Articles tagged with: tart


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

How I Got Hooked on the 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.


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


Fruit tarts and baguettes, oh my!

Watching What I Ate

Fruit tarts and baguettes, oh my!

I watched what I ate on a recent trip to Europe.  Yes, I watched as I ate croissants for breakfast, mopped up melted cream and cheese with French baguettes at lunch, bit into Swiss macaroons filled with Kirsch, and bagettesedinhaled delicate (yes, it’s possible) pizzas in Italy.  It was all sort of mesmerizing, really, all of those breads and pastries and calories, just disappearing in front of me. 

Then, they did reappear behind me.  I gained a pound or two while there, but my legs got stronger and thinner because of the walking, and walking, and walking, and walking.

One day, near the end of the trip, I told Havens, “The main thing is, I don’t want to walk as far today as we did yesterday.”  We walked further.  We were in Rome, after all, and were told we had to see the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican.  We were staying in a neighborhood, Travestere, which looked on the map like a mile or so from the renowned chapel. 

We started late and did not beat the crowds.  It was mostly uphill and through narrow streets, with one spectacular panorama of Rome along the way.  New satellite dishes adorn ancient villas and fountains are likely to appear around any corner.

The wait to get into the Vatican with a line ¼ mile long and 4 people wide, would be 3 hours.  In the heat.  It was not for the socially claustrophobic!   I excused myself.  So, more walking.  I headed for the green river that runs through the city, and sought the solace of quiet, wide water and sidewalks shaded by sycamores.

Nearly back to the small hotel room with the orange curtains and red bedspread, I stopped for a cappuccino in a bistro with an outdoor patio.  A breeze carried the scent of honeysuckle and my eye rested on violet bougainvillea.  Ah, life is good.  And yes, I’d love a little cookie with that, thank you!

Here’s to enjoying summer! 



Pie Pal #1


Bees and Pie

Dreaming of Gardens and Pies to Come

Bees and Pie

Gardens are calling.  Some gardens are fairly shouting by this time of year.  “Yo!  Over here!  Do me!”

Apples, rhubarb, peaches, berries -- obviously, gardens provide ingredients for delicious homemade pies.  Now, in mid-February, those fruits are far off.  Depending on where you live and what gardening arrangements you have, you may already be nurturing a winter garden of vegetables.  But fruits?  Those respond to spring warmth, water and bees.

Ah, bees. What would we do without them?  Starve to death.  They pollinate our gardens and crops everywhere.  And right now, bees in North America are being threatened by “Colony Collapse Disorder,” where the worker bees mysteriously and abruptly disappear.[1] 

And it’s not just the pollinating that’s good.  What about that honey?  Besides being a nectar of golden goodness, honey has many noted health benefits, both nutritional and medicinal.  Check them out here.

This is definitely the time of year for dreaming of gardens-to-come, lush, verdant, fertile:  Peas dripping off of vines, little curling wisps holding them to the garden twine; cucumbers stretching out in the shade of their own big leaves; an abundance of berries, cherries, and apricots.  And always, tomatoes!

Beyond providing the goods for pies, why do we pie bakers love our gardens?  To me, the two are related by a love of the Earth herself, a knowingness about the connection we have with the Earth and all things that are round, yin, grounded, based in nurturing and love. 

People instinctively enjoy growing food.  And it gives us an opportunity to be grateful for all that the Earth gives us and for our chance to nurture her in return.  Yes, gardens are work – the planning, the prepping the soil, the planting, the watering, the endless weeding, even the harvesting takes energy.  But what gardens give back, when we pat the Earth and watch for new growth, is priceless.

And pies are like gardens, don’t you think?  Full of goodness, created with effort, tended with intention and love, requiring planning & cleanup as well as providing nurturing and enjoyment.  There’s nothing like lifting a bubbling, breathing pie from the oven!

So, today, let’s thank our bees, plan our gardens, and think about making a pie or tart that features local honey, as we look forward to the abundance to come.  Try the “Honey Nut Tart” and toast the bees that bring us this opulent goodness.

[1] Colony collapse, first noted in 2006 with a drastic rise in the number of disappearances of honey bee colonies, is significant economically and ecologically (because bees play such a significant role in the reproduction of plants).  Read more about CCD and possible reasons here:


Update: State Fair Pie Contest Results!

For the Fun of It

Update: State Fair Pie Contest Results!

Ever had a goal you've worked towards for yearsI’ve had this goal a long time:  winning a ribbon in every category of pie at the NM State Fair Pie contest.

There’s a fine line between nervous and excited.  It was 3:30 in the afternoon, and my heart had been pounding for hours.  My mouth was dry, dry, dry – in spite of drinking two liters of water -- and my knee was bouncing up and down, up and down. 

It was yesterday at the NM State Fair Pie Contest.  Judging had started almost 2 hours earlier and they had worked their way to the final two categories:  “Other Pies” and “Tart.”  I was entered in both.  Friends (Linda and Kristen) kept me grounded and reminded me to breathe.

The “Other Pies” category was competitive, with entries from some of the best bakers in the state.  I had entered a new creation, “Pie Pops,” and hoped the judges would welcome something outside the box.  These were individual slices of pie on popsicle sticks!  (More on that in an upcoming Deep Dish.)  When the judges announced that they took third place, I slumped in disappointment.  I’d put so much work into those!

Finally, two  judges pondered the tarts. Again, experience bakers had entered more tarts this year than ever before.  Back and forth they went, tasting, talking between themselves, tasting again.  They especially doted on a coconut creation – glossy and glorious – and a fresh blueberry tart.  Back and forth.  They tasted mine again, the Midnight Mandarin (dark chocolate mousse laced with candied orange zest & sea salt).  Would I finally win a blue ribbon in the tart category?  The one blue ribbon that’s been elusive out of the 16 categories at the pie contest?

The blueberry tart took third, the coconut took second, and yes! -- mine took the first place prize.  One of the judges declared it “a piece of exquisiteness” and a blue ribbon was draped on top.  Finally, mission accomplished! 

Then, to put my delight over the top, the Midnight Mandarin Tart was declared “Best of Show!”  I’ve been giddy with the joy of it ever since. 

Yes, pie is nearly trivial when embassies are burning, the Earth is warming and people are hungry.  But standing in the shade, sharing pie – apple, blueberry, chocolate, butterscotch, pecan and raspberry -- with other bakers and their friends after the contest, for a few minutes life was very good.  And that’s no small thing. rebeccabestofshow2012sm


"Costa Rican Orange Blossom Pie" is Winner!

"Merry Month of May" contest winner

Congratulations to Lenore from Costa Rica.  Her entry in the “Merry Month of May” pie recipe contest is a winner.  You can find the easy recipe here.

Sour oranges pair up with cream for a taste that’s reminiscent of the “Dreamsicles” of old.  Set in a buttery crust, it’s really hard to resist.

I’m going to try it as a tart next time.  The crust seems more tart-like (tart-esque?) to me.  I’ll take pictures and post them and let you know how the pie vs. tart versions compare.  Meantime, enjoy!

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