Torched Marie Callender's pie became a meme, but here's what really happened
A grandmother's disastrous Thanksgiving dessert went viral. Turns out she baked it at 700 degrees.
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
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Co-author of two Gen X pop-culture encyclopedia for Penguin Books. Won "Headline Writer of the Year" award for 2017, 2014 and 2013 from the American Copy Editors Society. Won first place in headline writing from the 2013 Society for Features Journalism.
Update, Nov. 23, 2022: A year later, we check in with the viral grandma who torched the pie.
Memes come out of nowhere, and they don't take holidays off. Last Thanksgiving, a Georgia grandmother named Sharon Weiss burned a Marie Callender's pumpkin pie, and posted a photo to the food company's Facebook page, bitterly writing, "Thanks Marie Calendar for ruining Thanksgiving dessert."
But this was no ordinary holiday dinner mistake. The pie in the photo looked like it had been dug out of the ruins of Pompeii. The crust was black, the filling was black, and in a delightful addition, the top of the blackened filling had been broken to show the softer -- but still totally torched -- filling underneath.
Social-media users were quick to jump on the disaster, pointing out that even Yule logs don't get this burned, and they sit directly in the fireplace.
Here's the update you've been burning for. Sharon Weiss and Marie Callender's have made up, and Weiss told me she now knows why her pie ended up looking like it was thrown into Mount Doom from Lord of the Rings.
"When I first took the pie out and saw how burnt it was, I immediately thought there was something wrong with either the pie or the directions," Weiss told me. "My comment to Marie Callender's was impulsive."
But then Weiss tried to bake a Thanksgiving turkey breast, which also came out looking cremated, "leading me to realize it may be a problem with the oven," Weiss said.
Before calling an appliance repair shop, Weiss' husband, Josh, discovered the mistake was user error -- exactly as the internet had declared.
"Somehow, some way, the baking temperature had been changed from Fahrenheit to Celsius," Weiss told me. "The result was that when I set the temperature to 375, it was actually closer to 700 degrees Fahrenheit." (707, to be exact.)
That's right -- it wasn't Marie Callender's fault at all. Weiss' simple pumpkin pie met its death in a SEVEN HUNDRED DEGREE oven.
Or ... close to it. Most home ovens top out at around 500 degrees F or so, but even if Weiss' oven didn't reach 700 F, it was still cranking out much more heat than that poor pie required.
"We were able to return to Fahrenheit by just pushing a couple of buttons on the stove," Weiss said. "Problem solved."
But before this Fahrenheit/Celsius revelation, Weiss' impulsive Facebook comment blaming Marie Callender's had gone viral online. People were using the Facebook "marked safe" designation to mark themselves safe from Weiss' pie. Someone joked that Weiss would be asked to bring ice to the next holiday gathering, using a photo of charcoal to show "Sharon's ice."
"Did you get a free urn with the purchase of this pie?" someone asked.
Weiss got alerted early that her post had been noticed.
"My daughter called me and said, 'Mom, you've gone viral! All of my friends are asking if this is you!'" Weiss said.
But instead of sitting around fuming at her newfound fame, Weiss rolled with it. She called Marie Callender's, and says "we collectively agreed to take my post down." And now you can't find a bigger fan of the company than the woman who once thought it ruined her Thanksgiving.
"It was very clear to me from the beginning that they wanted to make things right," Weiss told me. The company posted a Christmas greeting joking about the burn, with the hashtag #SharonSomePie. And Weiss filmed a video for a company promotion for National Pie Day, displaying a giant timer and telling viewers to set their ovens for "Fahrenheit, not Sharonheit."
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