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.

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 herd 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, children, dessert, Family, Food, Holiday, humor, recipes, Texas, Uncategorized, writing


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

  1. carbozombie
    2012/11/01 at 10:25 am #

    I love sugar cream pie. Love it!

  2. 2012/11/01 at 10:31 am #

    I wish I had cookery books from generations before, thats awesome

  3. 2012/11/01 at 10:52 am #

    Great post. Math humor always makes me smile and, as a diabetic, that Sugar Cream Pie recipe has me practically drooling. Question: I’ve always wondered what the difference is between a pie and a cobbler. Could it be that Cobbler Are Square? 😀

    • 2012/11/01 at 11:31 am #

      Hmmmmmm. Perplexing. Look for an upcoming post that discusses the differences between cobblers, buckles and grunts……I’ll tackle the pie versus cobbler question also… 🙂

  4. Becky Doughty
    2012/11/01 at 10:56 am #

    Oh, my! Christine, darling, your pies are not square. Just the plates. Your pies have all their curves in all the right places – YUM!!!! I MUST try all three of these. And Nathan looks like he knows a good pie when he samples it… maybe that’s why he keeps showing up to pesker you. (If someone is pesky, shouldn’t they also pesker?)

    • 2012/11/01 at 11:29 am #

      Yes, Nathan does know good pie when he sees it…..And since my own son is very finicky, and Nathan is, well, NOT finicky, he is often my teenage taster…..

  5. 2012/11/01 at 11:40 am #

    fuck math!

    holyyyy all those pies look AMAZING.

  6. deadmousediaries
    2012/11/01 at 11:49 am #

    Another yummy post–and filled with so much truth (as well as butter, sugar and stuff).

  7. 2012/11/01 at 12:17 pm #


    Also-I hate math too. And science. History & Reading/English/LanguageArts/Writer were my subjects 😛

  8. 2012/11/01 at 12:17 pm #

    I like pie…a lot.

  9. 2012/11/01 at 1:33 pm #

    Never had sugar cream pie, but I’ve never met a cream pie I didn’t love!

  10. 2012/11/01 at 2:00 pm #

    That lattice top pie is lovely! I

  11. 2012/11/01 at 8:59 pm #

    Δεν καταλαβαίνεις την Ελληνικά?? (That’s Greek for: “You don’t understand Greek??” ~.^) I LOVE Greek foods, and there really is nothing better than Greek fare!

  12. 2012/11/01 at 10:10 pm #

    I love Math humor. One of my favorite Math jokes is from this time of year. Why do software programmers get Halloween and Christmas mixed up?

    • 2012/11/02 at 2:45 pm #

      Okay, I give up?

      • 2012/11/02 at 7:51 pm #

        I wonder if I should drag it out or just give you the full explanation :-). Oct 31 = Dec 25 or Octal 31 = Decimal 35. 🙂

  13. 2012/11/01 at 10:20 pm #

    My favorite wine eeeeeever is Greek retsina. How could one not love a wine made with tree sap?? Especially the kind the old men sell in the corner shops in Greece, in the pre-loved, 2-liter bottles. I may have smuggled some of that home once upon a time…

  14. 2012/11/01 at 10:52 pm #

    I teach my students: Cherry = Pie’s Delicious (circumference formula) and Apple = Pies aRe 2 (area formula) 🙂

  15. 2012/11/02 at 6:36 am #

    I’ve never had any of these pies but, based on the recipes, I love all these pies! 🙂

  16. 2012/11/02 at 5:53 pm #

    Excellent read — and recipes — as usual. Buttermilk pie is a childhood favorite of mine. A chess pie, by the way, typically includes cornmeal.

  17. 2012/11/03 at 12:34 pm #

    keep em coming! great stuff..

  18. 2012/11/03 at 4:16 pm #

    I agree with you on both the pie and the math! One is necessary the other not so! 🙂

  19. goforchristinam
    2012/11/04 at 1:01 pm #

    Yum, yum, yum! Just in time for pie season! As a baker, who loves to bring pies to people for Thanksgiving and the Holiday season, this is wonderful!

  20. 2012/11/04 at 9:07 pm #

    That neighbor is making me wish I was eating a piece of that! Yum! Great recipes! Got any for pumpkin cheesecake? My husband loves it, and I have yet to attempt to make him one. He can sit down and eat an entire one from Costco cuz he swears it’s the best. I sure would like to prove him wrong! lol

    • 2012/11/04 at 9:39 pm #

      I have tried a few recipes…need to perfect one like I like it. Keep checking back….maybe in a few weeks.

  21. 2012/11/06 at 2:41 am #

    All very well, but what is YOUR favourite pie crust recipe? Because I don’t have one (yet)… ever hopeful…

    • 2012/11/06 at 10:55 pm #

      Check out my post called The Apple of My Pie……that is my favorite crust! And soooo easy.

  22. 2012/11/06 at 2:48 am #

    PS Here in South Africa we call your sugar cream pie a melktert or milk tart, but I think I’ll adopt your delicious name for it from now on.

    • 2012/11/06 at 10:54 pm #

      That’s cool! I believe here in the states it is generally attributed as an Ohio creation….wonder who REALLY originated it!

  23. kelihasablog
    2012/11/06 at 1:50 pm #

    Oh this looks amazing!!! Yum… 😀

  24. beingsweet
    2012/11/06 at 4:36 pm #

    Oiy! The Sugar Cream Pie looks delish! I may have to try it out for pie exchange this year!
    I find that older recipes are sometimes the greatest! Bake on 🙂

  25. 2012/11/21 at 1:03 pm #

    YUM! I’m with you, preferring pie to math! Thanks for the follow!

  26. Suzette
    2012/11/21 at 8:57 pm #

    Great post–love those old recipes. I’ve heard of Sugar Pie, and Buttermilk Pie–both from Southern Cookbooks; but not of Cottage Cheese Apple Pie–looks similar to Apple Custard Pie, which I’ve seen in a Scandinavian (maybe) cookbook. . . great post.

    • 2012/11/21 at 9:01 pm #

      Thanks! And I would totally believe it if the cottage cheese apple pie were Scandinavian in origin.

  27. 2012/11/21 at 9:27 pm #

    Hi and thanks for following my blog. You are so lucky to have such old cookbooks that have been handed down the generations, what a treasure! Last Christmas my Mother-in-Law and Father-in-Law (but let’s face it, presents always come from the woman really) gave me an empty recipe book embossed with my name on the cover for me to write in all the gluten free culinary creations I come up with in my little kitchen at home. It is so lovely and I hope one day I will be able to hand it down to my own daughter or perhaps daughter-in-law. I must confess I was one of those weird girls who was good at maths (we call it maths not math) even though I hated it. In fact I was a year ahead in that subject. To the horror of my teachers and my great delight this meant I was able to drop the subject a year earlier than most of the kids at school, bliss. I went to a really strict school though so I had to provide a decent reason as to why I wasn’t going to need maths after I left school before they would let me drop the subject. So even though I had every intention of running a mile when I left school and never turn back I lied and said I was going to be an English teacher. Well I guess the fates were laughing at me cause in the end I realised teaching was my calling and English became my back up teaching subject. Oh well I still aren’t using the dreaded math! Anyway I’ll stop prattling on now and just finish by saying that I’m not going to follow your blog, at least not right now. I promise this is a compliment, you see I am on a diet and your recipes are just too tempting, but when I have reached my goal weight i’ll follow your blog then. Happy cooking Bilinda

  28. 2012/11/30 at 5:41 pm #

    Great post ! I love old fashioned cookbooks – and I like your style. 🙂

  29. 2013/03/14 at 12:30 pm #

    Reblogged this on Texana's Kitchen and commented:

    Apparently, this is National Pi Day…as in math. So here again a repeat of my Pie/Pi post…..

  30. 2013/03/14 at 1:17 pm #

    Reblogged this on LauraLovingLife and commented:
    Love it and feel the same!

  31. 2013/03/15 at 7:14 am #

    Blech math. Yay pie!

  32. 2013/03/15 at 9:10 pm #

    All 3 pies sound delicious. Too bad I can’t cook lol

  33. debbiesue180
    2013/03/17 at 5:02 pm #

    Thanks for the follow. If I wasn’t trying to cut back on my sugar I would definitely make one of your delicious pies. Do you know any sugar-free pies by any chance…..mostly kidded….mostly…….

    • 2013/03/18 at 11:14 pm #

      Actually, check my p ost called Marriage, Divorce, and Key Lime Pie…there’s a fudge pie recipe that can be made very low sugar…

      • debbiesue180
        2013/03/19 at 8:55 pm #

        I’ll check it out. Thanks.

  34. 2013/03/23 at 10:05 am #

    Always remember: Math is a four letter word. lol

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