clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Pecans and Papaya Salad: Ranking the Best Pies and Finishing Illinois Week with Something Sweet // B1G 2019, Illinois Potluck #5

A nice palate-cleanser before we all GO BIG RED.

Big Mince Pie Photo by George W. Hales/Fox Photos/Getty Images

We need something sweet to end our week on, since Predictions Thursday was...well, bleak.

That, and we need to have a word with whoever did the Friday Hate piece.

With all that in mind, and keeping with the theme of central Illinois giving way to the Upland South, we’ve got to give love to the work of the University of Illinois Extension Services Program and acknowledge local agricultural tradition…

...but instead of corn, why not talk pecans?

As the U of I Extension Services notes, Illinois grows the northern variety of the pecan (and provides its scientific name, Carya illinoinensis). Southern Illinois is home to a couple pecan producers, and thus we’re going to tickle your sweet tooth for dessert:

Question #1: PIE

Rank the pies. All of them, whichever you prefer.

Jesse: I care way too much about this. Here goes:

  1. Cherry, homemade edition only with tart cherries because cherry pie filling from a can sucks
  2. Peach, homemade edition only with fresh peaches because peach pie filling from a can sucks
  3. Pumpkin Pie
  4. Custard Pie, preferably with Raisin although I’ll take either
  5. Apple Pie - with a double crust… dutch apple pie sucks
  6. Lemon Meringue
  7. Banana Cream Pie
  8. Peanut Butter Cream Pie
  9. Chocolate Cream Pie
  10. Key Lime Pie
  11. Pecan Pie


LAST: Coconut Cream Pie - the worst of the pies.


  1. Homemade cherry
  2. Peach
  3. Chocolate Cream Pie
  4. Pies with berries
  5. Derby pie
  6. Frozen Sweet Chocolate Pie
  7. Apple pie
  8. Lemon Meringue

1000. Pumpkin pie, the always-disappointing, grossly textured, soggy squash-filled nightmare of pies. Waste of pie crust--at least it’s only destroying one at a time.


  1. Any pie that I have that doesn’t have strawberry in it
  2. Any pie that I don’t have
  3. Any pie that has strawberry in it


  1. Blueberry (most underrated pie, ever)
  2. Pecan
  3. Lemon meringue
  4. Apple
  5. Key Lime
  6. Pumpkin
  7. Boston Creme
  8. Peach
  9. Coconut Cream
  10. Brownie

Question #2: What do you do well?

What’s a food some people might not expect your state/region/locale to be good at, but that it really, really is?

BRT: Steak! Guess that’s not surprising though, huh. I’m not sure any of the things that Nebraska does well would be surprising… perhaps Mexican food? There’s a large and growing Hispanic population in the state, mostly from Mexico, and so even in rural areas, there is a lot more authentic Mexican food than you might initially guess when you hear “Nebraska.”

Townie: I don’t know...Pennsylvania is a good-cooking state. Lots of great ethnic foods. You expect italian specialties, but the pierogies are outstanding too. And there are some Pennsylvania Dutch dishes that are seriously delicious. I’m not a fan of the Mexican scene in central PA though. That ain’t working, from what I’ve seen.

MNW: I’ll give some love here to the wonderful foods you can get in the various parts of Saint Paul.

Home to the largest Hmong-American community in the U.S., with almost 30,000 residents in the capital city alone (that’s almost 10% of the population—just Hmong, not Asian-American), you can find two of my favorite foods: Hmong sausage, delightfully fatty and spicy; and green papaya salad.

“Papaya salad?” you’re thinking. It’s a Laotian/Thai dish in origin, but one that the Hmong have brought to the Twin Cities and which makes a really enjoyable summer dish. It’s simultaneously sweet, sour, and spicy, and my wife wouldn’t come near my face for about an hour after I ate it.

I’ve only been to Hmong Village on the East Side—definitely worth a lunchtime walk-around—and never Hmong Marketplace in Como, but between the two you’ll forget that you’re in Minnesota when you sample some of these foods. And, given that Hmong-Americans alone make up almost 10% of St. Paul and have almost single-handedly brought back the city’s East Side, it should be better-known how good Minneapolis-St. Paul is for the cuisine of Southeast Asia.

This’ll about do it for our Illinois Week coverage.

If you’re new here, thanks for checking out Off Tackle Empire! We hope you enjoyed some of it, and that you’ll stick around! If you’ve been here for a while...well, I’m thankful you haven’t questioned your life decisions to the point that you’ve stopped reading. We consider ourselves fortunate to have readers and commenters like you.

So give us your pie rankings in the comments, tell us what kind of food Iowa City is good for that we’d totally never guess! it was good at, and check out the rest of our Illinois Week offerings. Nebraska Week is next; may God have mercy on our souls.