As winter drags into overtime — as of this writing on March 4, it is minus 2 degrees with an unspeakable wind chill — it is high time for a holiday.
By the time this goes to press, Mardi Gras will be over, St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner and Easter, April 21, still in the offing.
But wait, lest we despair: Thursday is National Pi Day! Not to be confused with National Pie Day (noted on some calendars as Jan. 23), this is a “just for fun” holiday playing on the sound of the word “pi,” a numerical constant used to describe the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. That number, 3.14, is also found in many physics and mathematics formulas. Thus, by extension the date 3/14, March 14, becomes Pi Day.
For fans of food and especially of pies, it is also an occasion to celebrate a pastry favorite.
Sweet to savory
For this writer, pies are one of two favorite food groups — the other being cookies.
A butter rich flaky crust gently enfolding any number of fillings, from sweet to savory, and my day is made. So a day dedicated to pie, bring it on!
Pies are defined by savory or sweet fillings with at least one crust; many pies have top and bottom crusts, but some do well with just a top crust. Put that single crust on the bottom and you’ve got a tart or quiche.
Within those flour-and-shortening layers lie fruits, custards and chiffons or meats, veggies and gravies.
The celebration of Pi Day was instituted in 1988 by a physicist named Larry Shaw to recognize the first three digits of pi (whose decimal places are actually infinite) as well as honor Albert Einstein’s birthday, which happens to fall on March 14.
The American Pie Council also recognizes March 14 as Pi Day. “Pi is a constant. So is the other pie,” notes the council on its website. “Throughout our lives it’s always been there. Like family and friends. ... Grab a slice of life.” The website offers up pie recipes and several fun-for-all ages math pi activities. More information can be found at www.piecouncil.org.
Kenosha’s official ambassador to pie is Kelly Deem, co-founder of Elsie Mae’s Canning and Pies, 5819 Sixth Ave. Since she opened her doors farther north on Sixth Avenue in 2012, Deem and her pie-baking crew have created and baked up literally hundreds of flavors of pies.
Since the shop opened, the March 14 Pi Day has been the shop’s premier holiday event, surpassing even Thanksgiving. Deem says the Jan. 23 National Pie Day essentially makes little sense, as there isn’t much fresh fruit to be had in January. “Also, we’re closed in January,” she added.
For Deem and her loyal bakers, Pi Day is actually Pi Week. Every year since 2014, when her son Esox was a year old, they kicked off Pi Week with a Toddler Pie Eating Contest, the winner named for downing the most amount of pie in 3 minutes 14 seconds. This year, that contest took place last Saturday.
On Sunday, the shop worked up pies to enter in the Best of the Midwest contest, which took place Monday at the Midwest Foodservice Expo in Milwaukee. For contest details, stay tuned to next week’s food page.
Tuesday featured Kids Night Out, an opportunity for children to make free three-inch Cutie Pies at Texas Roadhouse.
Today the shop is contributing 1,000 three-inch pies to students at Tremper High School who participate in a blood drive at the school, aptly named “Saving lives is as easy as pie.”
The culminating event is of course Thursday, 3/14, when Elsie Mae’s will run pie and pie-cake specials from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Deem reports that for Pi Day last year, the bakery made 400 pie cakes, 1,600 mini pies and 1,200 Whoopie pies.
Doing the math
The “math factor” of course makes Pi Day a favorite with educators as well. For the second year, Tremper High School math teacher Katie Castineyra will turn Pi Day into a teachable moment day by having her 10th grade geometry students solve equations for the number pi using the circumference, radius and diameter of the planets. Students with the right answers are rewarded with — wait for it — a slice of pie.
“It’s a more fun day for us — there won’t be much serious geometry involved,” Castineyra said. “Students will use use the equation to solve for pi.”
Solving for pi means that 3.14 is an approximate for an infinite number of decimal points. “They won’t get exactly 3.14 but as close to it as we can,” explained Castineyra.
So while 3.14 is an approximate number, it makes possibilities for pi endless, and, one would hope, so too with pie.
Infinite pie? Bring it on, says Deem. “I love pie; the whole pie experience!”