Easy as Pi

Jo Ann Edwards loves pi, and pie, in all of their infinite variations. So, for the much-adored local math tutor, the middle of March is always a treat. The Greek letter pi (π) is the symbol for the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. Numerically, pi equals 3.1415, making March 14 (or 3/14) a dandy day for both arithmetic enthusiasts and baking devotees. This year takes on even more significance on 3/14/15 at 9:26:53 a.m. and p.m., with the date and time representing the first 10 digits of pi! Since pastry pies are circular in shape and homonymous, they are a fun way to commemorate the day. “It is a perfect time to enjoy pi-themed lessons, cartoons, songs and, of course, eating pie, ” Jo Ann says. 

Jo Ann has been tutoring math students in Mobile for nearly a dozen years, first at UMS-Wright and now at her home in Spring Hill. “It is so rewarding to witness that ‘ah-ha’ moment when a student lights up and grasps the concept that you have just explained to them, ” she says. “It makes me happy when I can share my enjoyment of math and when a student discovers that math can be fun.” Excelling at math takes practice and precision, as does baking successful pies. So, in anticipation of Pi Day, Jo Ann graciously shares several of her A-plus recipes.

Sour Cream Apple Pie 

Several years ago, Jo Ann and her sister, Jane, visited Apple Hill in Camino, California. There they stopped at several orchards sampling apple specialties, such as cider, pie, cake and muffins. This version of the all-American classic came from that flavorful field trip.

1 cup, 3 tablespoons flour (divided)
3/4 cup sugar
dash of salt
1/2 pint whipping cream
1 egg, well beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 cups peeled, chopped apples 
1 unbaked pastry shell (Jo Ann uses Immaculate.)
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar

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1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, combine 3 tablespoons flour,
sugar and salt. Set aside.

3. In a small bowl, combine whipping cream, egg, vanilla and lemon juice.
4. Pour the cream mixture into the flour mixture a little at a time, stirring until smooth. Add apples to batter. Pour ingredients into an unbaked pastry shell.
5. Combine the butter, brown sugar and 1 cup flour, mixing until crumbly in texture. Spread crumb mixture evenly over top of pie.
6. Bake for 15 minutes. (Jo Ann uses a crust protector to prevent overbrowning.) Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue to bake for 30 more minutes. Allow to cool. Serves 6 – 8.

Spinach Pie

Jo Ann’s mother, Jo Ann Pate of Point Clear, gave this recipe to her daughter during her first year working in Dallas after graduating from Southern Methodist University. The recent grad discovered the pie was easy to make during the weekend, then slice and freeze so it could be reheated later for a quick weeknight supper.

1 (9-inch) prepared pie pastry
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup coarsely grated mozzarella cheese
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup plain yogurt
1 (10-ounce) bag of fresh spinach, cooked and liquid pressed out (Frozen spinach may be substituted, but drain well.)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Bake pie pastry for 7 minutes. Let cool.
3. Sprinkle onion and mozzarella over the piecrust.
4. Beat eggs slightly. Add flour, salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Stir in yogurt.
5. Chop the spinach coarsely and stir into the egg mixture. Pour into piecrust. Sprinkle with Parmesan.
6. Bake for 35 minutes. (Jo Ann uses a crust protector to prevent overbrowning.) Serves 6 – 8. 

Vidalia Onion Pie

This savory, quiche-like pie,  makes a splendid side dish or lovely light supper when paired with a salad.

1 (9-inch) prepared pie pastry
2 slices bacon
1 cup peeled, chopped Vidalia onions (about 3 medium)
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon chopped chives
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Place the pie pastry into a 9- to 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom and prick the bottom of the pastry with a fork. Bake until light brown, approximately 7 minutes.
3. Cook the bacon, drain on a paper towel, and set aside.
4. Saute the onions in the bacon drippings and set aside.
5. In a bowl, beat the eggs and egg yolks until fluffy. Add the chives, parsley, mustard, cheese and salt and pepper. 
6. In a small saucepan, heat the cream until scalded, stirring constantly. Add the cream to the egg mixture gradually, beating constantly.
7. Pour the egg and cream mixture into the prebaked crust, filling it two-thirds of the way. Layer the sauteed onions over the egg mixture. Sprinkle the crumbled bacon over the top.
8. Bake on a baking sheet for 30 minutes or until set and brown on top. Serves 6 – 8.

Banana Cream Pie

This dessert is Jo Ann’s family’s very favorite. It is especially popular with her two college-aged sons, William and John Tanner.

1 (9-inch) prepared pie pastry
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 2/3 cups water
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk 
(Jo Ann uses Eagle brand.)
3 egg yolks, beaten
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 medium bananas, divided
juice from 1 lemon
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons sifted confectioners’ sugar

1. Bake piecrust according to package directions.
2. Meanwhile, in a heavy saucepan, dissolve cornstarch in water; whisk in sweetened condensed milk and egg yolks. Cook over medium heat and whisk constantly until thickened and bubbly, approximately 3 – 5 minutes.
3. Remove from heat; add in butter and vanilla extract, stirring to melt butter and combine. Let cool slightly.
4. Slice 2 bananas; dip in lemon juice and drain. Reserve remaining lemon juice.
5. Arrange bananas on bottom of baked piecrust. Pour filling over bananas and cover. Chill for about 2 hours until set.
6. Then whip whipping cream in a chilled bowl with chilled beaters. Fold in vanilla and confectioners’ sugar. Spread whipped cream on top of pie.
7. Slice the remaining banana, dip in lemon juice, drain, and use to garnish top of pie. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serves 6 – 8.

Jo Ann’s Chicken Potpie

This is a gloriously homey comfort food and a tried-and-true family pleaser. Jo Ann usually cooks the chicken and broth the day before making the pie.

Chicken and Broth

3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
1 large yellow onion, peeled and sliced
2 celery stalks with leaves,  cut into quarters
3 teaspoons kosher salt
5 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
5 sprigs fresh parsley

1. Place the chicken in a large pot with yellow onion, celery, salt, thyme, garlic, peppercorns and parsley. Cover with water, then bring to a boil.
2. Lower heat and simmer 2 – 4 hours or until chicken is tender. Let chicken cool in the stock. Drain in a colander, saving the broth. Discard the skin, bones and vegetables. Set broth aside.
Cube 3 cups of chicken. Makes 3 cups chicken, 3 cups broth.


1 1/2 cups carrots, peeled and chopped
1 1/2 cups red potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 cup frozen baby lima beans, thawed
1 1/2 cups white onion, chopped
3/4 cup chopped fennel (1 bulb)
1 stick butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups warm chicken broth (see recipe above) 
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped parsley

3 cups cubed chicken (see recipe left)
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 sticks butter
1 1/2 cups milk

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Put the carrots in a saucepan with just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then simmer until tender. Drain and set aside.
3. Put the potatoes in a saucepan, with just enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then simmer until tender. Drain and set aside.     
4. Saute white onion and fennel in 1 stick of butter. Stir in all-purpose flour and cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Slowly add the 3 cups of warm broth, whisking constantly. Add salt and pepper and simmer approximately 5 minutes. Stir in heavy cream.
5. Combine carrots, potatoes, lima beans, parsley and 3 cups chicken with the sauce.
6. Pour into a 9 1/2-inch round greased baking dish. (It should be about 3/4 full.) Set aside.
7. To make the crust, whisk together the self-rising flour and baking powder.
8. In a separate pan, melt the remaining butter and add the milk.
9. Whisk together the dry mixture with the milk mixture, then pour over chicken. Do not stir.
10. Bake in oven for approximately 20 minutes or until crust rises and is just lightly browned. Serves 8 – 10.

text and styling by Sallye Irvine • photos by todd douglas

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