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Happy Pi Day

In the classroom or the kitchen, pi(e) is a favorite!

Math enthusiasts have turned March 14 into an informal, world-wide holiday - Pi Day - to celebrate a very special mathematical constant.Happy Pi Day!

"The constant pi, denoted by the Greek letter π, is a real number for the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter," Jeannie Galick, Northampton Community College (NCC) professor of mathematics, explained. "We will celebrate Pi Day on March 14 (3/14) at 1:59 p.m., which uses the first five digits of the number. It is also Einstein's birthday."

In recent years, pi lovers have commemorated the day with pie-eating contests and competitions to see who can memorize the most digits in pi, an infinite number in which over one trillion digits have been calculated above the decimal point.

What makes mathematicians so excited about pi?

"We know that the approximate value of pi is 3.14," NCC Professor of Mathematics Larry Musolino said. "What is less well known is that pi shows up in some unexpected places."

Here are some fascinating spots pi can be found:

The shape of a river bending around is related to pi: if you take the length of the winding path of a river and divide this length by the distance from the source of the river to the ocean, you end up with an answer of around 3.14.

You can estimate pi by dropping a needle onto a checkerboard. Imagine you repeatedly drop a needle onto the checkerboard, where the length of the needle is the same as the width of each space on the checkerboard. Count up how many times the needles falls on a dividing line between any two squares on the checkerboard. If you calculate the number 2, times the number of times you drop the needle, divided by the number of times the needle falls on a dividing line, the answer is about 3.14.

"There are many other examples, so keep your eyes out for unexpected appearances of the world famous constant pi, especially on March 14!" Musolino said.

For the mathematically challenged, Pi Day can be celebrated with food, including the baking and eating of pies. If you prefer to observe Pi Day in the kitchen rather than the classroom, Chef Kelly Stem, pastry chef at NCC's Hampton Winds Restaurant, is here to help.

"The real secret to a good pie dough is ice cold water and not over mixing the dough," Chef stem shared. "Pie dough can be tricky. You probably won't get it your very first time but that is okay. You'll get it with practice. I tell everyone to have fun with it. Making pie dough can be very therapeutic."

Pie Dough Recipe
Makes two 9 -inch pie crusts.

1 pound cake flour
11 ounces cold shortening
6 ounces ice water
Pinch of salt

Blend flour, salt and shortening together with fingers. Add enough ice water to form dough. Mix just enough to moisten. Over mixing will result in a tough dough. Cover and leave at cool room temperature until ready to use.

Pecan Pie
1 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup corn syrup
3 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups pecans
5 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a sauce pan, combine the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat, boil for a minute while stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and stir in nuts and vanilla. Set the mixture aside to cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Whisk the beaten eggs into the filling until smooth. Pour the filling into the crust. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes.   

Coconut Custard Pie Filling
2 1/4 cups half and half
3 whole eggs
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
Half and half
1 1/4 cups flaked coconut, approx.
1 prepared pie shell, unbaked        

Note:  The pie shell can be partially baked before filling.  Bake it just until texture of pie shell is "baked"(usually about 10 minutes at 350 degrees).  You don't want any color (brown or golden) to the crust or it will be overdone when you rebake with the filling. 

Place coconut in pie shell. Scald the half and half. With hand whip in bowl, beat the eggs slightly with the sugar and vanilla. Add the scalded half and half. Blend quickly and pour over coconut in pie shell. Bake at 325 degrees until set. Chill completely before serving.  

Just like pi, there are infinite possibilities when it comes to celebrating this special day. Whatever you choose to do, have a magical Pi Day!