Literary vs. Genre, Explained Using Pie

I like pie.

In particular, I like key lime pie. There’s really nothing like a good slice of key lime pie. Don’t believe me? Have some! Try some! Key lime pie is delicious.

This is not to say that all key lime pie is good. In fact, the great majority of key lime pie is made from cheap artificial ingredients. More often than not, it’ll be colored radioactive green. This is a real pet peeve of mine. Do people think key lime pie is supposed to be radioactive green? Do the manufacturers of the pie just not care either way? Oh, well. Even if 90% of the key lime pie out there is crap, that means 10% is still scrumptious… you just need to know where to find it.

Naturally, there are many people out there who don’t like key lime pie. “I only like strawberry pie,” they say. Or, “I like all kinds of pie, but key lime pie, not so much.” Or, “You know, I don’t really like pie at all.” Maybe they’ve never had key lime pie. Or maybe they tried key lime pie and hated it — probably because they ordered the radioactive green crap that you get at Denny’s. Maybe they don’t know that there’s good key lime pie out there. But that’s okay! You can’t run around forcing people to try key lime pie. Key lime pie is delicious, but obviously it’s not for everybody.

Although most people have a live-and-let live attitude when it comes to pie, there are some notable exceptions. The most interesting case is blueberry pie. Certain fans of blueberry pie have decided that not only is their personal favorite the only pie worth eating — that’s not so unusual — but they’ve gone so far as to rename their favorite pie as “goodberry pie”. Notice how clever this is. The intrinsic superiority of goodberry pie is, shall we say, baked in to the name itself.

This branding effort has proved remarkably successful. Many pastry chefs and restaurants proudly proclaim that they only make goodberry pie — and is there any other kind of pie, really? The idea that everything other than goodberry pie isn’t worth eating has spawned an entire industry. Eminent university professors who teach Pie Analysis and Pie Creation, critics at the New York Times Pie Review and the London Review of Pie, they all treat goodberry pie as the only “serious” pie.

And this makes fans of goodberry pie perfectly happy. After all, part of the appeal of being a goodberry pie fan is being able to think of yourself as a goodberry pie fan: someone who is sophisticated enough to know that goodberry pie is the only pie worthy of mention. If you press a goodberry pie fan, they might sheepishly admit to eating key lime pie or strawberry pie, but only as a “guilty pleasure”. If you are a serious pie consumer, you are supposed to stick monogamously to goodberry pie and not pollute your palate with other, naughty kinds of pie. Goodberry pie is a harsh mistress.

All this chest-thumping over goodberry pie would be harmless, except that the goodberry marketing campaign has confused a lot of well-intentioned fans of other kinds of pie. After all, the word “good” is right there in the name of the pie! If key lime pie were any good, wouldn’t it be called “good lime pie” or something? Some fans and creators of key lime pie have absorbed this marketing message to such an alarming degree that they have developed a full-blown inferiority complex. “Most key lime pie is gross and nasty and radioactive green,” they say, correctly. “So how can we make ‘Goodberry Key Lime Pie’?”

But this is asking the wrong question! The right question is, “How can we make better key lime pie?” You can’t blame people for forgetting that like all other pies, 90% of goodberry pie is just awful — after all, the goodberry marketing industry exists to obscure this very point. But rather than bemoaning the fact that key lime pie is not goodberry pie, it would be better to spend our time examining the universal qualities that make all pies delicious. Fresh ingredients! Love and care! A thin, flaky crust! The very best goodberry pies have plenty to teach us, but the end goal is not to smush goodberry pie and key lime pie together: it’s to produce the very best key lime pie we can.

I like pie.

25 thoughts on “Literary vs. Genre, Explained Using Pie

  1. Part of the problem is that a famous key lime pie baker once said that “90% of all pies are crud” but because he wasn’t a goodberry pie baker, hardly anybody learned how right he was.

  2. Evan, you’ll be pleased to remember that you made me my first ever Key Lime Pie, and now I’m a big fan! In fact, I had an excellent home-baked one this weekend. (Well, sadly, I only had a slice of one because I was a guest and had to share, but…) I actually thought of you; great timing for your post.

  3. Jemaleddin — how true that is. If only the goodberry pie bakers would listen! Incidentally, I’ve read a few “meta-critics” like Dale Peck and B.R. Myers, and they both argue that critics in the literary world spend way too much time coddling writers nowadays. The literary critics assume that the literary genre is not only intrinsically good, but that their whole world is besieged on all sides by fans of SF, mysteries, romance, and other barbarians. Therefore, we have to be supportive, mustn’t say anything too discouraging, et cetera.

    I don’t know how accurate this depiction is — for all I know it’s just Dale Peck’s rationalization for being able to say Really, Really Mean Things about Rick Moody. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if fans of the literary genre were particularly resistant to absorbing Sturgeon’s Revelation, since in their minds, the literary genre is by definition “the good stuff”.

    Russ — glad to hear! Yes, as far as I’m concerned, Actual Key Lime Pie is just as wonderful as Allegorical Key Lime Pie, which is why I chose key lime as my example in the first place. :)

  4. There’s a brand of key lime juice, the name of which eludes me at the moment (Mae’s, maybe?) which comes with a key-lime-pie recipe on the label. I only made it a couple of times, but it was really good… I think you can find it at CJ Olson’s.

  5. Making key lime pie is so easy — the hardest part by far is squeezing the fresh limes. So if you have a line on some high-grade key lime juice, let me know!

  6. Oh, and they don’t list CJ Olson’s, but I’m quite sure that I saw it in their fridge, because I hadn’t seen it anywhere since the little gourmet grocery where we’d bought it in Ellicott City, MD closed.

  7. You know, the more I think about it, the more I think you should submit this as a short-short to a few markets. Maybe tweak it a bit to make it a bit more like a parable/story (as if you were seriously reporting on the historical behavior of the goodberry pie bakers), and try to get it published as a Probability Zero page in Analog, something like that…

  8. Really, you think? Hmmm. I had only thought of it as an editorial, but I think I can see how it could be turned into a parable. That would be an interesting writing exercise, at least.

    But if I refashioned it as a parable, wouldn’t it be kind of loopy for Analog’s tastes?

  9. Do you read it, much? The Probability Zero one-pagers are quite frequently very, very silly… There was one in which they discuss a man witnessing a ball of deadly nuclear fire, and people behaving irrationally on the highway (desperately trying to get to their destinations regardless of who they might kill in the process, and so on), and the punchline is him shouting, “You idiots, the sun rises every morning!” or something to that effect… Basically just a very silly take on a morning traffic jam.

  10. If you can get to a Trader Joe’s and find their Authentic Key Lime Pie in the frozen dessert section, I think you will be very pleased. They reported it as one of their buyers top 100 all-time favorites.

  11. The solution is obvious. Good is only good, but great is great and best is best. So you take out that confusing “key” from “key lime pie” – what is that, a way to get into your house, a prompt for some chamber music? – and replace it with “great,” which is great, or “best,” which is best, and voila’! Victory for “best lime pie” in the piewars.

  12. If you haven’t ever enjoyed the world famous Kutchie’s Key Lime Pie from a Kutcharitaville Cafe then you probably shouldn’t be talking about key lime pie at all. Kutchie’s brings new meaning to key lime pie. They are so great that they are in describable…..thanks,..Ellen

  13. I just have one issue with your description of pie crust. And it really only occurred to me because you picked key lime pie.
    Key lime pie is best in a graham cracker crust. Pretty good in a vanilla wafer crust. But do NOT, for the love of all, put it in a chocolate crust.

    So a thin crust makes a good pie but not always a flaky crust.


    Cymru Llewes

  14. Cymru — you are totally right. In fact, that’s the way my Mom would make her key lime pie, with a graham cracker crust. So point taken.

  15. Though I wish not to downplay the deliciousness of key lime pie, the amazon links at the top of this article seem to be for books, not key lime pie. Unfortunately, they were not even written about key lime pie, nor by key lime pie.

  16. However you like it, if you like the store bought Version or if you prefer the real thing then I won’t be mad at you anymore.
    For my time and money the best friggen key lime pies always come from the married working team of Kutchie and Anita Pelaez’s Key Lime Pie Factory located in Asheville near the Biltmore Estate. From what I understand they have an original secret recipe from Key West dating back to the 1920′s. Kutchie and Anita’s pie are like something magical to eat. The best thing I have ever put in my mouth.

    I wish I had a few in the ice-box right now. If you ever try one you will never forget it.You will be hooked like my family and I are. OMG It just doesn’t get any better than their pies.

  17. Ha,Ha,Ha, We just read that post about that awesome married working team that has the key lime pie factory. Anita and her husband Kutchie Pelaez from what we understand are the same couple that “Wrote the Book on Key Lime Pies.” We also read in a magazine some time back that the couple has forgotten more about key lime pies then anyone will ever know. Forbes also has them listed as the fastest growing pie company in the U.S.
    Our question is How Can A Couple “in these days and times” stay married nearly 40 years,much less work as a husband and wife working team for over 35 years? We can’t wait to visit Kutchie and Anita Pelaez’s Key Lime Pie Factory and Grill. It will sure give us some warm thoughts to get us threw the winter. Tell Anita and Kutchie that we will see them next summer.

    Robbin and Rick Grimes

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