When you think about holiday pies, Thanksgiving and pumpkin flavoring probably spring to mind. But there’s another holiday that offers an even better excuse to indulge in pie: Pi Day, celebrated on March 14, is a non-traditional holiday beloved by math geeks everywhere. If you’re planning on celebrating this year, check out these five unique regional pies from around the US for some tasty inspiration.
What is Pi Day, anyway?
You may remember learning about the wacky number known as “Pi” in your high school math class — but if you don’t, here’s a refresher. Pi is a number that represents the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. It’s also an irrational number, which means it has a decimal with no end and no repeating pattern (if that all sounds confusing, don’t worry — the number has fascinated and confounded mathematicians for 4,000 years). Because the opening digits of Pi are 3.14, and these digits are widely understood to be the shorthand for this never-ending number (it’s estimated to have trillions of digits total), March 14, which can be written as 3/14 on the American calendar, became known as Pi Day.
While Pi itself has a long history, Pi Day is a relatively new holiday. It was first celebrated in 1988, and as NASA notes, “math teachers quickly realized the potential benefits of teaching students about Pi while they ate pie.” Pi Day has since become increasingly popular among math enthusiasts, students, and those who just want an excuse to indulge in a delicious dessert. In 2009, the US Congress officially declared March 14 National Pi Day.
West: Huckleberry Pie
Huckleberry pie sounds like something out of a storybook (or Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn). This pie, which is a regional favorite in Montana and Idaho, spotlights a rare berry which only grows in those two states. Huckleberries taste similar to blueberries — and given what a classic blueberry pie has become, it’s no wonder that huckleberry pie is an equal contender, if not a lot more exclusive. Try this recipe for Montana Huckleberry Pie and you’ll see why it’s one of the prized pies of the West. Don’t live in that area and can’t find huckleberries? Fear not, you can buy them online.
Midwest: Sour Cream and Raisin Pie
Sour cream is extremely versatile — whether it’s scooped on chili or a potato or used to fluff up eggs, it always adds a rich, comforting taste. Sour cream can also be used in sweet dishes (sour cream and strawberries, anyone?). Folks in the Midwest have a particular appreciation for sour cream’s dessert-enhancing abilities, and sour cream and raisin pie is a classic in the region; it’s particularly associated with Iowa, where it’s a staple of the state fair. The pie is thought to have German origins, and the sour cream creates a custardy filling that gets added sweetness from the raisins. Try this recipe for Old-Fashioned Sour Cream and Raisin Pie from the experts at Midwest Living.
Southwest: Green Chile Pie
Chile peppers in pie? It sounds just crazy enough to work! Green chile pie is a New Mexico delicacy that mixes spicy and sweet, with mouthwatering results. Taste of Home reports that during the summer green chile harvest season in New Mexico, roadside chile stands are ubiquitous; locals buy chiles in 20-pound bags, to be frozen and enjoyed throughout the year. The variety of chiles used in this pie — hatch chiles — are usually not too spicy, and have an earthy taste with a slight sweetness; try a Peach, Green Chile, and Cheddar Pie, which is bound to win you lots of compliments — just don’t forget to warn your friends about the heat! If you can’t find hatch chiles, there are a number of peppers that can be substituted, or you can order them online.
Southeast: Persimmon Pie
Persimmons are a fruit native to East Asia, but there is also a variety grown throughout the American South. In South Carolina, persimmons are used as (you guessed it!) a pie filling; and they’ve been part of the state’s food culture since the early 19th century. According to Southern Living, the winter fruit is mild and sweet, with a slightly pumpkin-y flavor. Persimmon pie looks a bit like pumpkin or sweet potato pie, and tastes just as yummy (some Southeasterners would probably say it’s better). Try this Persimmon Pie with Pecan Streusel from Southern Living; the mix of persimmon, pecan, cinnamon, and nutmeg sounds like the taste equivalent of a warm hug.
Northeast: Shoofly Pie
Don’t worry — shoofly pie doesn’t actually contain any flies. Typically found in Pennsylvania, this pie is an American classic that dates back to the 18th century. Created by Dutch colonists, the pie was born out of resourcefulness, with minimal and simple ingredients. Back in the old days, people would leave their freshly baked pies on windowsills to cool; because the pies smelled so sweet, they’d attract flies, which the bakers would have to shoo away… hence the name! There’s no fruit in this particular pie — the rich sweetness of shoofly comes from molasses. A Shoofly Pie recipe shared in The New York Times dates all the way back to 1896; and with more than 100 years of history behind it, this pie is clearly a winner.
Shoofly Pie Recipe
Want to celebrate Pi Day with a pie that’s simple yet scrumptious? Try the Times‘ classic shoofly pie recipe yourself.
Ingredients (Serves 8):
- 1 ½ cups flour
- ½ cup dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ¼ pound (1 stick) cold unsalted butter
- ¾ cup molasses
- ¾ cup boiling water
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 single crust pie pastry, rolled flat and placed in a 9-inch pie plate
- Heat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Make crumb topping: Mix flour, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt together in bowl. Cut in butter with pastry cutter until consistency resembles cornmeal.
- Combine molasses, water, and baking soda and pour into pastry shell. Spoon crumb mixture evenly over top. Bake 15 minutes, lower heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and bake 20 minutes longer, or until set and firm.
Happy Pi Day!
There’s nothing better than an excuse to eat pie. Any one of these would make a tasty Pi Day treat — and if you’re really into math or themed festivities, you can even decorate your treat with the Pi symbol.