When is a pie not a pie? When that pie is a Boston Cream Pie, which is really a cake. I guess we just accept this truth nowadays. The reason it is called a pie is that it was originally cooked using pie tins and the bakers of the time weren’t too worried about the differences between calling something a cake or a pie. It was simply no big deal to them. For a Boston Cream Pie, the bakers would cook the cakes (in pie tins) and then slather on some cream in between the two cakes. Then they covered it all with chocolate. It is credited to having been created in 1856 by the chef at the opening of the Parker House Hotel in Boston (Now the Omni Parker Hotel). This was the first hotel in Boston to have hot-and-cold running water and the first to have an elevator. Along with the Boston Cream Pie, they are also recognized for having created the iconic Parker House Rolls too. It’s a pretty famous spot and has an illustrious culinary legacy that includes launching the careers of such celebrity chefs as Emeril Lagasse, Lydia Shire and Jasper White. They also once served as the place of employment for two very non-culinary cultural icons: Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, who served as a baker at the hotel in 1912-1913, and civil rights activist Malcolm X. who was a busboy there in the early 1940’s. I suppose going to the Parker House for a piece of Boston Cream Pie would have been the ideal way to celebrate this holiday, but I wasn’t going to be able to make it there. Instead, I would celebrate at the other renowned culinary institution of New England: Market Basket.
Market Basket has not expanded to Rhode Island yet but they keep marching south with new locations. Recently they opened up just over the border in Fall River and there’s a bit of a buzz about their arrival. Their reputation for having cheap prices has preceded them and when their doors opened, the folks from The Riv (Fall River) and from Acquidneck Island have made a beeline to the famed grocery store. I was familiar with them having lived in New Hampshire. The reputation of the market up there was having the cheapest prices for groceries although their meat and produce selection was not so good. All the stores also all had an old feel to them (borderline dirty) and were usually cramped with displays, stocked food and little old ladies in carts that were too big for them. Their parking lots were always the worse – like playing a deranged game of Frogger where you have to hop through a path of really bad, impatient drivers. I wasn’t surprised to see that they imported that same parking lot madness to Fall River. It was a mess with families of shoppers running amok with carts loaded full of groceries while hurried drivers in giant SUVs tried to whip into their open spaces. There’s actually plenty of parking yet the impatient drivers never seem to seek out those spaces that are a little farther away than usual. It was a bad first impression. My second bad impression was inside the store where it was more of the same. Bad shopping cart drivers running around blindly trying to scoop up the best bargains all dressed in various levels of bad fashion while unattended children tried to scale up shelves like little Donkey Kongs. This is not my ideal shopping atmosphere and I had regrets about being there the moment I walked through the doors. I tried to stay focused. I made my way to the bakery section, which was huge. With very little trouble I found what I had gone there for. I purchased it and I was back in my car, relatively unscathed.
The Boston Cream Pie was tasty. It was fresh with nice moist cake and a cream that was cool and smooth. The chocolate on the top gave it all the sweetness it needed to keep it all together. I’m sure the cake/pie from the Parker House would have been better (or one from any local bakery), but this one, for what it was, did the trick. I actually had it again over the next few days because it was still fresh and delicious. A win for Market Basket, although I’m not sure if I’ll ever go back there. It’s a land of chaos that doesn’t suit my needs as a shopper. I also hear that they can be discriminatory to the LBGTQ community and that to me is more alarming. I have to do a bit more research on that end, but if they are guilty of that, then low prices be damned, they won’t get my business. To enjoy something, you have to be confident in the people behind it. That’s probably why the Boston Cream Pie was such a success at the Parker House Hotel because people were confident in those behind it. That’s what leaves a bad taste in my mouth after my trip to Market Basket. It tasted ok, but I was turned off by the free-for-all that ruled their aisles and parking lot plus I was concerned about their corporate behaviors in regard to the LGBTQ community and to labor unions as well. We may just want Market Basket to stay out of Rhode Island. We’ll get our cake that we call pie somewhere else.
Next Up: National Bologna Day