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On the hunt for the Triangle's best pie 

We're all feeling a little jittery today. Victoria complains of puffiness in the face. Jane says she's always been a salt addict, but suddenly the craving has changed. Claire just shakes her head: It has to stop.

The table is a mess, strewn with paraphernalia: white bakery boxes, plastic takeaway bags and quarter-pie aluminum pans. Plates are sticky, forks gooey.

Over two weeks, between the three of us (and whatever friends, family and strangers we could rope in), we have tasted 78 Triangle-area pies, all in the name of research.

If there's one thing we've learned—other than the fortunate fact that none of us is diabetic—it's that the world of pie is a lovely and diverse place. Diner Pies, cheap with strong coffee, rub crusts with Handheld Pies, all practical and neat. Dressed-up Pies, reaching vertiginous heights, compete with restrained Tarts, half-inch jewels of dense color and flavor. Fruit Pies flirt with gelato, while Fried Pies flirt with whoever is nearby.

At bakeries, Whole Pies take the cake, but at restaurants, Single-Serving Pies are á la mode. And everywhere, The Crust is all-important. Homemade and hand-rolled, yes, but with lard, butter, margarine, shortening ... water, vinegar, vodka, cream? Bakers, whisper your secrets.

We've learned that a pie pan is round—and so is the globe. Meet some of pie's extraordinary cousins from around the world: empanada, tarte tatin, galette, clafouti, spanakopita, mille-feuille, torte, quiche.

Finally, when is pie best eaten? Late night in a diner? Leftover for breakfast? Savory pie for lunch? Or the proper way—after dinner, with guests around a festive table?

There's no better time than the holidays to explore pie in all its glory. Join the hunt. It might not be short, but it sure is sweet. —Jane Hobson Snyder

Leave it to the professionals

Ordering your holiday pies, tarts and other desserts from your favorite restaurant or market is one way to avoid holiday stress. Typically, orders placed by Friday, Dec. 18 will be filled in time for Christmas Eve. Large retail bake shops, such as Whole Foods, The Fresh Market, A Southern Season, Foster's and Guglhupf, are taking orders now for the week of Dec. 20.Your favorite diners, such as Finch's, Mama Dip's and The Remedy Diner, sell whole pies if you give them at least 48 hours notice.

And don't forget your local farmers' market for whole pies and other goodies. If you arrange ahead of time, most bake stands at the market are happy to prepare dessert in your own pie dish or cake plate.

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