Saturday, April 4, 2009

37 pies

I was once invited to judge a pie contest. Not a professional endeavor, with real pie makers, but an amateur venture hosted by some acquaintances who thought it would be novel to have 37 people over with their homemade pies for an old-fashioned, blue ribbon showdown. 

A word about pies: splitting atoms is easier than making pies. 

Making pies is about making pie crust. And you know who is in that crust? The devil. And your third grade teacher who made you feel like you would never amount to anything except a nose-picker and a mediocre speller. The crust is never on your side. 

Back to the contest. I was 6 months pregnant, so I was truly eating for two. The other judge was a friend, also a chef, who looked as skittish as I, at the thought of tasting 37 amateur pies. It was just the three of us: me, my fetus, and Jim. 

The pies were all lined up in the tiny kitchen. Jim and I asked for complete privacy, knowing that we would have to spit out a good portion of the pies after tasting them. You could just tell by looking.  

There were a lot of variations on pudding pies.  Butterscotch with pineapples and Cool Whip, vanilla with Hershey's syrup and chocolate chips. Someone made ambrosia, with mandarin orange wedges and mini marshmallows, and tossed it into a pre-made pie shell. A few people attempted to make savory pies with shredded cheddar cheese, ground beef, and corn niblets. It was a big year for Southwestern flavors. There weren't many entries in the fruit category, but there was one memorable open-faced strawberry pie whose fruit had started to break down. The whole thing looked like bloody intestines in a pie shell.  Jim and I spit out pie after pie.  

We decided we would have to award points for originality. For risk-taking. For showing up. It was hard to pick the best worst pie. I had brought a pie, and at first, we disqualified me since I was one of the judges. But after tasting them all, we had to un-disqualify me. Jim had brought a pecan pie that was pretty good, too, and we were forced to name ourselves the winners.  

There were cries of foul when we bestowed the blue ribbons upon ourselves. But once everyone started to taste what they themselves had wrought, they knew. The trophies - the Star Trek action figures with tiny foil pie pans glued to their little plastic hands - did indeed belong to us.  

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