Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Of Pies, Contests, and The Will To Not Win

Last month, I did something that I didn't think I'd ever do: entered a pie baking contest. The event, The Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governor's Island, holds a "Royal Court of Pie" contest and this year (our second, and last, time attending) I decided to enter. I've said that I'm not very competition-minded with my baking, or anything else for that matter. I bake because I enjoy it. I bake to improve my craft. I bake to make my friends, and the guests at my table, smile. I don't bake for ribbons or even bragging rights. But this year I figured, why not? 

I put a lot of consideration into what kind of pies to bake, balancing what I thought would be interesting for the judges against what was easily transportable. After all, not only was I entering the contest but I was also going to bring enough pie for our party. After discarding several ideas, I went with something out of season – a sweet potato pie – and something that was more summery – a batch of peach-blueberry hand pies. 

Let me be clear: I was nervous but the only way I'd even consider entering the contest was by completely divorcing myself from the idea of winning. If someone liked the pies enough to vote for them, fine. If not, then I'd done something for fun and still had enough to feed my party.

We had to wait until late afternoon before they announced the winners of the contest. There were five categories and prizes ranged from gift certificates to cook books and other such culinary fare.  

A box of bags of pies along with some sweet potato goodness.
Photo by Michele der Beker (She to whom I am married)

I didn't win. Neither did I place or show. I cared a little but the truth is, I didn't bake to "win". I baked to bake. And I'll consider that my portion of success.


We had an exceptionally long and cold winter. I was looking forward to peaches and cherries this summer. Peach-blueberry pies seem to be one of my obsessions this season, so I wanted to make a full pie. Thing is, the peaches this summer, in my area, seem to be dry and kind of tasteless, which is very much unlike last year. 

And Aside Of Minor Importance

The cherries this season are quite watery and also kind of tasteless. I'm more than a little disappointed that the two fruits I most look forward to baking with in the summer are proving inferior. I don't know what I'm going to do about that but it looks like I'll be baking more apple pies....

An Aside Of Minor Importance Ends.

I normally blanch the peaches to peel the skin but these just wouldn't cooperate! If you leave the peaches too long in the boiling water, they cook in a way you don't want them to (and cutting them up is exceedingly difficult). I ended up peeling them with a knife...

Look great! Taste "blah".
Prepped for cooking down.
...and cooking the skins to make a reduction that would help intensify the peach flavor. 

For extra flavor.
It worked. Mostly.

Add those little "blue" flavor bombs!
Of course, adding that much extra liquid, even in a reduction leaves me with my age-old problem of filling consistency. I don't like filling the falls out of the crust the moment you cut it, so I end up adding a thickener, usually corn starch and sometimes flour. Trouble is you can add too much and then the filling becomes the next best thing to mortar. I'm still very much a learning baker, so I'm doing a lot of trial and error with this sort of thing.

Covered...with experimental steam hole cutting, even!
Baked, brown, and beautiful!
When I pulled it out of the oven, I could tell that things weren't going to be to my liking. That little trickle of juice seeping out of the steam vent meant the filling was going to be a bit too watery for my taste.

Pie and home made double-vanilla ice cream. Unbeatable combination!
Yes. A bit too watery for my taste. But the taste? Almost right on the money. I made the right choice about the peach skin reduction; it added just enough flavor to almost completely compensate for the poor quality of the peaches. Michele said she thought it was delicious, so that's good enough for me!

Currently listening to: Amel Larrieux - INI 



  1. The cherries out here are great. But where's the picture of your entry? I don't think you should give up the pie competition circuit so quickly. There's a whole world of pie-baking adversaries to best.

    1. The first picture in this post has my entries: the box of hand pies (in individual wax paper bags) and the sweet potato pie just above the box.

      A whole world of adversaries? Ack! /retreats to the deep recesses of his tiny-ish kitchen. ;)

  2. That Table-o-pies photo by Mrs. der Beker belongs in a cooking magazine, or Hudson Valley Living if there is such a publication.

    1. Well, she does wonders with her iPhone and Instagram app. Plus she has an amazing "eye" for composition. Hopefully she'll be take photos for me more frequently.