Pi Day was first explained to me in my high school calculus class. My teacher Ms. Hall was the sweetest little old lady who was we saw as a surrogate grandmother; she ran the student knitting club and the junior prom committee, and always found a way to make math fun. Pi Day comes from the first several digits of the never-ending Greek letter used to measure a circle, and so 3.14159 transformed into 3/14 and Pi Day was born. Every year, Ms. Hall would order for several dozen apple pies, load up her little Volvo wagon, and drive very slowly and carefully to school on March 14 to inspire a bunch of girls with math.
I’m lucky enough to work in a place that understands the importance of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, so Pi Day is still an exciting day, even as an adult! This year, math professor and author Eugenia Cheng will visit The Museum of Flight to talk about her book How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics (Hachette Book Group, 2015) and the similarities between following a recipe and solving a math equation.
“3-2-1” is an easy ratio to remember that will always make a perfect pie or pastry dough: 3 parts flour, 2 parts butter, and 1 part ice water. Freeze your butter and use a cheese grater to get small pieces that will blend better into dough. The temperature and consistency of the butter is very important in baking, and I find that when something doesn’t turn out how it should, it’s usually the butter.
“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” – Carl Sagan
I used this recipe from the Joy of Baking, although I didn’t make my own crust this time. The filling is made from apples that are tossed with sugar, spices and a little salt and left to sit. The juices are strained out, boiled down with butter until it becomes a syrup, then added back into the apples.
Pies are fabulous because they have an abundance of flavor combinations, depending on what fruit is in season. Here are some ideas to get started:
- Pear Caramel Apple Praline Pie from Betty Crocker
- If you’re using a pre-made pie crust, I recommend the Marie Callender brand in the freezer aisle at most grocery stores.
- Dutch Apple Pie from Genius Kitchen
- Fall Cranberry Apple Pie from Sarah Reynolds at Country Living
- Salted Caramel Apple Pie from Brown Eyed Baker
- Skillet Apple Crumb Pie from Julia Becker at Food52
- My Favorite British Apple Pie from Christina’s Cucina
- Although apple pies are associated with Americana, the British apple pie is a little different. The UK has access to sour Bramley apples, the intense flavor of which counterbalances the lack of spices. Substitute Cox’s or Granny Smith apples if you’re in the United States.
- Apple-Bacon Pie With Gingersnap Crust from 37 Cooks
- Fresh Apple Ginger Pie from Lynne Rossetto Kasper at The Splendid Table