Saturday, March 10, 2012

Calling all Math Geeks and Dessert Freaks

March 14 is looming, and all you math and dessert freaks know what that means. Pi day is almost upon us.

For the unenlightened, let me fill you in: Pi Day is basically an excuse for nerds and non-nerds alike to gather together to eat an irrational amount of pie (the math folks get it). It turns out that there are several occasions each year for celebrating pi day, and another totally separate annual pie holiday. Really. Google it. Do we need a refresher on why pi is such a cool number?

But when to observe? For simplicity’s sake, we like to start with the first three, and most significant, numbers in pi. This would equate to the date 3.14, or March 14. Since 2009, this date officially has been recognized by the US as Pi Day. But the great thing about Pi Day is that it potentially can be celebrated in every season of the year. Before you have a chance to recover from the first pie binge, there’s another Pi Day coming up right behind it. And so on.

For example, we once had a Pi Day party on European Pi Day (officially known in this country as Pi Approximation Day), which is July 22. You see, 22/7ths, being the closest fraction to pi, would be represented as 22.7 in a European-style date/month format (vs. the USA format, where 7.22 means zilch in pi terms). June 28 is double pi day (3.14 x 2 = 6.28). If you choose to celebrate this one, you’ll have to consume at least two pies. And of course, there is the 314th day of the year, which would be November 9 this year, due to the Leap Year.

Are you with me so far? (I know, it took me a while too. English majors are like that.)

National Pie Day, on the other hand, is a totally separate event (one we haven’t celebrated yet, but I’m not ruling it out). Held on January 23 every year, National Pie Day was created by the American Pie Council simply to celebrate the existence of pie. Celebrating Pie Day on a date that has no relation to mathematics feels a little forced to me. But if you’re game, I am sure the American Pie Council would appreciate the support. Please just do me a favor and add the e.

Pi Day offerings from 2011

So what does all this mean for us foodies? It means that in some form or another, we must bake pie. And bake it soon.

Our family has been lazy the past few years. We had let all our traditional Pi Day party date(s) slide by, preferring instead to keep our pie-eating a family affair. But we continue to document it:

This year we are re-committed: the Pi Day party is making a comeback. Despite our pint-sized house, we've invited most of our neighbors within a 314-mile radius to join us for an all-day pie open house extravaganza. And now there are heated negotiations fermenting among the family about how many and which kinds of pies to provide. Format is an issue to consider, too -- closed vs. open, round vs. square, deep dish vs. thin, hand-held vs. 9- or 10-inch round, and the coolest iteration I've ever heard -- the pie jar option. There’s also the very delicate balance of savory to sweet pies to think about. Oh, the possibilities are endless! 

key lime juice straight from the source
I feel compelled to include Key Lime pie this year, since the kids and I became experts on the subject during our trip last month. The husband is likely to pull out his maple-vinegar pie, and the kids are campaigning for pumpkin (its all about the fresh whipped cream). Savory pie options include tomato pie (giving me yet another opportunity to bake bread), spinach and feta pie, an infinite variety of quiches (shallots, aged Gouda, and swiss chard is one of my favorites), and chicken pot pie. So many choices, so little time! I can’t include recipes for everything I want to share with you here, so I will just share the most important piece. 

tomato pie

Here is my deepest wish for pie day:

If you are going to celebrate, and I hope that you do, please take the time to make your own crust. It is the simplest thing in the world and your guests will thank you. I am a fan of a combination crust, which merges the inimitable flavor of butter with the light flakiness of vegetable shortening. This is good for just about any flavor or shape you want to create. Consider it my gift to you -- a tabula rasa on which you can improvise a masterpiece.

Pie Crust (From The Algonquin’s Famous Apple Pie)
From Mollie O’Neill’s New York Cookbook

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar (or less if you are making a savory pie)
1 tsp salt
½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick), chilled and cut into small pieces
½ cup solid vegetable shortening (Crisco)
½ cup ice water (approx.)

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, and salt. With a pastry blender or two forks, cut the butter and shortening into the flour mixture until it resembles small peas. Add the ice water, a little at a time, and mix as little as possible until the crust comes together into a rough ball. Remove from the bowl, divide into two balls, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Once chilled, each ball can be rolled out and placed in a 9-inch ungreased pie dish. To pre-bake the shell, cover the dough with parchment paper and weigh it down with dried beans or pie weights. Bake for about 15 minutes at 375 degrees, or until the sides just start to brown. Cool completely before filling.

So are you inspired yet? If so, I'd love to hear what you’re baking. And even if you miss 3.14, there's always the chance to redouble your efforts on 6.28. It'll be here before you know it. 

Until then, happy pi day(s)!


  1. wow on the math! I'm sooooo impressed. Love all the postings, they are informative, information as well as practical.

    1. awww. thanks. As for the math, we can thank my remedial tutor for his years of hard work. I'm not sure he'd have married me if he had realized I was born without the math gene. I've come a long way in 13 years.

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