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November 15, 2009

KCRW's 1st Annual Good Food Pie Bake-Off

The first time we'd moved out of state from Illinois, my mom's mom came to visit us at our new house in Utah for two weeks over Valentine's Day 1986. Somehow my mom heard about a cherry pie-baking contest being held at the luxurious Little America Hotel downtown. She thought it would be a fun way to keep her mom busy while visiting, so she entered my grandma surreptitiously, and told her about it when she arrived. The type of pie was specifically and narrowly cherry, so there was no great creativity involved, but the contestants were therefore quite competitive. Though it was an all-day affair with a lot of waiting around, we had so much fun together that day!

The crowd at the Little America Cherry Pie Contest in Feb. 1986

The judging was a serious matter.

Grandma at the pie contest, awaiting results.

Grandma and I at home afterwards, with our pie

My mom and Grandma baking cookies at our first house in the 80's. Grandma's wearing the apron I wore at the Good Food contest.

With the resurgence in popularity of frugal living and trying to keep crafty, inventive projects on this blog, I'd even taken one of my grandma's old pie recipes and created a pie-in-a-jar gift package, based on her Impossible Pie, a coconut custard that makes its own crust. I'd made up a bunch for a craft fair and been using them in place of buying gifts for every occasion for a while now.

The pie-in-a-jar I came up with from Grandma's depression-era recipe.

So when I heard about KCRW's First Annual Good Food Pie Contest, I jumped in with my entry as a tribute to my Grandma Walker.

I knew my entry was a simple, everyday type not likely to stand out in the crowd, but I figured the "making its own crust" aspect would be its gimmick, and the fact that everyone can make it might actually be a plus.

My official entry, just out of the oven.

I got up early to bake on Saturday morning, the day of the competition. I'd chosen a familiar recipe with half the ingredients pre-measured, and really was not expecting to place, so I was surprised to find myself nervous anyhow.

a perfectly browned crust, topped with a sprinkling of fresh grated nutmeg

Wearing my Grandma Walker's apron, next to the sign

Luckily, I had a friend along to be my official photographer and keep me company! Thanks to Dave D. for joining me at the last minute. I was so glad to have a cheerleader.

Using my Longaberger picnic basket--only happens once every decade!

The registration line when I arrived

When I arrived to find 150 entries, I knew I stood not a chance in competition. But the day was such a fun people-watching, social experiment I had a great time doing it all anyways.

At registration, each pie was given an assigned number and a placard with the number, to which your pre-written list of ingredients was taped. Since pies were offered for sampling, the list of ingredients was provided for those with food allergies. But full recipes weren't required.

There were four categories for the competition: Fruit & Nut pies; Cream, Custard, Chiffon, & Mousse pies; Savory pies; and lastly, Interpretive pies, or those that defied categorization. Since mine is egg-based, I entered in the Custard/Cream category.

Evan Kleiman warming us up--talking with the folks in the registration line directly ahead of me, who brought a beautiful double-crusted blueberry pie.

making the first (glumph!) cut

Pies were required to be delivered uncut. At the location, each contestant cut their own pie into eight pieces, and plated two slices next to their pie. I chose a clear pie pan to accentuate the self-forming crust and beautiful texture of the coconut-studded egg custard. I brought along a pretty fluted green ceramic cake stand to show off the presentation of my semi-plain entry. It added both color and height.

Sliced and Plated

The view from above, as folks were still registering

Santa's first day in residence--yep, it's the holidays!

The awards table awaits

The crowd as the judging nears

My table! My pie's on the green cake stand in the middle.

Judge Eric Greenspan evaluates a pie opposite mine

The judging, of course, seemed to take forever. Since there were so many pies, each judge was assigned 10-12 entries to inspect in the first round. The pies were judged on a scale of 1-10 for appearance, texture, and flavor. The totals from the first round were figured up and the top five in each category determined. These top five were then reassessed by all judges, who came to a consensus to determine the first, second, and third place finishers for each category, and the overall best in show.

My pie was only sampled by my singular judge from the first round, Clifford Wright. I'd been viewing the registration and gathering looking down from the second floor. I waited till Evan Kleiman came over the public address calling for all contestants to leave the area, and for the judges to assemble. I went downstairs to my area to find Clifford rounding my table past my pie--I'd missed his assessment. I wasn't disappointed because we'd plated two slices, so I figured I'd get to see a second judge. Only later I realized the second piece was for the second round, if one made it past the first judge. Bummer to have done all that work for only one person to taste! If they didn't particularly like a certain kind of pie, you were out....but I never expected to place anyway.

Evan Kleiman's commentary helped to pass the time during judging.

Judge Stefan Richter was partial to the banana creme pie behind mine, and kept returning for more samples!

Stefan even talked up the banana creme to judge Russ Parsons!

The pie contest grew out of Evan Kleiman's Pie-a-Day project that she's blogged about all summer on the Good Food show's blog.


Things that made the event great:
  • They accommodated so many contestants!
  • They kept it spacially compact so all could see what was happening.
  • Evan Kleiman made it fun by keeping the conversation going during the waiting/judging.
  • They provided easy directions that made it easy to find the mall and the place within the mall.
  • They made check in organized and smooth.
  • They kept it (fairly) short timewise, at least in comparison to Grandma's cherry pie competition. The event ran from 1230P-4P. It felt long or slow at times but really was a reasonable time span.
Things that can make next year's event even better, since this was only the first time the event was held:
  • Perhaps having a kids category would encourage them to participate. Maybe a separate mens category too.
  • Having the signs in front of each contestant's place be double sided, so they can be read from either side of the table.
  • After winners are announced, having their ribbons next to the pies, so we can see which were the winners when everything's opened up for browsing/sampling. Or use stickers on the placards to denote the winners.
  • Having a whiteboard (at the check-in table?) that states how many contestants in each category. I know there were 150-plus total, but I still don't know how many I was competing against within my category.
  • Having a stated time for the awards announcement so people (especially supportive guests) can go away and come back for that portion.
  • Having each contestant judged by two people in the first round, to get a little less bias into the judging. I understand no one person can taste 150 pies, but it seems a bit unfair to have only one pass/fail opinion.
  • Handing out paper plates and forks for tasting at check in so no one has to look for them when the sampling begins.
Go here for a full list of the pie contest's winners, as well as the show best winning recipe, an apple pie.

Around 330P, after the winners were announced and had come up for their ribbons, they opened up the area for sampling. That of course was a huge stampede through a narrow area. I was able to sample the peanut butter pie, the pretty fruit tart, and a vegan fromage pie from the savory category. I also had a bite of my friend's sampling of the avocado pie. Without doubt, the best tasting and most unusual was the vegan savory pie. The peanut butter pie was to die for but so rich a sampling was a huge serving. Here are some of the other pie entries that inspired me:

A savory pie being meticulously plated.

Marni Landes won my category with the pie above. I wish I'd gotten to sample it, but it was gone before I managed to get there. Check out her food blog, Happy Go Marni, for her account of the day!

Pumpkin Pie with Ginger Cookie Topping

Blueberry Hand Pies won an award in the fruit/nut category.

Fluffernutter Pie

This was my neighbor to the right, who made "Christmas in CA" Pie.

I never got close enough to this peppermint-looking pie to see what it was, but it sure is eye-catching.

My neighbor to my left was an Avocado Pie. I tried this one, and it was strongly citrusy.

I love the moon-and-stars detail on this nut pie.

This beautiful tart was prize-winning

Have you ever entered or attended a pie baking contest? What is your favorite from the photos or kinds above? Let me know by leaving a comment on the blog, and I'll try to get the recipe for you!


  1. What a great wrap up!! Your pie looked delicious and clever (self-creating crust? wow!). I really enjoyed getting to meet you at the contest and loved that you made a pie inspired by your grandma. Plus, I didn't realize as I was talking to you there that the apron you were wearing was your grandma's. That is a very sweet gesture. And you found a photo of your grandma wearing it to post to your blog. Awesome!!!

  2. It is so rewarding to read this! You and Marni both posted such beautiful pictures and comments; it humbles me. And to read about the event from the perspective of participants after promoting this event for months makes it all worthwhile.
    Thank you for sharing the fun with us.
    Sarah Spitz, KCRW

  3. I loved reading this post--you know how I feel about pies! And the then and now apron photos are just perfect!


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