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As American as a chocolate chip cookie

Apple pie is not as American as it used to be. A trade magazine, Restaurants & Institutions, leaked the awful secret, and now Big Media are spreading the headlines all over, smacking their lips with that special relish they reserve for news of disasters.

You know, the same way people used to smack their lips over apple pie.

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Our first response, like yours, was shocked disbelief. But the statistics seem to be there:

THe restaurants listing apple pie on the menu have declined from 88 percent to 64 percent in the past 10 years. Only 57 percent of the restaurants still selling the dish consider it a "good seller" compared to 84 percent a decade ago.

Our second response to the news -- our standard response to a lot of things these days -- was: What would grandfather say?

Grandfather ate apple pie for breakfast every Sunday, after polishing off his smoked herring and lamb chops. And then he worked his way through three or four more slices during the week.

What has happened to the tradition of apple-pie eating?

The editor of Restaurant & Institutions tried to put a good face on it by arguing that Americans have turned toward "low-cal foods," daring to suggest that "people seem to prefer fruit these days."

We think that's a lot of applesauce. Americans haven't lost their sweet tooth. They're just becoming a little sneaky about it -- honey in the yogurt, dates in the old granola. That sort of subterfuge.

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If we were to generalize recklessly, we would say: The country has moved into the Age of the Chocolate Chip Cookie -- the fast-food sweet.

You have to sit down to eat apple pie.

You have to put a plate under it -- and we don't mean a proper plate. Your stainless steel fork will go right through a properly baked bottom crust and just keep on going.

And anybody dreaming of using a plastic fork on apple pie should just return to his diet cheesecake and forget it.

Apple pie is simply not for the dip-a-chip way we live these days.

No devotee would want to divide his attention by eating apple pie before a television set. But even if he did -- even if he is a sensational sprinter, taking advantage of back-to-back commercials -- there is no way an apple-pie lover can dash to the kitchen, cut a juicy slice, and make it back to the sofa as the announcer is saying, " . . . while the sale lasts."

It takes time to assemble that genuine fork and real plate.

It takes time to decide whether you want cheese or a scoop of vanilla.

It takes time to sketch out how big a slice you want --breathing in the fragrance that only apple pie en masse can give you.

Don't go light on the nutmeg, grandfather used to say.

Maybe you choose to warm up your slice, for fuller flavor -- fuller aroma.

You practically cry out for a tablecloth and candles when you eat a really great piece of apple pie.

The ceremony of eating a piece of apple pie takes more time than baking an instant cake.

It goes without saying that you can't pour an instant apple pie mix out of a package and just add water and stir.

You almost have to build your life about apple pie. You need a windowsill to cool it on, overlooking a backyard with a salivating dog and a freckled small boy. The whole Norman Rockwell stage set.

We're trying not to make too big a thing out of the decline and fall of apple pie. Actually, the decline and fall of cherry pie hit us harder. Remember cherry pie?

But we can see that we're going to have a hard time getting used to saying: "As American as a chocolate chip cookie. . . ."

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