Pi(e) Day Revisited at North Carolina’s Arthur Morgan School
By Ronni Lundy, Photos by Lora Smith
Last March 14, the day each year known as Pi Day for its 3.14 month and day sequence, marked the first Pi(e) in the Sky fundraiser and social event to benefit the Get Real Summer Camp held at the Arthur Morgan School in the Blue Ridge mountain community of Celo, N.C. Here Ronni Lundy offers a delectable recipe for your own pie party (Apple-Chai-Bacon Pie!) and the story of the event and its roots. Lora Smith, Meghan Lundy-Jones, director of the camp, and Ronni Lundy organized the event.
Pi is an irrational number, meaning it will continue infinitely without repeating. Pie is a most rational food—invented as a means of conveying some delicious, but otherwise too slurpy foodstuff from hand/fork to mouth neatly. But pie has infinite possibilities, too. Just what that slurpy filling can be runs the gamut from chicken to egg, through the garden, up the orchard, down to the least likely ingredient in a sparse larder. Vinegar pie, anyone? It’s darn good.
Both pi and pie tend to run in circles, so it’s natural that the two have come together in a grassroots, good eatin’ new celebration:
Pi(e) Day. Falling on March 14 (3.14 being the abbreviated version of pi mathematicians use to calculate any number of formulae, but most significantly, the circumference of any circle with a known diameter), Pi(e) Day has attracted the interest of folks looking for a party that is tasty, quirky and doesn’t yet have a Hallmark greeting card.
My introduction came via an article that Corbin, Ky. native Lora Smith and Elkhart, Ind. gal Emily Hilliard wrote last year for TheZenchilada.com, an online food magazine I edit. Both living then in North Carolina, they gathered a group of friends for a day of rolling, filling, baking and then lots of eating, dancing and laughing.
It sounded like just my kind of party, so knowing I’d be visiting in Burnsville this Pi(e) Day, I wrote and asked if we could come. Alas, Emily and Lora had both moved, but Lora said if we found a celebration anywhere within a circumference roughly equal to pi times 60 miles or so of her Greensboro, N.C. home, she’d be there with pies. Add Meghan Lundy-Jones, my daughter and a fearless baker for hordes, to the mix and stir enthusiastically.
And so the Pi(e) in the Sky Benefit began. Our hope was to raise some scholarship money for a Blue Ridge camp focused on sustainability that Meghan runs each summer. “Get Real Summer Camp is a two-week exploration into the world of farming, gardening, and playing in the outdoors for children ages 12-15,” Meghan says of the camp. “The small community allows children to cultivate a spirit of personal responsibility while caring for others.”
She describes the day-to-day life of the 12 campers as having both work and play. They “are responsible for taking care of goats, sheep, chickens and a dairy cow as well as cultivating and harvesting summer veggies from the organic garden,” she said. “In addition, campers learn how to prepare delicious meals and ‘put up’ the summer harvest. Daily life not only includes work, but also swimming in the river and the pond, playing games, crafting and hiking.”
Our plan was to have a big time doing it. The huge kitchen at the Arthur Morgan School where the camp is held, and a wonderful revolving cast of volunteers were key ingredients to our producing in less than 24 hours some 14 full-sized pies, two dozen bean empanadas and two dozen (un)fried dried apple and pear pies. Lora brought half a dozen more. The line up included apple/chai/bacon, Shaker lemon with a rosemary crust, gluten-free veggie and chicken pot pies, chocolate bourbon pecan in a moonshine crust, down-home blueberry with a cream cheese and almond topping and more, more, please sir, may I have some more? Sure!
About 40 folks of all ages showed up when it was slicing time and I noticed something very interesting about pie. Maybe it’s the way it comes in a big, happy round, or the way you have to hold your mouth to fit fork, flake and filling in at once, but nobody eats pie without smiling!
Here’s the recipe for Meghan’s Apple Bacon Chai Pie:
Makes 1 (9-inch) pie
2 crusts prepared to fit a 9-inch pie plate
12 ounces smoky bacon, cooked crisp and well-drained on paper towels
6-7 apples, cored and cut into 6-8 wedges each
¾ – 1 cup granulated sugar
2-3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Juice of ½ lemon
2 tablespoons homemade chai masala (recipe follows)
Preheat oven to 450 degrees (425 at sea level). Put apples, sugar, flour and lemon juice into a large bowl and mix well. Crumble bacon and add it and chai masala to apples and mix well. Place first crust in pie plate and fill with apple-bacon-chai mixture. Top with second crust, pinch edges together and cut several vent holes in top. Bake for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake another 45 minutes, or until apples are tender and crust is browned. Serve warm.
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Leftover chai masala can be used to make chai tea.
Combine 2 strong black tea bags with 3 cups water in a small pot. Bring to a boil, add 1 teaspoon chai masala and 1/4 cup sugar and simmer over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes. Strain into glass jar or clean pot and add milk (and more sugar, if desired) to taste. Serve at once or store in refrigerator and reheat when ready to serve.
Makes about ½ cup
3 star anise pods
4 teaspoons green cardamom pods
3-4 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 crushed true cinnamon stick (not cassia)
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 tablespoon ground ginger
Toast star anise, cardamom, peppercorns, cinnamon and cloves in a dry skillet until fragrant. (Shake or stir often to prevent burning.) Cool and then grind in a spice mill or clean coffee grinder. Pour into small glass jar and add ginger. Shake well to combine. It can be stored in a cool, dark place for several months without losing potency.
(Adapted from Field Guide to Herbs and Spices by Aliza Green, Quirk Books, 2006)
This article was originally posted on May 22, 2012.
Ronni Lundy is a writer and editor living in Nashville, Tenn. She edits The Zenchilada, a digital culinary magazine.