In honor of Pi(e) Day, here's a true, crusty classic | Bleader

In honor of Pi(e) Day, here's a true, crusty classic

by

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe

comment
1261073759-mincepiecover.jpg

The
Reader's archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we'll dig through and bring up some finds.

Today is Pi Day, as in 3/14, which matches the first three digits of the mathematical π, which, in turn, goes on forever and ever without once repeating. Since "pi" sounds like "pie" and this is generally a depressing time of year, it's nice to have an excuse to eat pastry.

It's also a nice excuse for revisiting Cliff Doerksen's 2009 feature "The Real American Pie." Its subtitle pretty much says it all: "Mince pie was once inextricable from our national identity. Blamed for bad health, murderous dreams, the downfall of Prohibition, and the decline of the white race, it nonetheless persisted as an American staple through the 1940s. So what happened?"

Doerksen, trained as a historian, scoured old periodicals to solve this puzzle. The stuff about the dangers of mince pie was no joke, as you might expect of something prepared with massive quantities of meat and booze:
Most remarkably, mince pie achieved and maintained its hegemony despite the fact that everyone—including those who loved it—agreed that it reliably caused indigestion, provoked nightmares, and commonly afflicted the overindulgent with disordered thinking, hallucinations, and sometimes death.

Consider the case of Albert Allen of Chicago, arrested in 1907 for shooting his wife in the head. "It was this way," Allen was quoted as saying by the Trenton Times, "I ate three pieces of mince pie at 11 o'clock and got to dreaming that I was shaking dice. The other fellow was cheating and I tried to shoot his fingers off. When I awoke, I was holding the pistol in my hand and my wife was shot."

So maybe it happened that way and maybe it didn't. The point is that newspapers from the time of the Early Republic through the 1930s abounded with comparable cautionary anecdotes—as well as a lot of jokes—about the dangers of mince pie.
In order to determine the truth, Doerksen prepares a couple of mince pies himself. As they say over at Upworthy, you'll never believe what happened next! Or maybe you will. Anyway, it's the most delightful slice of food history you'll read today. Enjoy it with a cup of coffee and, naturally, a piece of pie. (And for fun, you even could dust off your old high school geometry skills and calculate the circumference of the whole pie, using π!)

And then, to entertain those around you, feel free to pilfer from this compilation of pi jokes assembled by Julia Thiel.

Add a comment