The Magic of PIE

Everyone loves pie.

Whether it’s this kind of pie:

or this kind:

Pie symbolizes many things: an irrational number, math geekiness, a yummy treat, forgiveness, motherly love,  true Americanness… the list goes on.

In my house, everything good starts with a pie. And in 7th grade, I learned to start all of my writing with one too.

My mom has always said, “It’s always best to start with a piece of pie.” She is a prolific pie baker. She got it from her grandma: her talent as well as her award-winner, eye-rolling, mm-mm-good swearing, recipe for pie crust.

I always know when something important is about to happen because I walk into the house and it smells like buttery dough and caramelizing sugar, and flour dust hangs in the air. Mom presents the pie on the kitchen peninsula, and sits herself on the stool to start whatever it is that we’re starting. And I always know that it’s going to be a doozy.

It runs in the family. Graingers say “I’m sorry” with pie, “I love you” with pie, “let’s get to work” with pie, and “it’s time to quit” with pie. I’m simultaneously happy, sad, forgiving, ashamed, and excited writing about it now.


My seventh grade teacher, Mrs. Dewey, had a system for everything. Attempting to teach us how to write a 5-paragraph essay, she showed us PIE.

P stands for Point. Academic writers learn to write deductively–say what you want to say first, and then explain to the reader why you are right. The point is the shortest part of the paragraph. It is typically one sentence written in active voice (Subject, Verb, Object). Pro Tip: If you’re having trouble meeting the requirements of the Point, try to write the rest of the paragraph first, then come back to it. Some people think inductively, which is not currently valued in academic writing. You should not be punished for it, but instead use it to your advantage: know what you want to say, and then put together your topic sentence.

I stands for Illustration. Find a quote or quotes, passages from sources, or results-based proof for your topic sentence. Connect the pieces together with bits of analysis. Pro Tip: If you’re starting on this step, find a piece or group of evidence that speaks to you. This is usually centered around a common theme.

E stands for Explanation. Put simply, explain why your Illustration proves your Point. However, this process is consistently more difficult than it looks. Connect the illustrative pieces of the paragraph together, and also introduce any counterarguments. Pro Tip: Start small by asking yourself, “What pieces of the Illustration are useful?” This could be a grouping of individual words, organizational structure of the quote, syllables per line, common theme–anything really. The most important thing is to identify it and then proceed to relate it to the Point. BONUS Pro Tip: For all of you inductive thinkers out there, this is the section where you will discover your Point. Reduce your explanation to a single sentence and move it to the start of the paragraph.

Example Paragraph:

(P) Pie is the best food to use when asking for forgiveness. (I) Once my mother and I got ourselves into a huge argument about where I would apply for college. She contended that I needed to apply to an all-women’s institution, like Barnard or Smith. I refused because I was 17 and obstinate. I told her, “It’s my life, Mom! Everyone at school thinks I’m a [redacted expletive], bra-burning, unshowered, feminist like you. The last thing I need is a school without boys.” Needless to say, she stormed out. I felt terrible. I had called my mother “unshowered” for God’s sake! So, the next day after school, I baked a blueberry pie. She came home from work, and there I was at my stool with it on the peninsula. Tears in her eyes, she came over and we both apologized: her for being controlling and me for being unbelievably rude. (E) There was no need to wait for a break in the conversation or an awkward Come to Jesus moment when she came home. The pie said it all. It was a warm, sweet reminder of love, asking for forgiveness during a tense time. The pie showed that I respected my mother as well as our family tradition without a single word needing to be said. Although it was a nice compromise and ended a feud, as she was getting up from her stool, Mom turned to me and said, “I’m not paying for anything if you don’t at least apply to one” and slapped a Barnard application down in front of me. She may have won that battle, but in the end, I won the war by going to an women’s college that recently turned coed. I have the pie to thank for that; it was efficient and delicious.


PIE (both the food and the process) is warm, sweet, and homey. It’s the comfort I fall into when I don’t know where to begin. I diverge from it, of course, churning out brownies, cakes, cookies, and the occasional ribeye steak to communicate with people I care about, but PIE is always a good place to start.

In my experience, pie is universal; while not omnipotent, it does present a starting point by which to start all important discussions, decisions, writing, and thinking.

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