honor every state in the country, documenting the process on Instagram and her website.
50 Pies / 50 States feels like a virtual road trip, with elaborate pies that reflect Fong's commitment to capturing the complexity of each state's cuisine. That means no ordinary peach pie for Georgia. Instead, imagine a stewed sweet tea peach pie with brown sugar pecan crumble.
The obvious is anathema to Fong. As she points out, Texas may be best known for pecans and barbeque, but the baker found herself drawn to another signature product: its ruby red grapefruit.
"So I ended up making a grapefruit custard pie, with candied jalapenos on top," she explains. "Because, you know, you need a little spice when you're in Texas."
And an avocado pie would've been far too easy, at least for Fong, when she turned her attention to California, where avocado is the official state fruit. She focused instead on the savory delights of Napa Valley. "It ended up being a artichoke pie with an herbed crust and a red wine reduction on the top," Fong explains. A pause. "Which was very, very lovely."
As a result of 50 Pies /50 States, Fong has transformed into something of a pie-ologist. Now she works part-time making pies at a bakery and she's thrown herself into research. For South Dakota, inspired by Sean Sherman's award-winning cookbook, The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen, she created a blue corn crust filled with a wild rice and sunflower milk pudding with a bergamot berry compote. "And then a pumpkin seed crunch on top," she adds, with pride.
Let it be noted that Fong made her own sunflower milk from scratch. She admits she is incapable of keeping things simple. For an otherwise straightforward Florida key lime pie, Fong insisted on homemade graham crackers for the crust. "Let me tell you, just buy graham crackers," she says wryly. "Just buy them. Don't make them at home."
The passion and drive with which Fong approached 50 Pies / 50 States may reflect, she thinks, an immigrant's uniquely unjaded approach. "The payoff and the journey to the end is always so, so worth it," she enthuses.
But Fong's put her project temporarily on hiatus, with only six more pies to go. She wants to travel to those states to enjoy the experience of eating pie there in person safely, in diners and around kitchen tables. That's an American experience, she says, well worth waiting for.
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