Why hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophe’s Quick Tips, where we do a deeper dive on a specific topic in food culture, to dredge up the secret pearls of wisdom I dropped into the silt of…nacho cheese sauce, I don’t know, this metaphor ran out of steam.
SPEAKING OF RUNNING out of steam, today’s post is…weird. Today, as the title and date hopefully tell you, is Pi Day, March 14th, so named because it’s 3.14! Which is kind of weird, because using dots as the day-month-year separator is almost entirely a European thing…who write dates in day-month-year order, or year-month-day order, depending on the formality of the documents. So America doesn’t use dots, but it’s one of the few countries that would write March 14th as 3/14, so my best guess is that this was first noticed by a German immigrant to America, which, checking our mathematical history…certainly checks out.
That’s a somewhat dark joke, depending on your thoughts on Operation Paperclip.
Now, while it would be most appropriate to commemorate today with a series of interesting math jokes, stories, and historical insights, I am NOT the brother for that job, and Nate is out of town for the weekend. While I was no slouch in math, I never really ‘took’ to it. It was too straightforward for me as a teen; it wasn’t fun to discover the answer. I know a COUPLE interesting math facts and stories (I personally like the Birthday Paradox: in a room of 23 people, there is a 50% chance that two of them share a birthday. (This is because each additional person added to the group has to be checked against EVERY member of the group, not just one person.) ) and I know a couple math jokes that aren’t terrible, or rather, ARE terrible, but in the good way. For instance, did you hear the one about the mathematician who hated negative numbers? Yeah, he’d stop at nothing to avoid them.
Follow-up fact: there is no Roman numeral for 0. They would just write out “nothing” or “nulla”. Which is partly why we use Arabic Numerals.
So I figured instead I’d honor the day by talking about Pi(e) today, and no, I don’t mean 8.54. (One last little math joke for Nate and his friends.) No, I was going to talk about the many pies we’ve made on the site in the last 3 years…only to discover that I’ve only made 5 things CALLED pies in the last 3 years, and only 2 of them were “actual” pies.
A Contentious Pie-digree
Seriously, we’ve made
Sombrero Pie, which is basically a Tex-Mex Quiche, off a recipe written into a bowl in my house.
Shepard’s Pie, which let’s all agree isn’t an actual pie, but a type of casserole.
Brown Sugar Pie, which turned out perfectly okay, despite me continually singing through the post, and fucking up the pre-made crust
Key Lime Pie, which is a REALLY HEAVY post to just reference without warning. (In case you’re unaware: Key Lime Pie was one of my father’s favorite dishes, and this post is written one month after his passing last year, as a discussion of my relationship with him, and reflection on his life.)
Chicken Casserole Pie, which is just a giant chicken pot pie.
In almost 160 recipes, I’ve only made 6 “pies”. That’s a kind of weird number, in my opinion. (I think it’s my own fault. 3 of those five recipes were with a month, so I just kind of churned out pies one month, and then didn’t want to do them again for a while.)
Going a little broader, I made
Jamaican Beef Patties, which are a type of hand-pie, even if they don’t have the name
Mini Lemon Tarts which are basically just tiny pies
Sloppy Joe Pockets, which are basically just sloppy-joe hand-pies, but they aren’t CALLED that, so whatever.
Which is weird, because I’ve spent a lot of time talking and thinking about pies. I wrote those two posts reviewing Boomerang Pies, I had a follow-up post explaining the history of Key Lime Pie, since the first post was mostly just emotional and personal stuff, and I’ve been MEANING to make a pasty on the site for years now.
And, if you’re growing suspicious based on the amount of blue you’ve been seeing, yes, I HAD intended to make today’s post just a “happy pi day, here’s a bunch of pies I’ve already made, I’m clocking out early” link-stravaganza like I did for the Super Bowl. (Which, weirdly, was actually a little MORE work than a normal post. Seriously, I had to go through over 50 of my own posts to pick those 17 recipes. That’s like, 200 pages worth of reading. I normally get away with like, 30-40 page’s worth of reading. ) But this is NOT enough links to justify that. Well, okay, it probably is, but it’s not enough variety to justify it to me.
So, I did the ‘logical’ thing and made an entire new recipe, so no one can accuse me of short-changing you.
You’ll not get me this year, Krampus!
SO LET’S MAKE SOME APPLE-BUTTERMILK PIE
Making A Mess of Things
In case we haven’t done a thorough explanation, let me do so now, because this pie recipe is pretty simple: pie refers to a collection of ingredients, either sweet or savory, contained in a crust of some kind. The type and position of crust is one of the defining characteristics of a pie: you can have a filled pie (also called a single-crust pie, or bottom-crust pie), where the crust is on the bottom, and the filling is exposed on top; you can have top-crust pie, where there is no crust on the bottom, but the container is covered in a crust; and you can have two-crust pies, where the filling is entirely enclosed in crust.
And no, the phrase ‘upper crust’ isn’t related to any of these. That referred to bread.
Wikipedia dodges my earlier complaint about Shepard’s Pie by claiming that pie crusts, while traditionally a form of pastry, can be made of biscuit dough, mashed potatoes, or crumbs. I would complain more, but I do like a variety of weird-crumb-crusted pies (pretzel-crumb pie crust is great for chocolate or butterscotch pies), and I guess that’s roughly as weird as mashed potatoes.
Heck, the fact that pie crusts come in bags now is more than a little weird.
The word, as far as I can tell, is derived from the magpie, with the logic being “a normal pastry includes only one thing in it, but these have several, like a magpie’s nest.” As another ‘fun’ etymological fact, pie crusts used to be called “coffyns”, because you buried the food in them. (And because coffin used to just be a word for “baskets”.)
Today’s recipe is a two-fer: not only is it a sweet but distinct pie recipe, it’s also an IRISH recipe, according to a different Irish cookbook I have (And before you ask: around 4. I have around 4 Irish cookbooks. (one is a “Celtic” Cookbook, so there’s some argument about whether or not that’s purely Irish.) And flavor-wise, it’s very much like something you’ve probably had before. Because this is an apple-buttermilk pie…seasoned with nutmeg and cinnamon. The core flavor of this is pretty close to ‘normal’ apple pie.
Apples do, in fact, taste mostly like apples.
The process, as I said, is fairly simple. Take a pre-made pie dough (maybe one day I’ll make my own pie dough, but it sure ain’t today.), chop 2 granny smith apples into “small” pieces (I aimed for no piece larger than half-an-inch.), and cover with a buttermilk mixture.
Buttermilk isn’t an ingredient I interact with very often, but it is EVERYWHERE in Irish cooking. Ireland has had a very strong dairy industry for some time, and natural buttermilk is a side-effect of making butter, so they used a lot of it. It was used as a hang-over cure, refreshing afternoon drink, SKIN Treatment, as well as a cooking ingredient.
That’s whey cool, man.
You can find it in recipes for cakes and breads all over Ireland, particularly because its acidity is needed to wake up the baking soda in Irish Soda bread. Today, we’re just using it as the base for a custard, so it’s mostly here to be dairy fat and a touch of tangy flavor.
Mix together 3 eggs, a cup of buttermilk, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, flour, melted butter, and vanilla. Seriously, this part is just “beat 3 eggs, dump in the other ingredients and whip”. And I STILL might have screwed this up. For reasons no one can imagine, I took out more measuring cups than I needed, and may have added 1+2/3 cups of sugar to the mixture instead of 1+½ cup. C’est la vie.
Dump the apples in to the crust, cover with the buttermilk, take a small mixture of MORE cinnamon, sugar, and nutmeg and “sprinkle” over the pie. I used quotes there because my ‘small mixture’ of 2 tsps didn’t just SPRINKLE over the pie, it functionally coated it.
If you put this many sprinkles on my ice cream, I might attack you.
Bake for an hour at 350. And maybe I did screw it up, or maybe our oven is old, but ours needed like, 15 extra minutes. The whole thing was very wet, and the middle was not set. After about 75 minutes, we took it out, and the recipe doesn’t say it needs to sit at all before eating, so we tried to serve it after a 10 minute wait. That…didn’t go so well.
Who knew relying on a dairy product as the primary component wasn’t going to produce stable results?
The pie tasted perfectly fine, in fact, it mostly just tasted like a ‘normal’ apple pie. It just didn’t have the structure to stay together. I think it MIGHT be better after being allowed to cool, but I made this literally last night, so I haven’t gotten a chance to check today.
Still, it’s a pretty easy and fairly quick pie recipe if you want to make a PI Day dish that you can double-dip on for St Paddy’s day, and letting a pi go on and on and on like that is certain in the spirit of the day, is it not? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to try drinking a small cup of buttermilk to see if I feel more refreshed and revitalized.
MONDAY: SOME SNACKS AND DIPS FOR YOUR MARCH MADNESS NEEDS, WITH MORE THAN STRICTLY NECESSARY AMOUNT OF CHEESE
THURSDAY: I DON’T KNOW, MAN. I TOOK SOME MELATONIN TO SLEEP LAST NIGHT, AND I SWEAR THAT SHIT TAKES HALF A DAY TO WEAR OFF ON ME. THAT PROBABLY MEANS SOMETHING, BUT I DON’T HAVE THE TIME OR INTEREST TO FIND OUT WHAT.