By Ashley English, Small Measure
The big seasonal shift is closing in. You can smell it in the funnel cakes, candied apples, and corndogs of fair season. As August draws to a close, fairgrounds across the nation roar to life, offering a feast for the senses. Mingling with the tractor pulls, 4-H agricultural displays, and Ferris wheels will inevitably be pie.
Home bakers pull out their rolling pins and dust their counters with flour come fair season, all in a quest for blue ribbon domination. Personally, I have never entered a pie in blue ribbon contest. In fact, I’ve never entered anything I’ve cooked into a contest. That said, I’ve baked many a pie, and have had them met with generous praise from some fairly harsh home cook critics. Over the years, I’ve developed a fairly good sense of what will bring on the compliments and rave reviews from my pies’ eaters.
Firstly, if you’re entering a pie in a blue ribbon event, consider offering some sort of riff on a classic. It’s not that tried-and-true blueberry pie, for instance, doesn’t have its place in the pie pantheon. It’s simply that judges (or anyone eating the pie you’ve made, for that matter) need something that stands out and differentiates your pie from the others. What makes it memorable, what makes it unique? Classic apple pie, while delicious, needs a little something extra to turn it into a blue ribbon winner.
To that end, consider working with the freshest produce locally available to you. Fair season typically runs late August into early-mid September, placing a wide variety of ripe, fresh, top-of-their-flavor-peak fruits (and vegetables! Don’t overlook savory pies!) at your disposal. If your region of the country is known for a particular item, showcase it, paying homage to your personal stomping grounds while offering a delicious delicacy. The judges will appreciate the nod to the unique attributes of your (and their, if they’re local) particular geographic location.
Finally, along with interesting flavors to stand out from the other contestants and incorporating local produce into the mix, consider texture when developing your pie. This is something I learned from my husband, who always appreciates, say, the crunch of a pickle along with his chicken salad or the inclusion of chopped nuts with ice cream. Playing textures off of each other is another good way to make your pie memorable to the judges.
Like I said above, I’ve never entered a pie in a blue ribbon contest. That said, I believe what makes pies sensational at home translates equally well come professional competition time. Here I’m offering recipes for my Island Spice Apple & Pear Pie and Peachy, Creamy Streusel Pie. Both always elicit praise and requests for more, which, ultimately, is exactly what you’re hoping to hear, whether at your kitchen table or the judge’s table. Best of luck to you all!
Island Spice Apple & Pear Pie
Peachy, Creamy Streusel Pie