Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Episode 215: Easy as Pie

This week Shauna and Dan make a podcast easy as pie. Though Dan points out that making a pie from scratch isn't always that easy. Bonus: The Rankine scale, dream interpretations, and doodlewash.


 Click to read the shownotes

Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast
Episode 215: Easy As Pie
Record Date: November 19, 2023
Air Date: November 29, 2023


Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase.

I’m Dan Pugh

And I’m Shauna Harrison

Each week we take an idiom or other turn of phrase and try to tell the story from its entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.

Opening Hook
Some people are just naturally good at certain things. This is the case with one of my kids and science. They heard a fun song about the Periodic Table at 7 years old and proudly explained that it was easy to remember all those names. Some of us struggle just to remember the noble gasses, but for this kid, the Periodic Table was as easy as pie.  


Easy As Pie is considered either an idiomatic phrase or a simile if you use it in the form: As Easy As Pie.

It means, very easy or simple.

There are many ideas about the origin of this phrase but we don’t really know. It just sort of appeared. Theories include the idea that pie - be it sweet or savory - was considered an easy dish to make. Put everything together in a crust and bake - let cool and serve.

Another theory relates to the ease of eating and enjoying pie. This brings to mind a similar phrase - that’s a piece of cake - which means that something is easy or pleasant. Dan discussed this phrase in a solo act for episode 157: Piece of Cake.

Nearly every dictionary shares the same definition, almost verbatim. Oxford English Dictionary merely lists the phrase under the word Easy and does not even provide a definition, though it does offer that the phrase is sometimes, Simple As Pie.

While simple as pie does appear here and there, Easy as Pie has been far more common, so that will be our focus for the episode.

Easy as pie started showing up in print in the late 1800s. The earliest attestation I was able to find is in the 1882 work, The Burlington, a compilation of the monthly magazine The Burlington. It was edited by Helen Mathers - Author of Comin’ thro the Rye. Here is an excerpt from a story that was printed in the magazine.

Alick affected to believe he had been dreaming, having no fancy for the character of ghost-seer, but not so very long afterwards he heard the story of the place, and knew what it was that he had really seen.

Some years previously a drummer-boy had been murdered in an atrocious manner by one of the soldiers, and his body thrown down a well.
"On every anniversary of the crime the boy appears, drumming and crying out, 'Rouse, rouse for the relief!' And now," concludes Sue, "can you explain away that?”

“Somebody dressed up a drummer-boy once every year to personate the one who was murdered," says Tom, quite unimpressed; "why it's as easy as pie.”
End quote

Most of the sites online had later works as the oldest in print however, we know there are new resources available all the time. Based on the item I just read and other things I found from the same decade, it is likely the phrase was around before the 1880s.

Another early reference I found is a public records book. Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Wisconsin Pharmaceutical Association, 1890.

The segment I’ll be reading refers to three temperature charts, F. for Fahrenheit, C. for Celsius, and R. for Rankine. Most are familiar with the F and C. A point on the Rankine scale is equal to a unit on the Fahrenheit scale but the scales start at a different spot for their zero value. °R = °F + 459.67.

The five wise men who constitute the Wisconsin Board of Pharmacy invariably ask of the candidate to convert F. to C. or F. to R. and vice versa. Now, if the candidate was as wise as the five men above referred to, they would simply hang a long-distance thermometer a block away from the examination room, where they could read off the degrees without much bother. But as that cannot be done, let them only remember that F. boiling point is 180 above the freezing point of water, and corresponds to 80 R. or 100 C. Hence to convert any degree of F. deduct 32 and multiply by 4/9 if you want R., or multiply by 5/9 if you want C. The reverse holds good of converting C. or R. to F. by multiplying the degrees by 9/4 or 9/5 and adding 32. Easy as pie, isn't it?
End Quote

I would argue that this is not as easy as pie. Perhaps the math is relatively simple but at least for me, remembering this conversion rate is the real challenge. I think it’s because the temperature when related to the weather and indoor spaces is more of a concept than a numbered measurement. If I were doing science experiments or something that required precise temperatures that I was not personally experiencing… the conversion would probably be more significant.

Up next we have an item from The Coeur d'Alene press, October 15, 1907 out of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. This is from a piece titled A Simple Recipe.

Everybody In Cedarly owned that Mrs. Hanson was the queen of cooks, but they were likely to add that when it came to explaining the processes by which she arrived at her excellent results she left a good deal to be desired.

"Your scalloped oysters are the best we ever have at our church suppers or anywhere, and you know It," said a neighbor, endeavoring to win special favor from this culinary goddess. "Most folks get 'em either too wet or too dry. I tell 'em I don't know how you manage It so yours are always just right. I don't suppose you could tell exactly yourself."

"Why, yes, I could," and Mrs. Hanson smiled indulgently at the eagerly hopeful face of her neighbor. "All I do is butter the dish, put in a layer oysters, salted and peppered, then a layer of buttered crumbs, then a layer of milk and back to oysters again. Easy as pie, 'tis."

"A "layer' of milk?" faltered the neighbor.
"Why, yes," said Mrs. Hanson cheerfully. "That's what makes 'em about right - layer of oysters, layer of crumbs and layer of milk. Leastways that's what I do, and you say you like 'em."
End Quote

I don’t know if this phrase was always used sarcastically or if it is just that people so often think things seem easy or simple but from another person’s perspective, they are not at all simple or easy.

The citizen, a paper out of Honesdale, Pennsylvania had a little Christmas spread containing ads and fun little stories and jokes in the December 08, 1911 edition. Here is one little snippet.

SAYS Tiny Joe:
"I'd like to know How Santy's whiskers look like snow when he comes from the chimney flue that's full of soot. Now, wouldn’t you?"

SAYS Dottie:
"My! That's easy as pie. It's magic keeps him clean; that's why.
I know, because there never was no soot 'ud stick to Santy Claus.
End Quote

The phrase shows up in the comic strip Mutt and Jeff in the Evening star July 26, 1925 edition out of Washington, D.C.

In the first frame, the character Julius is holding a horse up in the air, apparently with ease. He says,

Look, twin brother, Jeff, easy as pie! I’m the strongest little man in the world!
End Quote

There is an ad for a brand that some of you may recognize found in the October 15, 1939 edition of the Evening star of  Washington, D.C. It also includes the image of a very wooly sheep who seems rather ready to be sheared.

when she cleared that plugged-up drain easy as pie with Drano! It's amazing how thoroughly Drãno cleans clogged drains - gets right down and digs out greasy muck. And now I'm the smart one ... for I use Drãno to keep drains clean. Put in a teaspoonful every night after the dishes!"

End Quote

Evening star. December 08, 1946, out of Washington, D.C. included a story and drawings titled I'm Afraid To Go To Sleep - SKETCHES BY CHON DAY.

Until recently, Chon Day has been a happy man. He's blessed with a lovely wife and brood, and he's risen above obstacles to become one of America's best-known cartoonists. The obstacles were:
(1) The name Chauncey, which he changed to Chon, and who would-n't?
(2) The ultimatum of an early art teacher that he'd never be able to draw a straight line. ("However," added the teacher, "you sure can draw funny lines.")
The cause of Mr. Day's present uneasiness is a book on psychiatry that he picked up at the local library in his home town of Westerly, Rhode Island. It explained the meanings of dreams.
"I was always sort of fond of my dreams," he says, "but now I don't dare go to sleep unless all the lights are on."
Take a look below and you won't blame him. - The Cartoon Editor
End Quote

The segment features a series of drawings with captions about the various types of dreams Mr. Day has started to think of differently. One depicts a man flying through the air. He seems pretty relaxed as he soars above a farm in the landscape below. The captions reads,
"FLYING was always good fun, and easy as pie - until I found it meant I was a bundle of suppressed desires."
End Quote

There are more dream styles in the segment like finding money and falling from heights. We’ll talk about some of these during the Behind-the-scenes which is available to all of our patrons at

The Montana farmer-stockman, April 01, 1949, edition out of Great Falls, Montana uses the phrase in an ad for sewing patterns. Most of the items on the page are dresses for women and girls. But there is one pattern advertised for a stuffed bunny.

Here's an adorable little Easter bunny for the youngest family members. Easy as pie to make.
End Quote

It actually is pretty cute. I’ve seen some handmade stuffed animals and they can be quite charming. Though I understand why they aren’t as popular as they used to be. That is a lot of work!

Let’s move to our modern uses, right after we say thank you to our sponsors.

A Quick Thank You
This episode is sponsored by our amazing Patrons on Patreon. And the cool thing about Patreon is it is 100% free to join the Bunny Trails community!

We have new things every weekday on the feeds, including a conversation about what everyone is reading, early access to the show, patron’s only polls, and our behind the scenes video which always includes a little about our week before the show and a cool feature after the show.

We’ve got some other pretty cool stuff, too, like Original Digital Artwork once a month, made by Shauna, and awesome name recognition like Pat Rowe gets every episode. And our top spot is currently occupied by the amazing Mary Halsig Lopez.

You can join the Bunny Trails community for free at bunnytrailspod on Patreon.


Modern Uses

To start off, I have to mention the play on words, Easy As Pi - where Pi is spelled by leaving the e off of the end, so p-i. Pi is a math term which is written as the Greek letter for p. Pi is the ratio of the circumference of any circle to the diameter of that circle. It has a value of approximately 3.14. There are quite a few things that use this play on words for their title including tutoring business, books and more. Here are just a couple examples.

Easy as Pi: The Countless Ways We Use Numbers Every Day by Jamie Buchan was published in 2010. This fun book is right up our alley.

Have you ever wondered what makes "seventh heaven" and "cloud nine" so blissful and the number 13 so unlucky? Here's the "4-1-1" on the origins of numerical expressions and the importance of numbers in fiction, film, culture, and religion, including:

    How 007 became James Bond's number
    Imaginary numbers and how they exist
    How the binary system manages to say so much with only two numbers
    That bedding has nothing to do with being "three sheets to the wind"
    The burning literary question: Why did Ray Bradbury name his novel Fahrenheit 451?
    Which block of Social Security numbers will never be assigned to anyone

With Easy as Pi, you'll soon impress your friends with your knowledge of numbers--even if you're math averse. Make this and all of the Blackboard Books(tm) a permanent fixture on your shelf, and you'll have instant access to a breadth of knowledge. Whether you need homework help or want to win that trivia game, this series is the trusted source for fun facts.
End Quote

Easy as Pi is a website that features a blog, products, and tutoring related to math learning. Here is a snippet from their homepage,
Welcome to Easy as Pi!
Our mission is simple yet powerful!
We believe that every student has the potential to turn their math struggles into strengths.
Whether you're struggling with algebra, geometry, calculus, or fractions and decimals, Easy as Pi is here to help you master it and develop the skills you need to succeed. Join us on this journey towards math excellence and let's turn your struggles into strengths!
End Quote

Alright, as much as I love a good pun and math… because I’m a huge nerd… let’s get back to food.

Easy as Pie is a 2010 juvenile fiction book by Cari Best.
Jacob learned the rules of baking from watching Chef Monty on TV, and now he is ready to make his own peach pie in his Easy-On Oven. Even when things get messy and Jacob's parents say there is no more time for baking, he is determined to see his pie through to the end. Cari Best's tasty text and Melissa Sweet's scrumptious collage illustrations combine to make a picture book as satisfying as a perfect slice of pie.
End Quote

Easy As Pie: The Essential Pie Cookbook for Every Season and Reason was published in 2019 by Saura Madani.
Pie made foolproof—all you knead is love

A warm slice of homemade pie can complete any celebration—but every baker knows that a problematic pie is enough to sour a sweet occasion. This pie cookbook gives you the support you need to start making perfect, homemade pies from scratch.

Master the art of pie-making and start enjoying a lifetime of fresh, homemade pie with this pie cookbook.
End quote

Easy As Pie is a post from November 2021 by Charlie O'Shields on their Art Journal slash Blog Doodlewash. The post features watercolor artwork at the top of the page, in this case, a slice of pie on a plate with a couple of apple slices next to it and a dollop of whipped cream on top. I enjoy the comfortable style of the artwork on the blog. Okay, here is how the post begins,

We’ve reached the start of the new month and that means the start of a brand new Doodlewash art challenge! For our second prompt of “Pie” today, my mind went first to nearly every pie I could think of, because I just love pie. The phrase as “easy as pie” came to mind as well.
End Quote

Easy As Pie is a bakery that claims to have Kansas City’s cutest pies and pop tarts. Here is a snippet from the website,

Hi, I’m Ann, the gal behind everything that is Easy As Pie. I made my first pie my senior year of high school and I’ve been hooked ever since! Everything I bake is made from scratch with love in Kansas City.

I am addicted to Anthropologie, forensic files, and all things turquoise. My favorite pie is coconut cream. I spend my week days corralling middle schoolers, but baking is my passion. Thanks for following along my pie baking adventures and supporting a female-owned local business!
End Quote

I’ve never really been a pop tart person, but these do look yummy!

Wrap up:
If only life were as straightforward as enjoying a slice of pie. However, for me, it's the contrast between the simple pleasures and navigating complexities that keeps things interesting and fun. Admittedly, the uncomplicated moments provide a welcome respite, a part of me prefers a good challenge. We have to keep trying to find that balance and allowing ourselves to truly enjoy those little moments that feel as easy as pie.

That’s about all we have for today. If you have any thoughts on the show, or pop culture references we should have included, reach out to us on our Patreon, or comment on our website


It’s patron poll time!

Recently we posed this question to our Patrons:

When shopping or browsing products online, what is your default sorting mechanism? Ratings, brand, or price?

We have a clear idea of how our listeners do their online shopping as the vast majority of you prefer to sort by ratings. About a quarter of Patrons went to sorting by brand. And very few of you sort by price. Which I guess makes sense. I do sort by price, but it’s not my first selection. I want the cheapest of the products that fit my needs. So it makes sense to me.

I’m a sort-by-relevance type if I’m not quite certain of the exact item I want. Despite getting more ads… it seems to pull the results I’m looking for the best. If I know what I want, I tend to search for the specifics. I’m one of those that restricts the results by every category and feature I can. You know - color, size, material, etc.

We also asked our Patrons what their last big on-line purchase was.

Pat shared
The last two big items I purchased - one in the store and one online - were a scanner and a printer for my home businesses and HEY pretty handy for personal uses as well! I went by brand because I know NOTHING about scanners and printers, so I asked the president of the main company I work for (with?) what he owns, and I purchased exactly what he has in his office. Now when I call IT they show a little respect.
End Quote

I think the last big thing I bought on-line was during the pandemic when I couldn’t go to stores. I bought a dishwasher. After 3 months of handwashing it still hadn’t arrived so as soon as stores were open again I canceled it and bought one in store.

As a reminder, our silly polls mean absolutely nothing and are not scientifically valid. But Patrons of all levels get to take part. Head over to to take this week’s poll!


Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. Until then remember,

Words belong to their users.


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