Tag Archives: baking

Pie taxonomy, or Walla Walla = last minute

Last Friday I made pie, a tester pie in advance of this Saturday’s pie contest. I tried out a sweet potato coconut pie, something I’ve never made before. But I worried about making apple pie, as I said in my post last week. My original recipe called for the potatoes to be sliced, boiled, then layered in the bottom of the pie pan, but I think for this next go-round I’ll mash them and spread them in the bottom, and spice them up a little, rather than having them be plain. My tester pie came out looking like this:

"The Contender" pie

The crust was just a Pillsbury roll and bake crust, which I wasn’t planning on using for the real event, because as Susanne put it, “pie tasting judges know the difference between store bought and the real deal.” Well, I have to have the real deal, right? 

When I first heard about this contest, I looked for the rules for the pies and the procedures for entering the contest because hello, 9 years of working with or for the Federal Government, and I am a rule-following machine. Okay, I’m rather not a rule-following machine, but I do understand that not following the rules can come back to haunt me. But this, after all, is Walla Walla, Washington, home of the 90-minute-to-entree restaurant service. Thus it is that it’s now only today that the rules have been posted on the Daily Market’s Web site. And they state:

2.  Pie crust must be homemade. Bottom crust required, top crust is optional. 

3.  Pies may only be fruit-based. For health reasons, no cream pies or meat pies allowed. 

Well now, I guess I have questions about rules 2 and 3. First of all, I understand Susanne’s point about the crust, but how exactly is it that they’ll know I’ve used a store-bought crust? It would only be about the taste of it, right? It’s not like there’s a pie crust goblin that would pop up and give me away. Cripes, if there is a Pie Crust Goblin, I hope someone alerts me to this before Saturday! All that said, of course I’m going to make my own crust. I do have my mother’s recipe, after all. I might lose my mind with finicky pie crust, but I’ll muddle through somehow. I just have to remember I volunteered for this — damn this town for having so little to do that entering a pie contest seems interesting!

Okay, okay, it will be fun. I’ll be up against I have no idea whom — I might have to dial down the competitiveness if my challengers are bunch of grandmothers. Or maybe I’ll have to dial it up! I remember some of those women from my mixed bowling league a few years ago, and they were killers. They’d slowly walk down the approach, practically dropping the balls through the floor, and then whammo — strike. It wasn’t until they turned around with a wicked grin on their faces that you’d see they knew what they were doing all along. So if I’m baking against a bunch of master piemakers, I better bring my A game.

Now then, rule number three flummoxes me. Do sweet potatoes count as fruit or not? Last year’s winner was a walnut pie. A walnut pie. How the hell is that a fruit? Second place was an onion pie. Also nothing like a fruit as far as I know. So is this new rulemaking for the second annual contest? What’s the beef with non-fruit pies? Are there so many vegetarians in this town that the very idea of a meat pie causes the judges to resign and flee over to the Town of Touchet for their pie contest instead? I suppose I should call over to the coordinator and ask her if sweet potatoes are allowed or not. So all of my preparation is for naught if she says no sweet potatoes. If only they’d posted the rules way back last week. Tsk, tsk.

I will certainly keep everyone abreast of the latest developments regarding the Pie Off 2008.

Slice of life


Peach custard pie

Peach custard pie



I was made aware this evening of an upcoming pie contest to raise money for our local food cooperative. It didn’t take long for my mind to start hypothesizing pie contents that would be sure-fire champions. After five minutes of dedicated thinking, I realized a few things:

1. I guess I’m going to enter the contest — let’s just say the universe seems to have decided this for me, since it was a done deal the second I heard the contest existed.

2. I have no idea how to strategize my approach to pie baking for the purposes of winning a contest.

3. It shouldn’t be about the winning. It should be about the baking and the fundraising and the community spirit.

4. Oh heck, of course it’s about the winning! Just for bragging rights.

5. Oh crap, I think I’m a carpetbagger. Thinking I can roll into town and twelve weeks later, walk away with pie baking bragging rights as if nobody else in town knows how to bake a pie.

And then I went to making dinner, a faux chicken Kiev dish consisting of pounded chicken breasts stuffed with goat cheese and broccoli, garlic bread, and spiced lentils for a side because I made 67 cups accidentally last Friday and I have just got to find a way to use them up. For being half-Lebanese I have no insight into making lentils interesting to eat.

As I made dinner, pounding the chicken hard enough that the windows rattled in the room next to me, I mused the pie possibilities. Old-fashioned apple pie. Simple to make and I do it well, but wouldn’t the judges’ expectations be too high for it to be impressive? Apple pie with my mother’s crumble top. Always a hit, but again, perhaps too generic. Granola pie. Definitely out-of-the-box thinking, but I might not want to make something with corn syrup if it’s for a food co-op. And would a “granola” pie be offensive to people usually referred to as “crunchy?” It’s one thing not to win a contest, I reckoned, but it’s another to alienate people! This is a small town, after all! I mean, of course it’s small, it hosts a PIE CONTEST.

Okay, so maybe I should go for a pie that is unexpected but not ridiculous in any way. Something rather old-fashioned, something that I could expect nobody else would make. And since it’s fall, berry pies are probably out. Perhaps a pumpkin custard pie with a meringue top. Or a brown sugar and grits pie. But maybe that’s too southern for them. For me, small town = The South, even though I know the only “southeast” around here is our location in the state. Susanne wondered if the local stores even sold grits. I can’t imagine a grocery store not stocking grits — it’s just a poor man’s polenta, I told her. But she may have a point, and now I have to check the next time I drop by. I’ve got a week to decide on a pie — actually two pies, since you have to make it twice.

I wonder if getting excited about a pie contest means I’m acclimating to my new environment, or if I’m just bored out of my skull and looking for just about anything to do. I still haven’t joined a band, for instance, and everyone and their brother is in a band here, with all manner of names like “Trixie and the Catnips,” or some such. So if I’ve held off that demon, perhaps a pie contest is no big deal.

Where else could you get 5 slices of pie for $5? That’s exciting all on its own merits.

My life in the midst of bacteria

It appears that it is not illegal in the State of Washington to produce or purchase unhomogenized, unpasteurized milk. Of course, they also have medical marijuana up here, but that’s another story. This story is about yogurt, hence the bacteria.

I suppose if one is going to be situated in a small town — call it a city if you like, but really, if we’re talking fewer than six digits of people, we’re talking town. Anyway, if this small town is in the corner of a state bordered by people nostalic for the Wild West and people nostalgic for fascism, one needs to begin playing to one’s strengths, in this case, baking and cooking. Not that these are the only things that one does, but when one begins referring to oneself in the third person (and people don’t bring up Suede of Project Runway), baking and cooking are the easiest strengths to highlight. So bear with one. Erm, me.

Susanne and I were invited to a farm share dinner, which was nice because we used to do those occasionally in DC. We asked what we could contribute and were delighted to be told: DESSERT. So I thought about making cheesecake, as I have in years past, when I’ve made delights like these:


Caramel toffee cheesecake

Caramel toffee cheesecake


A caramel toffee cheesecake with the traditional graham cracker crust. There’s also the chocolate mousse cheesecake with an Oreo crust, and finally, the brownie and chocolate swirl cheesecake with a vanilla sponge cake crust.

None of these, however, did I make for the farm share dinner. I made this, a chocolate fudge cake with a masala chai-infused ganache.

Hopefully it went some distance toward making some friends! 




Chocolate cheesecake

Chocolate cheesecake













chocolate fudge cake

chocolate fudge cake

Meanwhile, I made my first foray into growing bacteria in milk, or rather, I made some yogurt last week. Baking the cake was a motivator, so I poured 8 cups of raw milk into a nice large pot and made it not raw anymore by bringing it slowly to 180 degrees. I wound up with three batches setting overnight — a vanilla batch, a plain batch, and a small batch with local organic honey. It turned out really well! Now I need some recipes using yogurt because 8 cups of yogurt is a LOT of yogurt to get through in its two-week life span.

Maybe that’ll be my new career — yogurt maker for the stars. I just need some flavor ideas that are novel and hip, and I’m in business.

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