Pie-off: Bakers wait anxiously as judges try their creations
By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on October 3, 2012 1:46 PM
Faith Christian Academy seniors Meghen Meleny, left, and Meredith Clark stand with their pies as they bring them in for judging at Tuesday's pie baking contest at the Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair. Meghen won first place in the Junior Custard Division. Meredith won third place in the Junior "Other" Division.
Alonzo Beale, partner at J.J. Ashley Bakery, samples the pies in the Adult Cream Division. Beale was one of the five judges giving out marks -- and praise -- at the contest.
DUDLEY -- As contestants brought in their pies and then sat patiently waiting as the judges carefully evaluated each one Tuesday afternoon, it was hard to tell who was sweating more -- the pies or their creators.
With temperatures climbing near 90 degrees and humidity reaching the same mark, pie contest officials said it was the steamiest, most sweltering year they could remember. And it wasn't just the people who were suffering. Several custard pies, at first glance, looked as though they had been decorated with glistening pearls on top, but a closer look revealed their soft peaks dripping small beads of sweat, while for the cream pies, the heat didn't take too long to dissolve many of them into near melted messes.
But after the judging was over, the difficulties in keeping the pies looking their best didn't dissuade those in the crowd from rushing forward to sample the 60 pies that were left after the 10 first-place adult and junior division winners were taken away to be placed on display in the exhibit barn.
In fact, for most of the crowd, that was the whole reason they were there -- to taste.
"No, we didn't make one," bystander Lena Price said. "We come for the samples. I've never had a bad piece of pie here."
Even for some of the bakers themselves, the chance to taste the competition was the real motivation for all the time and effort.
"The fact that I can try the pies," answered 15-year-old Noah McDowell when asked why he decided to enter for the first time this year -- a chocolate, peanut butter pie that won second place in the Junior "Other" Division.
For other contestants, the chance to taste a bunch of different pies was simply the icing on the cake -- their reason for participating was much simpler.
"If we made pies, we got out of school for this," said Faith Christian Academy senior Aaron Hill, one of four boys from the school whose temporary participation in the home economics class landed him a blue ribbon for his taco pie in the Junior "Other" Division -- a win, he said, after dancing his way to the front of the crowd to claim his ribbon, that definitely gave him bragging rights over many of the 11 girls from the school who also entered the contest.
And for many, whether or not they were willing to admit it upfront, the chance to win quiet bragging rights or to have a particular recipe vindicated is a lot more important.
"You don't do this for the prize money. Most of us have more in our pies than we'll ever get out," said Lori Jones as she waited for the results on her pecan bourbon pie. "You do it because you enjoy it."
And for her, the Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair's pie-baking contest has long been an enjoyable family affair.
Mrs. Jones said the best she could recollect, she began participating in the contest when she was in high school, while her mother, Carolyn Lewis, has been putting her tasty creations in since its inception.
Now, she said, she's doing the same with her daughters, only two of whom could participate this year -- Colleen Jones, 11, and Sarah Jones, 7. Her other, Meredith had a school conflict.
Colleen came in second this year in the Junior Custard Division with the family's specialty, chocolate chess pie.
"They pass that one around. Usually it wins something," Mrs. Jones said.
Also usually winning a ribbon was Mrs. Lewis' chocolate cream pie, which came in third Tuesday in the Adult Cream Division. Her pecan fudge, though, was beat out in the Adult Nut Division, including her by her daughter's bourbon pecan pie, which came in second.
"We usually try not to do that," Mrs. Lewis said about being in the same category. "Sometimes it happens, though."
But the competition between the mother and daughter was certainly friendly as the 11- and 7-year-old wished them both -- and each other -- best wishes as they watched the judges.
"Good luck to all of us," they said.
Not everyone was taking the waiting in such stride, though, with several bakers, especially the teens from Faith, watching nervously.
"I was watching as they cut mine (apple pie) and tasted it, but they kept a straight face," said student Mandy Dilley. "So I don't know. This is my first time making a pie."
Her father, Sherman Dilley, also was on hand to watch the judging, while his son and Mandy's brother, Tyler Dilley, had his own entry, a fudge nut pie, this year, too.
"It's fun. I'm not really nervous, just proud," Dilley said. "Thankfully they're not in the same category."
But pie baking veteran Grace McDowell, 13, knew that watching the judges and agonizing over their every change in facial expression wasn't going to help.
"I did that last year," she said.
So she sat back in the crowd, drank her bottle of water and waited to find out how the judges liked her strawberry/banana cream pie.
And as the judges worked, they carefully considered each pie, looking at three factors - appearance (25 percent of the total), texture (25 percent) and taste (50 percent).
"This is definitely my favorite part of the fair," said Alonzo Beale, partner at J.J. Ashley bakery. "Every one of them looks very appetizing."
And while the heat and humidity were definitely taking a toll on the baked goods, Keith Pottmeyer, the executive chef at Wayne Memorial Hospital, explained they would take that into consideration, especially when looking at appearance and texture.
Overall, though, he said was very impressed with the pies in front of them.
"I can honestly say I have never seen anyone who didn't try to put their very best pie out here," he said. "Everybody puts out their Sunday best, and it's nice to see everyone trying their best."
And really, said Wesley Dills, that's why the contest remains so popular every year - people trying their best and having fun.
Dills, who brought four pies this year, winning a first for his chocolate fudge pie with Wild Turkey and honey-glazed pecans in the Adult "Other" Division, and a second for his old fashioned buttermilk with pecans and coconut in the Adult Custard Division, has been entering the contest since he was 15 years old. This year, he said, he decided to mix things up a little bit with some of his tastes, adding, for example, a gingersnap crust and cinnamon and cayenne almonds to his sweet potato pie, which was a hit among the tasters afterward.
"I think I'm going thing a little outside the norm. They're all types of pies you're used to, just used a little differently," he said.
Asked if he had a favorite, he pointed to the one that would eventually win first in the "Other" category,
"I'm really proud of the pecans and the way they turned out," he said.
But what made him most excited was the fact that four other boys had entered in the junior division this year.
"I'm glad to see them," he said. "This is great. To me, it means keeping tradition."