September

30
September
2013

"Pie Story," by Sandy Bryan, "Best of Show" Winner 2013

How I Got Hooked on the Pie Contest

STATE FAIR PIE CONTEST

By Sandy Bryan

Guest Blogger, Pie Pals

The State Fair Pie Contest is one of the most fun things in my year.  I got started years ago (1986) after a visit to the Torrance County Fair, where I visited the exhibit building and saw the Pie Contest entries on display with their ribbons.  There were only a few pies, of course, and I was fascinated to realize that there was a pie contest, that regular people brought their pies and entered the contest, and that they were awarded ribbons. 

I remember thinking, I could do that!  I wondered, where and when is the Bernalillo County Fair?  Then I realized that in Albuquerque we have the New Mexico State Fair.  I was a little daunted, but I found out where and when to enter, then baked a blueberry pie sweetened with maple syrup, and off I went.  I won a blue ribbon, and I was hooked!

The next year I baked a cherry pie with cherry brandy for Pie Contest.  I won a blue ribbon and Best of Show!  Now I was really hooked!  Since then I have entered every year except one, when a family emergency took priority.  Some years I have come away with a second or third place ribbon, and a couple of years ago I came back empty-handed for the first time. I realized that probably needed to happen at least once and accepted it as a part of the life of a hard core pie baker.

After the blueberry pie and cherry pie successes, I moved to another pie I liked, perfected that pie, eventually won a ribbon for it, then moved on to another pie.  I say eventually, because in some cases I’ve won a ribbon the first time I entered a particular pie category, and sometimes I went back two or three or more times. 

I recall my quest for the blue ribbon for pecan pie.  After the first time I entered and failed to garner a ribbon, a friend remarked to me that her neighbor had been the judge, and he was a fan of a very sweet pecan pie.  Well that’s okay, I don’t do that.  I went back the next year, and there was a different judge, who raved about the beautiful whole pecans in the winning pie.  My pecans were chopped. The next year, the judge went on about the way chopping the pecans releases the volatile nut oils, enhancing the wonderful flavor of the pie.  What to do!  Meanwhile, my loyal friends who served as pie tasters were going through the agonies with me!  What to do to get that ribbon for pecan pie?  Finally, on about the fifth or sixth year, I had my partner, a former precision machinist, come to my kitchen and cut each pecan half crosswise into four perfect pieces, mixed my filling, put it in the pie shell, then covered the top in concentric circles of pecan halves.  Whoever’s judging, here’s your pie!  I finally got my blue ribbon and moved on.  Thank goodness!

All this is to illustrate the trials and tribulations of a pie contest.  You really challenge yourself to do your best.  Sometimes you get a ribbon, sometimes you don’t.  It sure is fun!  I’ve involved the people in my daily life, giving ongoing updates on my research and test pies, having pie tastings to get their input.  Sometimes I’ll make a batch of pie filling, divide it into several parts and add different ingredients to different samples, then bake into mini-pies for side-by-side testing.  That’s one way to figure out what tastes best. 

After winning several ribbons, I challenged myself to see if I could win blue ribbons in every category.  This has meant developing skills in baking pies I’d never particularly considered, and it has widened my pie baking knowledge considerably.  Without meaning to, I’ve become an accomplished baker, far beyond where I was at the beginning. 

This is exactly what pie contest should do for all of us.  All it takes is stepping out and entering your first pie, and the road opens up before you.  Whether you win or not, you learn.  The judges give their critiques and often point out how to remedy the problem, so you know what to do next time. 

Probably the main thing a competitor needs to know, and what people complain to me about when the subject of pie baking comes up, is how to make a good crust.  Do that, and you’re on your way.  There’s lots of information available on every aspect of pie baking, whether you’re looking at your cookbook collection or searching on line.  No reason not to learn it, and do it, and dazzle your friends and wow the judges!

As for this year’s contest, I entered the “Tart” category for the second time.  Last year I won second place for a dazzling coconut tart.  This year I brought a Chocolate Coconut Tart that was inspired by a conversation with a friend about German chocolate cake.  The tart consisted of a pre-baked classic tart crust with a cooked bittersweet chocolate custard. This was topped with coconut and chopped pecans which had been tossed with a bit of melted butter.  The whole thing went into the oven just long enough to toast the coconut and pecans, and it was off to Pie Contest.  I was hoping for a blue ribbon, of course, and I got it.  And, joy of joys, it also got Best of Show!  I am over the moon!

People who come to Pie Contest see their comrade/competitors year after year. It’s a great sense of camaraderie.  And we cheer new entries to the group.  I’ll be back next year, of course.  I hope to see you there!

Sandy has won 13 blue ribbons and four Best of Show rosettes over the years at the New Mexico State Fair Pie Contest.

22
September
2013

Happy Anxiety at the Pie Contest

Here's how it came down

Happy Anxiety at the Pie Contest

A happy anxiety rises in the air as the judging begins.  Folding chairs squeak and restless movement settles into a collective forward lean.  Attention turns to the former university president’s wife, who is holding the mic and who has been running the show, at least at home, for years.

“Welcome to the 2013 State Fair Pie Contest!  Today we have16 categories of pies, and 61 pies altogether. They look just beautiful and so delicious!”

Contestants and their friends are impatient for the judging.  Four judges work, each one taking one type of pie at a time: first the apple pies, then blueberry, then cherry.  Next come the peach, peanut, pumpkin, and pecan.  Finally the “other fruits” -- an interesting and diverse bunch, including pears, plums, and luscious apricot hand pies – plus the chocolate and tart entries.

judgesatworkedThe judges take their time, and ours, considering the pies.  They check the bottom to see if it’s cooked enough (“No soggy bottoms!”), see how it cuts and holds together, taste the crust, taste the filling, taste the crusts again, all while keeping a poker face.  They really do give attention to each pie or tart, noting the strengths and weaknesses, and labor over deciding which ones to honor.

In each case, a third, second and first place ribbon are awarded and winners announced.  The best part of the whole thing – well maybe the 2nd best – is how everyone applauds one another.  It’s the most generous audience you’ve ever seen.

And the delight, oh, the joy, of winning!  Sandy, one of the community of pie bakers who’s been entering for years, won “Best of Show.”  You should have seen the bright sparkle in her eyes when it was announced that her tart won!  She was one happy camper, and everyone there was happy with her.

And the best part?  Eating pie with friends afterwards. Pie, pie, pie everywhere!Friendspie2013ed

I’m going to ask some of the Pie Pals who were present at the pie contest here to share their ribbons and recipes, so watch for more in the next few days. 

I’ve posted my two blue-ribbon recipes, for peach and rhubarb-raspberry pies.  Please help yourself!

Cheers, Rebecca

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