Pi Day

Making room for pie

Dear Bread friends,

Sunday, 3.14 is the day to celebrate the Pythagorean theorem and the abbreviation’s synonym, Pi and Pie. I’ve never really saluted it, but as the anniversary of the pandemic settles in, I think we should celebrate everything we can.

In February, my dad went to the hospital for pneumonia and spent three weeks in rehabilitation at a nursing home. To facilitate his homecoming, my older sister and I found caregivers and an electric Hoyer lift. A year ago this morning, I signed my dad out of the nursing home, just as the governor closed the doors on congregate facilities.

I’ve been anticipating the arrival of this anniversary for a while, yet when I sat down to write you, I honestly thought I was going to stick to pie. But is anything ever only one thing? Pie is pi, and a string of numbers that express the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. That is a static fact. The number is long and some people will memorize as many digits of it as they can on Sunday. I won’t do that, but I’ll sift through my pie feelings, and remember with you as much as I can.

At some point during the last couple of years, as my dad lost dexterity in his left hand, the one not affected by strokes, I made hand pies for dessert. He rejected the hand pie I served him, I think because it was unfamiliar. He was a creature of habit! Had I made a wax paper wrapper that resembled the little fried pies he bought at the Wonder bakery outlet, he would have started eating automatically. When I told him the hand pies would be easier for him to handle, he accepted my dessert.

This morning, I thought maybe I’d make his favorite war surplus cake to put some sweetness on the day. I thought of baking little hearts, or putting big slices in pieces of waxed paper, same as he’d taken to lunch, prompting the family name for this common cake. My dad’s classmates said, “What is it Halloran, war surplus cake?” You may know this as wacky cake or mix in the pan cake. As symbolic as it is, but I think I’ll stick with pie, because of everything pie can hold, literally and figuratively. (Read or listen to pie thoughts, mine and others, here and here.)

As my dad started to really decline in November, Thanksgiving pulled me into pie making. I read recipes from Petee’s Pies and Sister Pie, and planned on pumpkin and apple. Pie was always on my mind, like a thick novel I was reading. My family and I helped my dad into bed more frequently, cradling him in the sling of the Hoyer like he was a baby and the machine was a stork. I became more aware of his skin, how thin it was, how it had changed, how it still held him together. Naturally, I eventually thought how pie crust is like skin, a velvety container you fold around savories and sweets. So, I will be making some pastry today, and rolling it out to make hand pies. And bringing those treats to my mom and sisters, and sending a picture to my brother, who doesn’t live close enough for delivery.

I likely will use hot water pastry, inspired by baking from my great aunt’s recipe book, and conversations with Ellie Markovitch, my pal in pie and every baking endeavor. We are going to chat about pies at 4 o’clock EST Friday afternoon on Instagram live.

I hope you are all doing okay with the world right now. And that you are finding ways to love yourself and your memories and the people in your lives. Are you baking some pie for Pi Day? What kind? Tell me in the comments. I would love to know.

Yours, Amy