Making Family Memories :: Why You Need a Pie Day


Let me start off with the honest bit: I don’t like pie. I know. I know. Keep your Southern lady gasps to yourself, but I’ve just never been a fan. Maybe I had a bad bite of pecan (pronounced “peh-kahn” for all you weirdos out there who say “pee-can”) pie as an Alabama baby, but whatever the cause, I’m more of a cupcake girl. So now that I’ve bared my baking soul to the world, I want to tell you how one of my favorite days of the year came to revolve around pie. 

In 2010, just a few short months after Bobby had asked to make me an Isbell, I was eager to bond with my soon-to-be family. With the holidays right around the corner, I was delighted when my soon-to-be mother-in-law came up with the idea to get together to bake pies a few days before Thanksgiving.

I was incredibly thankful to be included in the family fun. When I showed up, Momma Lynn had bought Bobby’s sisters and me our own monogrammed aprons. My heart melted. It was truly the first time I understood that my future not only included a new husband, but an entirely new family. I suddenly realized I now had all these new people to love and new memories to make. 

Pie Day (Pi Day) - yum

And boy, was that day memorable.

Full disclosure: I’m not sure I had ever baked anything from scratch before that day. But I showed up, recipe in hand, with bags full of ingredients that I wasn’t even sure what they did. (I mean, what does cornstarch even do?) But my worries about my lackluster baking skills quickly dissipated as we cranked Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and the first bottle of Prosecco was popped.

I got to hear all about my soon-to-be husband from the ones who knew him best. I also got to play with Marissa, my sassy niece, who quickly become my favorite little person in the whole wide world. It was the loveliest initiation imaginable. Never would I have dreamed that it touched everybody’s heart as intensely as it did mine. That first “Pie Day” would become a decade-long tradition in our family. 

Pie Day (Pi Day) - an Isbell Family tradition

Over the last ten years, Pie Day has become something our whole family–kids and adults alike–anticipate. Year after year, we build our pie repertoire.

Apple pie.

Chocolate icebox pie.

Key lime pie.

Mixed berry pie.

Some weird pie concoction that one of the kids smushed together that we’re forced to try, smile, and say, “Yummmmm” while surreptitiously looking for a place to spit it out.

We’ve baked them all with the extensive artillery of pie baking tools we’ve acquired over the years. Pie weights. KitchenAid mixers. Rolling pins. Customized pie plates with our “Pie Day” logo on them. That’s right. I branded our tradition. We plan for weeks ahead of time scheming and researching recipes.

I crack open my pie cookbooks and smile at the stains and crumbs from last year’s endeavor spilled on the pages. Pies are messy business even when you actually know what you’re doing. And . . . we don’t know what we’re doing, but we make it look good. Fake it ’til you make it, hunny.

I love that trip to the grocery store to get all the ingredients: my buggy full of all kinds of different things that I have no idea what they do. I feel feminine and accomplished as I check out. I’m a baking goddess. Hear me roar. 

Pie Day (Pi Day) - lots of ingredients needed!

Then the day comes. People pour into my house with arms full of bags and devices and booze and babies. It’s the kind of chaos that warms the heart. The kind of chaos that feels like home. Over the years we’ve gone from pumpkin seats full of chunky-legged newborns to the flailing arms of preteens practicing their competition dances.

In the beginning, it was a girls-only event. But as the kids got older and the boys realized what they were missing, we now include all the kids in Pie Day. Everybody has their own apron, their own recipe, and their own level of dedication to actually see their creation through. We dig in, blare the music, and drink the drinks.

We laugh, we dance, we cuss when we do a 1/3 cup of flour instead of a 1/4 cup. We time ovens, teach the kids to roll the dough, and I show my niece that I can still do the splits (no matter how bad it will hurt tomorrow). We make a mess, we taste test, and we run a constant commentary on which years we got the apple pie just right. Pies get put together. Pies get baked. Pies get pulled from the oven to resounding “Ooos” and “Ahhs,” and, “That’s the best one you’ve ever done!”

The house is laden with smells and sounds and activity and energy. And in the middle of it all, if you look up and you look around, it takes your breath away. The simplicity of time spent together against the rarity of actually making it work with everyone’s busy schedules to take an entire day for pies is astounding. You feel the full weight of family in those moments. You feel time moving as you look around the room.

Life is–in a lot of ways–the exact same as Pie Day last year, but in so many ways it’s completely different. Because it’s not really about dessert. It’s about the marker. The milestone. The accomplishment of keeping something going and sacred all those years.

Is it fun? Yes. Definitely. Is it important? Very much so. Everybody needs a Pie Day because every family deserves these moments to go overboard as a team and make the memories. Everyone deserves to get excited and silly about a holiday we invented. It has a way of burrowing into your heart, warming you from the inside, and wanting to tell everybody, “You guys should start a Pie Day!”

Want to start your own Pie Day? Here are a few tips:

  • It doesn’t have to be pie. If your family prefers cake, start a Cake Day. All baked goods have oodles and oodles of options, and all take time to perfect. 
  • Pick a memorable time to do it. We do Pie Day right before Thanksgiving so that if there are any leftovers (and there always are), we can eat them on the holiday. Doing it the same time each year also helps with consistency, because everybody knows when to expect it. March 14 (ahem, Pi, as in 3.14) is another perfect day to celebrate Pie Day!
  • Make it a competition. After we finish baking, all the men come in and vote for their favorite. The person that wins gets bragging rights for the year. It’s a good way to include anybody that doesn’t get to come to the baking portion of the day. One year my father-in-law handed out ribbons, which was an awesome touch. 
  • Involve the kids. Let them pick their recipe. Let them mix the ingredients. Let them make the mess. The more they are allowed to participate, the more memorable it will be for them. 
  • Overdo it. The best part of the last decade of Pie Days has been the memories we’ve made. Turn the music up loud. Be silly. Make it a big deal. Come up with a fun name. Make t-shirts. Decorate. I promise, if you go overboard, you’ll enjoy it so much more. 

What is a unique tradition special to your family?

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Haley is an Alabama native who swore she would never end up back in Birmingham after college but has fallen in love with her city all over again since she graduated from the University of Alabama in 2007. With a degree in Advertising and Public Relations and a double minor in Marketing and English, Haley has always had a passion for helping the companies she's worked for grow their brands and make a positive impact in their communities. Haley is currently the Marketing Director at GrandView Financial Group and also does independent marketing consulting for causes she feels passionate about like the revitalization effort projects in downtown Birmingham. Haley is the proud wife of ten years to her chicken farming husband, Bobby. They have a seven-year-old daughter, Presley, who is as wonderfully affectionate as she is athletic, and Knox, five years old, who will undoubtedly have his own Netflix comedy special one day if he doesn't decide to follow in his dad's hardworking, farmer boots one day. In December of 2016, Haley was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer which has colored her life with a beautiful appreciation that most people don't get to experience. Don't count cancer a hobby, though. Haley is into sports talk radio, always playing hostess for friends and family and capturing life's precious moments with pictures and words as often as possible.