Today is Pi(e) Day!
I always feel an intense pang of disappointment – bordering on anxiety – when anyone reacts to this salutation with a flummoxed “Huh”? The glazed over eyes, the furrowed brows and wrinkled noses all serve as a reminder of my evangelical failings. The inadequacy in my fervor in sharing the gospel of Jesus is only matched by my failure to share another gospel that has brought me just as much joy over the years: the day we celebrate marrying of mathematics and pastry on March 14th – also known as Pi Day.
Pi Day is celebrated on March 14th (3/14) around the world. Pi (Greek letter “π”) is the symbol used in mathematics to represent a constant — the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter — which is approximately 3.14159. Pi Day is an annual opportunity for math enthusiasts to recite the infinite digits of Pi, talk to their friends about math, and to eat Pie.
I first discovered Pi Day about seven years ago when two of my co-workers returned from lunch with two cardboard boxes, the contents of which filled our cubicle maze with the heady scents of melted butter, sugar and baked fruit. The women –usually salad eaters and lunch time joggers – were uncharacteristically giddy as they discussed their treats.
“What’s the occasion,” I asked.
“It’s Pie Day!” the plumper of the two exclaimed.
“Huh?” I replied.
The leaner of the pair explained the significance of the day, its mathematical roots, and how the baking industry has capitalized on the homonym. I was intrigued. My family has been celebrating Pi(e) Day ever since.
Our pie eating escapades have extended beyond traditional Americana fare. One of the many benefits of living in Atlanta is the exposure to a vast and varied culinary world. One year we visited a patisserie popular for its tarte aux pommes. The next we went to the other side of 285 to pick up a dozen of the city’s Jamaican beef patties (which are known in Ghana as meat pies and therefore constitute as pie). The year after that, we visited an unassuming bakery called The Pie Hole in downtown Roswell where we had s’mores pie, some variation of Georgia mud fudge in a flaky crust, and plain old apple. I stopped taking stock after that, because nothing has come close to topping that particular gastronomical experience, as far as pie is concerned.
Since Pi(e) Day is now a part of our family’s traditions as is the celebration of Resurrection Sunday or Christmas Day, I make it a point to make sure that we give the occasion the requisite attention. That hasn’t always been easy in South Africa. The mention of the word “pie” brings to mind a phyllo pastry stuffed with gravy and some sort of (red) meat. I was shocked to discover how few people have ever experienced the wonder of a sweet potato pie (even though the crop is ubiquitous), or expressed any enthusiasm for a cherry pie or even considered the possibility that the use of a strawberry might extend beyond a jam or a smoothie – they too, make excellent pie filling!
Pi(e) Day then become a DIY project for us in 2018 – our first in the country – which saw us making crumbly hand pies and other failures.
This year, the pie spirits led us to a different path, one lighted with joy and perfection. They led us to the doors of Prince of Tarts.
Prince of Tarts is – in my humble opinion – the best pastry company in the Western Cape. I’ve had tarts and pies between Tsitsikama to Cape Town, and nothing compares to the tender crumb and generous filling that Melissa (owner and proprietor) puts in her tarts. The small company began trading with a stall at the Sedgefield outdoor market, and can now be found at retailers throughout the city. Their tarts and pies are perfectly portioned, so that you feel both satisfied and guiltless after consumption. It’s hard for me to explain how good they truly are.
So this morning, in honor of the auspicious occasion, my children donned their tennis shoes and we took the 15-minute walk required to take us to pastry paradise.
“Happy Pi(e) Day!” I trilled.
“Huh?” said Melissa.
My jaw dropped.
“You’ve never heard of Pi Day?”
“No,” she laughed apologetically. “What is it?”
I gave a quick explanation of the day’s date, and allowed for the fact that it might have gone over her head initially. (South Africans express the date as day/month, rather than month/day as Americans do.) It was now just after noon, and the display counter was looking rather bare.
“Where are all your tarts?” Alarm was beginning to set in. It looked like our Pi(e) Day was in jeopardy.
“We’ve just sold out,” she explained. “We’ve got pecan, but that’s all. That young man just bought the last of our tarts.” She nodded towards a youth who was hurrying away on his bike, my gaze boring holes into his backpack.
“But…it’s Pi(e) Day! What are we gonna do?”
“Yah…it’s crazy. We sold out really early today,” Melissa mused.
“Because it’s PIE DAY,” I explained. I was panicking now. This is not the scenario I had imagined! This was the opposite of Pi(e) Day. It was now (un)Pi(e) Day! How would you express that mathematically?
“We’ve got brownies…and muffins?” she said suggestively.
This was the entire cue the kids needed. Caramel apple muffins, some concoction with white fudge, two brownies, 3 cookies, a pecan pie and some chocolate monstrosity made their way to the counter for ring up. Not a bad haul.
“And here are six extra muffins for you and your family,” Melissa said sweetly.
I was overcome by her generosity. Only introduced to the concept just moments before, she had embraced the spirit of the day: excess and gluttony. I could’ve wept. I thanked her and would’ve hugged her if not for the massive counter that separated us.
As the kids and I walked back home, I took satisfaction in the excitement they expressed as they clutched their choices.
“I can’t wait to eat this muffin!”
“I’m going to hide my cupcake in my room!”
“Customary teen-aged silence as she munched on her cookies…”
And why shouldn’t they be glad? Isn’t this what Pi(e) Day is all about? Finding thrills in the less than pedantic. For the math geeks, there is satisfaction in calculating an infinite number of digits. For the arithmetically challenged, there is the irrational, guiltless pleasure that comes with the consumption of crust on what should be an otherwise normal weekday.
What about you? Do you also recognize the magic of March 14th? What’s your favorite pie or expression of Pi? Tweet at me or drop a comment below!