Celebrate Pi Day with Shaker Lemon Pie

Pi Day is specifically March 14 at 1:59, taking 3.14159 and translating it into a date and time. We're celebrating this Friday by making Shaker Lemon Pie.

by John D. IvankoMarch 12, 2014
PHOTO: Elke Sisco/Flickr

When most of us farmers think of the word “pie”, there’s usually an “e” at the end of the word and it’s served on a plate with a fork, preferably with whipped cream on top. But there is that other “pi,” the one you might vaguely remember from middle school math, that calculates the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter: 3.14159 and on and on.

Our 12-year-old son, Liam, lives and breathes anything technical and science related. While we joke that we finally have in-house tech support on the farm, we didn’t quite see the connection between geeks and farmers until Liam asked, “So how are we celebrating Pi Day this Friday?”

To be exact, Pi Day is specifically March 14 at 1:59, taking 3.14159 and translating it into a date and time. Originally started by physicist Larry Shaw in 1988 at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, when he and others on staff walking around in a circle with fruit pies tasting the props, Pi Day has gone viral and exploded into an underground celebration of both science and dessert—desserts of the circular, filled variety anyway. The Exploratorium still hosts the official Pi Day festivities, and in 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives officially recognized March 14 as National Pi Day.

Pi Day couldn’t happen at a better time from a farming perspective. It’s been a long, cold winter here in Wisconsin, and we’re all feeling a heavy grade spring fever, ready for a good dose of playful fun. A reason to eat pie on a Friday afternoon that now has national significance? Cue the coffee and cut us a slice! Liam can fill us in on all things science, including the serendipitous fact that Albert Einstein’s birthday is also March 14.

But first we have a major decision to make: What pie will we eat? Pumpkin Pie? Bite-Sized Creamy Apple Pie? Or those darn cute Mini Pies? All work in our book, but here’s another option perfect for spring: Shaker Lemon Pie, a recipe from our pals Jered Lawson and Nancy Vail of Pie Ranch in Pescadero, Calif. Pie Ranch is an inspiring nonprofit educational farm that helps folks, particularly city kids, learn about where their food comes from through growing, harvesting and preparing all the ingredients for pie.

Pie Ranch’s recipe, featured in our Farmstead Chef cookbook, blends the juicy zing of lemons with a sweet sugar base. You can use any type of lemon in this recipe, just remember juicier, less acidic, sweeter lemons are those with thinner yellow skins, like the Meyer lemons.

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Zesting a lemon means removing only the colored part of the skin with a vegetable peeler or grater. The most intense lemon flavor lies in the zest because of the heavy oil concentration there. Start the filling for this pie the day before you bake it; the longer you let the lemons hang out with the sugar, the stronger the lemon flavor.

Recipe: Shaker Lemon Pie
Courtesy Jered Lawson and Nancy Vail, Pie Ranch

Yield: 6 to 8 servings


  • 9-inch double pie crust
  • 2 large lemons
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick), melted
  • 3 T. flour

Zest two lemons, then slice lemons paper-thin and remove seeds. Combine zest, lemon, sugar and salt. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 4 to 24 hours (ideally as long as possible), stirring occasionally. You’ll notice liquid releasing from lemons, making sugary paste.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Prepare pie crust and line a 9-inch pie pan with half of dough.

In large bowl, whisk eggs until frothy. Whisk in melted butter and flour. Stir in lemon mixture. Pour into prepared crust. Cover with vented top crust or lattice.

Bake for 30 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350 degrees, and bake an additional 20 to 30 minutes or until knife inserted into center comes out clean and the top crust is a golden brown. Let pie cool completely before serving.

Store in refrigerator, but bring to room temperature before serving.