Pie Are Square, And Other Reasons I Hated Math

I was never good at math.  Like most girls, I excelled in verbal acrobatics and science, but math and history were, well, Greek to me.  Not surprising, I guess, since so much of what we know of math was first contemplated, theorized, solved, and proved thousands of years ago in ancient Greece.  Of course, there was Pythagoras and his theorem.  And then Archimedes, who first calculated an approximation of Pi (π)–the ratio of any circle’s circumference in proportion to its diameter– around  300 BC.   They were pretty smart and all, but they got one thing very wrong.  Pie are NOT square.  Pies are most definitely, round.

Grapefruit and Mandarin Pie

The good news is, that the Grecians also gave us Baklava, Finikia, Dolmades, Spanikopita, and so many of my favorite foods that I owe eternal homage to Zeus and the rest of the guys on Mount Olympus.  Don’t even get me started on Greek beverages–the pleasure of sweet Greek wine, and the merits of authentic Ouzo.  I’m speaking of real Ouzo that you can’t buy in the United States, not the licorice liqueur garbage sold here.  The kind my Navy pilot friends used to smuggle out of Greece in Avon bubble bath bottles. Yes, it’s that good.

Anyway, even though they got the whole Pie Are Squared thing wrong, the Greeks have spent thousands of years nailing it on how pie is supposed to taste.  Using simple, natural, locally available ingredients (honey, walnuts, fresh cheeses, etc..) they created the earliest renditions of modern favorites.  Pecan pie, cheesecake, and nut tarts could all trace some of their earliest incarnations to Ancient Greece.  Meat pies and other savory pies too. We’ve come a long way since then.  Sometimes, we lose a lot of ground coming a long way.

I have some cookbooks from the 1920’s that were my great-great-grandmothers.   I used to think that the excessively brief ingredient lists in some of them were simply a sign of the times, in her time.  Vinegar Pie and Egg-less, Milk-less, Butter-less Cake must have been a culmination of Depression era thrift and war era rationing.  After years of piddling and experimentation  in the kitchen, I have a different theory. While I am sure both thrift and lack of staples contributed largely to the culinary landscape of Grandma Ethel’s time, hasn’t every generation faced some rough patches?  War and famine. Disease and epidemics. Blights and plagues.  But the basic recipes that defined a people and its culture have stood up relatively well to the test of time.  Until recently.

The advent of modern technologies such as the internet and social networking, combined with the explosive Foodie culture as changed the culinary landscape forever.  And there is  nothing wrong with wanting a change of scenery now and then. If you want a recipe for something new, something you have never heard of, made of some weird fruit you picked up at the gourmet food market, you simply have to “Google” it.  Instantly you are connected to food and beverage recipes that your grandparents would never have imagined.   That’s awesome. What’s not awesome is losing your roots.  Forgetting where you came from.  Maybe a Passion Fruit Panna Cotta with Key Lime Tuiles served in Spun Sugar Baskets is appropriate at your sister’s art opening, or at open mic night at your poetry club gathering, but sometimes its good to get back to the basics.  A recipe simply prepared with readily available ingredients, using your great-great-grandma’s recipe, and lots of love.

Thanksgiving is an ideal time to remember who you are, where your people came from, and how you got where you are today.  Save the Dragon Fruit for a New Year’s Eve Soiree, and bust out some custard pie this week.

Among the many pies I will be preparing this week are Sugar Cream Pie, Buttermilk Pie, and Cottage Cheese Apple Pie.  I am guessing you have never heard of at least one of them.  Not because they are the latest rage to hit the Foodie airwaves, but because they are older than your great-grandma and aren’t in food “style” right now.  But like your bell bottoms, everything comes back in style.  Unlike your bell bottoms, it is not regrettable that these old pies are back on the radar.  Try any of these, and you’ll get rave reviews despite the shocking lack of Coulee, Ganache, or a Green Tea Foam.  And not one of them is square.

Sugar Cream Pie–all you really need to know is in the name

Sugar Cream Pie


  • 1 (9-inch) pie shell, your favorite recipe
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 5 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 325* and place rack in lowest position.

Prick the bottom of a 9″ pie crust with a fork.  Bake at 325* for 5 minutes.

Mix sugar, cornstarch, and salt in saucepan. Whisk in milk and cream, a little at a time, to create a smooth mixture.  Over medium-high heat, cook to boiling, stirring constantly. Continue cooking until mixture is very thick.  Remove from heat and beat in vanilla and butter. Pour the custard into par-baked pie shell, and grate fresh nutmeg over the top. Bake 50 minutes or until firmly set.

Serves 6 to 8.

Buttermilk Pie

Also known as chess pie, buttermilk pie can be very sweet, but this recipe uses almost half the sugar that most recipes call for, and is still delightfully sweet, homey, and delicious.  It looks almost exactly like the Sugar Cream Pie, except with a browner, crustier top.  I am sure my Granny made lots of pies, but this is the one I remember best.

Makes 2-9″ pies

  • 2-9″ unbaked pie shells, your favorite recipe
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 cups buttermilk, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350*, and place rack in lowest part of the oven.

Beat butter and sugar until creamy.  Beat in flour, and then eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in buttermilk, vanilla and nutmeg. Pour into pie shells, and bake for 1 hour, or until set.  Cool completely before serving at room temperature.

Personal sized Cottage Cheese Apple Pie, with Streusel Topping

Cottage Cheese Apple Pie
  • 1 1/2 cups apples, peeled, cored, and sliced thin
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • prepared 9″ Pastry Shell
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 cup scalded whole milk, cooled
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup small curd cottage cheese

Preheat oven to 425*, and place rack in its lowest position.
Combine apples, sugar and spices. Pour into prepared pastry shell. Bake 15 minutes. Meanwhile add sugar and salt to eggs, combine with hot milk and cream. Add vanilla and cottage cheese. Pour over apple mixture. Decrease oven temp to 350* and bake for 40 minutes, until set and lightly browned.

With an oven always going, and the smells of baked goods wafting up the stairs, all the pesky neighbor boys are on standby for sampling.  The millisecond that the smell of something baking hits the collective smell receptors of the half-dozen teenagers in my game room, great noise ensues.  It sounds like a heard of water buffalo running down the stairs.  But that’s okay–I always know where my boys are, and who they are with.  So when I make ANYTHING, I always make two of ’em….

Pesky Neighbor Boy Nathan, sampling pie

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Categories: BAKING, Food, Texas, Uncategorized


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32 Comments on “Pie Are Square, And Other Reasons I Hated Math”

  1. Katrinaa Walters
    2011/11/22 at 4:27 am #

    Christine: Thank you so much for that! I had a pie baking day yesterday, during which I did bake Buttermilk Pies. And yes, you are correct. I have never heard of Sugar Cream Pie, but I will certainly experiment with it now. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your’s!

    • 2011/11/22 at 10:05 am #

      Yes, I baked a bunch of pies for the middle school–it’s teacher pie giveaway time! Buttermilk has always been my favorite, but the Sugar Cream is really giving it a run for its money! It may be moving up the pie ranks…

  2. 2011/11/22 at 9:01 am #

    Wow these look SO delicious, great recipes! Love your blog, so glad to be a new follower! xoxo

    • 2011/11/22 at 10:08 am #

      Thank you! I am having a great time writing this blog….So much fun! And so much cooking!

  3. Jennifer Maxfeldt
    2011/11/22 at 10:26 am #

    I just bought all the ingredients to make the buttermilk pie! I still think you should entertain the idea of writing a book, you are an amazing writer and I always look forward to reading your blogs! Here is another idea, it sure would be great if at Christmas time you brought some of these tasty sounding treats!!!!!!!!!!! You know how I crave your cupcakes! Tell the family we said hello! Jennifer

    • 2011/11/22 at 11:18 am #

      Jennifer, if we are in town for Christmas, I will bring you cupcakes! I am tossing around the idea of a book! Writing is sooooo much fun, although I wouldn’t have said that 25 years ago….Love y’all!

  4. 2011/11/22 at 4:10 pm #

    Looks so good. Love pie.

  5. 2011/11/22 at 4:57 pm #

    Delicious! You have a new follower!

  6. 2011/11/27 at 7:36 am #

    That pie is seriously beautiful!
    Thanks for the friend request on Foodbuzz.

    Happy Cooking!

  7. 2011/12/12 at 2:33 am #

    Awesome writing style!

  8. 2011/12/12 at 3:35 am #

    Awesome post! I will keep an on eye on your blog.

  9. 2012/06/06 at 9:13 pm #

    Still delicious … after all these months…

  10. 2012/06/06 at 9:35 pm #

    Okay, I don’t identify with the anti-math and history snark…hurt feelings…boohoo, waaah, poor little me 😦 . But don’t diss your roots? Remember sometimes the basics are best? Good points! And the pie recipes – well, I’m Pennsylvania Dutch. We know pies. But I never heard of any of these three, and neither did Grandma, and it’s time to stretch our borders a little. Thanks! 😀

    • 2012/06/06 at 10:05 pm #

      Ohhhhh. You must have been one of those smart, left-brained girls! The quiet sort that didn’t enter trig class with a sense of dread? Numbers and me: not friends. To this day, I do not balance my checkbook….but I could BS my way through any essay test….

  11. lynley ruck
    2012/06/06 at 11:26 pm #

    Pi, pie, Pythagorus, sugar, butter, cheese and Grecian urns – all in the same sentence – I AM impressed! and loving your writing, if I didn’t live on the other side of the planet I would be pesky neighbour no. 2!

  12. 2012/06/07 at 1:03 am #

    Thanks for the recipe, Christine. I haven’t heard of any of those pies. I would love to try a piece! Maybe I will make one : )

  13. 2012/06/07 at 7:21 am #

    Some terms but you may know without thinking I don’t understand. What does par baked mean?

    • 2012/06/07 at 8:20 am #

      Partially baked….Like the brown and serve rolls you can buy, that are sort of cooked, but not yet golden brown….Especially with baked goods such as pie crusts, rolls, etc, par cooking is used. It makes for a final product that is perfectly cooked, rather than maybe being underdone on the bottom and over done on the top…

  14. 2012/06/07 at 11:56 pm #

    I think I might have actually drooled on myself whilst reading the cottage cheese apple pie. Just a little…

    …well, maybe a lot.

  15. lisamarielawler
    2012/06/08 at 2:05 am #

    The sugar cream pie looks like something we call Milk Tart in South Africa. I wouldn’t mind being one of your neighbors right now, they all look delicious!

  16. 2012/06/08 at 11:21 am #

    Glory hallelujah! That Sugar Cream Pie looks heavenly!!!

  17. 2012/06/08 at 2:27 pm #

    Waw! The pies look amazing, perfect & so appetizing! I would like to diggin that individual sized pie: Yum Yum Yum!

  18. 2012/06/09 at 1:14 pm #

    Sugar cream pie. OMG bring it on!

  19. 2012/06/09 at 6:13 pm #

    Your titles crack me up!

  20. 2012/06/09 at 6:39 pm #

    Perhaps pie are not square, but those pie slices are on a square plate! :^)

  21. 2012/06/11 at 9:58 am #

    Hi Texana, thanks for the follow! And, with this post, reminding me I’ve been neglecting my pie-making recently, traditional recipes or not. I *need* to try that cottage cheese apple pie 🙂

  22. 2012/06/12 at 8:12 am #

    These look awesome! Thanks for sharing, Texana!

  23. 2012/06/14 at 11:16 pm #

    Looks awsome!

  24. voluntaryfiber
    2012/06/16 at 1:42 pm #

    You just made my day! Eggs and I had an unpleasant break up years ago and I’ve missed baked sweets ever since. Because of you, I have hope once again! May the culinary muse reside over your shoulder for all eternity!

    • 2012/06/16 at 1:49 pm #

      Oh, know….what a senseless shame! There are lots of good baked recipes with no eggs. I can hook you up!

      • voluntaryfiber
        2012/06/16 at 2:31 pm #

        If you run across others to post, that’s great! And gives me reasons to keep visiting – you’re a gifted writer!

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