NM State Fair Pie Contest 2015

Drama and Delicious, Combined

NM State Fair Pie Contest 2015

Where do you live?  When is YOUR State Fair Pie Contest?  I urge you to enter it!  Ours in NM is coming up Sept. 16th.*

First of all, why enter?  It's unbelievable fun.

When interviewing various pie bakers, I asked them about why they entered the State Fair Pie Contest. Their answers:

  • First and foremost, the community of it: being “the pie people” (as Father Mark says) who see each other there year after year and cheer for one another.
  • The adrenaline of it.  The “roller coaster of emotions,” according to Peggy. 
  • The friendly competition of it.
  • “Braggin’ rights,” as Jeremy would say.
  • Winning the blue ribbon in the category you enter and hopefully the “best of show.”  .
  • The challenge of making a fabulous pie or tart – making it the best you can.
  • The art of it:  making something beautiful and delicious.
  • It’s pie.  We love pie.  We love making it and the sheer joy of sharing it.

How Does a Pie Contest Work?

Let me give you an idea of the fun based on my experience here at the State Fair in New Mexico.  Your state fair is probably comparable.  There are 17 categories of pie at the competition here, and you can enter up to 2 pies (in different categories) if you want to.  The categories are:   

  • Peach
  • Blueberry
  • Rhubarb
  • Cherry
  • Apple
  • Non-traditional Apple
  • Pecan
  • Peanut Butter
  • Pumpkin
  • Coconut Cream 
  • Lemon Meringue
  • Fruit (other than the specific ones mentioned)
  • Chocolate
  • Citrus
  • Sugar-free
  • Other (the catch-all category)
  • Tart (any flavor).  

The top three pies in each category get a ribbon (red, white or blue), and then the 17 blue ribbon winners compete against each other for “best of show.”

Here’s what happens:  You bake and deliver your pies by noon to the Creative Arts Building at the fair on the day of the competition.  By 1:30, the pies have been sorted into the 17 categories, the judges have arrived, the helpers are there with sharp knives and plastic forks and little plates for the judges, and the audience’s chairs are arranged.  It’s a full house!  People fill every chair and there’s standing room only around the edges.

There are 3 or 4 judges and each is assigned to judge all of one category of pie.  One judge will have all of the apple pies while another judge has all of the blueberry ones.  They cut a small slice and set it on a paper plate, then commence judging by pinching off a bit of crust to taste and by checking to see if the bottom crust is cooked properly.  Then one bite of the filling.  Another pinch.  Another bite.  Then the next pie is sliced and judged.  All of this this happens with a poker face, giving nothing away.  After all of the pies in a category are initially tasted, some are pulled closer for another look, another taste, another poke with the plastic fork.  Contestants in the audience are craning their necks to see what they can tell from the judge’s face as she does their category, their pie.  Anxiety runs high:  did my pie hold together and serve out OK, did it taste OK, did the meringue hold up, what about that other pie that looks better than mine?

Finally, finally, the judge asks for the microphone and the audience, straining to see and to hear every word, leans collectively forward.  This is it:  the judge holds up a pie and declares, “This one took third, and here’s why.  Then, this one took second, it was close to the first place winner, and here’s why – it had really good flavor but was a bit undercooked.  And this one [holding it high for everyone to see] gets the blue ribbon because….” Well, because she thought it should, and she explains why.  We cheer for each other and congratulate generously. 

What are they looking for?  On what bases do they make these dramatic  decisions?  Basic pie contest criteria are: 

  • The crust should be light, flaky, and cooked to a light brown.  No soggy or pale crusts.  If your crust breaks the little plastic fork, you can forget it!
  • The filling should taste like the fruit or other main ingredient, not too much spice, and should be whole pieces (such as berries) or cut into pieces that suit that fruit.
  • No pasty or starchy taste.  Nothing that will make the judge gag a little. 
  • The slice should hold together when dished out – like you could almost hold it in your hand -- and what’s left in the pie plate shouldn’t be runny.  Hint:  Leave enough time for the pie to “set up” before the judging.
  • A simple, good-tasting pie can win a blue ribbon, for sure.  But to improve your odds, it needs to look good as well, like you’d want to bury your face in it.  It should look like Mom or Grandma was there in the kitchen with you when you made it, or maybe you were temporarily channeling Martha Stewart.  It’s worth the time to add a glaze or to weave a lattice.
  • Meringue?  Hopefully it covers the pie all the way out to the inside edge of the crust and won’t have those little drops of moisture (“weeping”) on top of the perfectly golden swirls.  Good luck with that.  Also, more meringue is better.  Preferably Italian meringue

As the judges eat their way through all the categories, the ribbons are laid out on top of the winning pies and the blue ribbon ones are whisked off to a separate table.  After all of the categories are judged, the judges gather around the blue ribbon collection to decide together which one gets top honors.  The judges kibitz and compare notes, taste a little more, recommend their favorites to each other, and then whisper to the event coordinator which one gets the top prize.  She then announces, “And the Best of Show goes to….”   The delighted winner pops up with the biggest grin ever and everyone else applauds with enthusiasm. 

Then comes the best part.  We retrieve our pies and all go outside with them and the little plates and plastic forks that we brought along ourselves, find a picnic table nearby and eat pie -- as much as we care to of our own, plus a few tastes of others’ pies.  We are the pie people, and this is pie heaven.

Let me know about your ribbons!  Rebecca

*For the details on entering the NM State Fair pie contest, go to: 

http://i2.saffireevent.com/files.ashx?t=fg&f=Food_Preparation(1).pdf&rid=NewMexicoStateFair      This is the Home Arts, Food Preparation section.  Scroll down to Pie Contest.

Categories: Past Pie Events

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