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The Pie King

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January 09, 1997|CHARLES PERRY

When we think of pie, we think of the Midwest, or maybe New England or the South. But the Pie King was a Californian.

True, Monroe Boston Strause's father (who was named Boston Monroe Strause) hailed from Garrett, Ind., but the future Pie King was born in Los Angeles at the turn of the century. In 1919 he joined his uncle's wholesale pie business; the uncle soon retired, leaving Monroe B. in charge when scarcely out of his teens.

He faced a problem. For 30 years, largely because of vast improvements in oven reliability, filled and frosted cakes in all their blossoming variety had been overtaking pie as America's favorite pastry. Strause decided, with the boldness of youth, that pie need not be left behind--if it didn't stick to fruit, custard and mince fillings.

So he developed a lot of what we'd call signature pies, which he delivered to upscale L.A. customers in handsome wood-paneled trucks. In 1926, he made his most influential invention, the delicate chiffon pie, which is now considered dietarily incorrect because its filling, a cornstarch-thickened liquid folded into beaten egg whites, involves raw egg.

In the '30s the Pie King sold his company and became a pie-making consultant. Late in the decade he devised the luscious black bottom pie: a rich cream filling baked with a meringue topping in a crust lined with crumbled chocolate. It was a sensation (in his 1939 book "Pie Marches On," Strause boasted that it sold for the staggering price of $1.90 per pie) and Monroe Boston Strause was a household word--probably the last pie celebrity in our history.

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