Tag Archives: co-op

Hidden treasures

So last Friday I turned in my intent to enter the pie contest at the food co-op. I was a bit surprised at what I saw. Back when I lived in Syracuse, the co-op was nestled in a residential area in an old green arts and crafts-era neighborhood. It wasn’t enormous, certainly not the size of a supermarket, but it had about 1,000 square feet of space, and carried groceries, dairy, fresh made tofu, floating in a plastic container like edible styrofoam, and all manner of non-perishables and even some cleaning supplies, which is where I first learned the All One Insanity of Dr. Bronner. You could go insane (or blind) just trying to read the labels on that stuff. I volunteered there a few hours a month, not much, but really enjoyed my local milk in glass bottles. That was a splurge for me, though, so I only got the milk maybe once a month. So much for my graduate stipend. I still don’t know how I lived on $700 monthly checks.

Fast forward to 2008 and the Walla Walla co-op has just opened at a physical location. There is a front room in a converted house, across from a now-defunct grocery store, and they carry about as much as anyone could pack into 250 sq. ft. of space. So these people need some fundraising! At $5 for pie and $2.50 for senior citizens, they’re gonna need a lot more pie contests to make it work. Unless there’s other fundraising. I mean, of course there’s other fundraising. Their money making enterprises can’t be:

1. Annual Pie Contest

2. Bake Sale

3. Wet T-Shirt Contest

4. NEW Monthly Pie Contest

At any rate, dropping of my pies, which each seemed to weigh about 15 pounds (I think it was the 6 sweet potatoes that I had mashed up into them), I guessed that the contest was a lot more about building community than raising money.

 

one of the sweet potato pies

one of the sweet potato pies

It was in the assisted living center portion of a grand Oddfellows House. At this point, I hear “Oddfellows” and I think buried scrolls and gold ala Nicholas Cage in National Treasure. Poor Masons. I wonder what George Mason himself would have made of that awful flick.

Anyway, these people are decked out. It was like MTV’s Pimp My Ride did a special there one day, because the walkers and the scooters everyone was using were swanky. I think one of them might have been an amphibious vehicle to boot. Several residents saw me huffing my way through the building — I can only image what I must have looked like, a bit fat guy with two heavy, sticky pies on each hand, waiting for the elevator. I invited a few curious folks to come to the contest. The administrators of the building pumped in swing music the whole time, and I thought that if these folks were like my father, they probably enjoyed the tunes. It was, actually, the happiest assisted living center I’ve ever seen.

Something like 20 pies were in the contest. Three or four apple pies, cherry pie, banana-coffee pie (affectionately named “Banaoffee,” which I turned over again and again in my brain, trying to figure out what language it was in), citrus pie, individually peeled concord grape pie, apple-raspberry pie, and many others. By the time the contest opened to the public, the judges had already made their selection, which, we were informed, used a point system and was “very impressive.”

 

pie contest volunteers

pie contest volunteers

 I walked in at the same time as a woman who I met in September at the HIV fundraiser. That woman is a fantastic cook. Thus the pies she was carrying in with her daughter I figured would be very good indeed. Turns out her 13-year-old made the pies, which were citrus pies.

She said she was upset because it was supposed to be a lemon pie, but they hadn’t had enough lemons, so she had to use lime and orange as well.

“Well, sometimes those changes make your pie come out even better,” I said.

“That’s what I told her,” said her mother.

I put down my pies and saw the table sag ever so slightly under their weight. I was then marked as Pie #2. The citrus pie was Pie #3. I left and went back home (less than a block away), and waited for the judges to do their thing. Some friends who were visiting us that weekend walked over with us to enjoy some pie. We were allowed to taste from 5 pies, which made quite a pile of confection on our paper plates. I should have strategized with Susanne so we got a wider variety of pie, but we all ran off like bugs to the light, looking at pie after pie.  We sat back down with our selections and waited about an hour to hear the results. We also could vote for “the people’s favorite,” so I went for the citrus pie, which was in fact very tasty.

The winners this year were:

First Place: Peach Custard Pie (darn! that’s the pie I was thinking about making before I decided on sweet potato pie)

Second Place: Marionberry Pie (DC readers of this blog may find such a thing suspicious, as it calls into question whether there was any cocaine in the pie)

Third Place: Apple Raspberry Pie

So, this intrepid pie-baker lives to fight another day. And the nice part is, the girl won for people’s choice with her very tasty citrus pie. It was also nice to see some friends at the event, all stuffing ourselves on pie. As in the picture below.

 

Pie eaters

Pie eaters

Clearly, Susanne is pissed we didn’t win!

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.

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