The Martian Pi


Although I joke about it often, the truth is I didn’t pursue literature because I was a bad math and science student. In fact given the time and support to parse a concept I was damn good. I loved science in particular because it encourages my favorite question: WHY?! I was the bane of every impatient teacher’s existence; “but why do I factor here? Why do I apply this particular formula?” and the answers “because you need it to do xyz” or (even worse) “because I said so” never sufficed. I hated learning for the test, I wanted to know how and why these concepts worked in the real world. (Never taking things at face value makes me a good student of life, but a very poor student of the American school system.) So while I don’t understand all and the math and science of Andy Weir’s The Martian, I find its use provides me with those scintillating, practical answers I badgered countless teachers for.

Spoiler-Free Summary:

Mark Watney is a botanist and mechanical engineer who has been stranded and presumed dead on Mars by his NASA teammates after a weather accident. Using the limited resources at his disposal in the makeshift Mars base camp, Mark surmounts basic challenges of survival; he grows potatoes, he creates water, he finds a way to communicate with NASA back on Earth.


Notes from the Piebrary:

I will admit, a fair amount of the math and science in this book is way over my head, but Weir does an excellent job of tempering his highly technical explanations with Mark’s humor. Simultaneously dry and cheesy, you manage to forget that Mark could die at any moment because of the witty and optimistic tone he takes in almost every entry in his mission log. That said, there are still moments when Mark miscalculates – occasionally with explosive results  – that come to us in terrifying retrospect. Mark will say, “here we go,” and sign off an entry, only to return to the narrative, metaphorically (or actually) coughing out the carnage of some experiment gone wrong in the next entry. So, even when the science isn’t accessible, it’s still interesting. And I assume the same is true for those readers who wouldn’t necessarily call themselves readers. Just as I am a literary snob but no particular science genius, I imagine those physicists and mathematicians either too busy or too bored (no shade, I’d get bored memorizing plant specimens, tbh) to read for pleasure may find this a particularly engaging read. It takes a particular talent to straddle the line between scientific authority and literary commerciality, and Weir manages it beautifully.


Parsing This Pie:

While Mark grows regular potatoes in red Martian soil, I thought a sweet potato pie would give a nice little nod to both. Similarly, I thought I’d offset the traditional spices of sweet potato pie with a little bit of sweet paprika (my favorite red dust). I also happen to love marshmallows (or martianmallows, if you prefer), I’m sure there’s some argument to be made that they have the same michelin man look as most space suits, but mostly I just love sugar in its varying forms. And finally, I feel like Mark Watney would approve of the controlled and necessary application of fire for optimal texture and taste. Nothing says “barren alien wastes” like root vegetables and scorched sugar.



-1 cup of flour
-⅓ cup butter
-3 tbs water

-2 sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed
-1 cup sugar
-¼ cup brown sugar
-2 eggs
-1 stick butter
-½ tsp allspice
-1 tsp cinnamon
-½ tsp nutmeg
-¼ tsp ginger
-¼ tsp paprika
-1 tsp vanilla
-½ tsp caramel extract

-Approximately 2 cups marshmallows

Preheat oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit

Combine the flour, butter, and water for the crust until it comes together into a firm dough. Roll out on a well-floured surface and line your pie tin, crimping the edges. Refrigerate until needed.

Steam the sweet potatoes until they can be easily pierced with a fork, about an hour. The skin should rub or peel away easily with just your fingers or some paper towels; careful, they will be hot!

Use a stand mixer with paddle attachment (although a hand mixer will do in a pinch) to mash the potatoes, allowing the stringy bits to collect on the paddle. Clean the paddle of all the strings before continuing. Add the sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and butter methodically one at a time as the paddle continues to mix. Add the spices and mix until combined.

Pour into the waiting pie crust and bake for 45 minutes, until the center has set when jiggled.

Once cooled, halve the marshmallows and layer along the top. Use a kitchen torch to lightly (or aggressively, depending on your preference) brown the tops of the marshmallows.



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