I love pie, so when I had the opportunity to become a judge at the Crisco 2010 National Pie Championships at the American Pie Council‘s Great American Pie Festival, I jumped at it. This is the biggest pie contest in the country, with categories for commercial pies – such as those you find at grocery store bakeries and in restaurant bakeries, like Kroger and Baker’s Square – amateur pies made by home bakers, junior pies made by kids and professional pies made by bakers. So, I flew out to Kissimee, Florida this past weekend to try some pie.
I ended up being one of about 100 judges judging the amateur pie division on Saturday. This is a popular division, with about 400 entries of just about any flavor you can imagine. It was broken up into 15 categories, ranging from Peanut Butter to Apple to Cherry to Chocolate Cream. There were 6 or 7 judges for each category, all seated around a circular table. The judging was fun, but there were a lot of points that we had to hit as we looked at each pie. We judged overall appearance, sliced appearance, overall flavor, filling, crust and creativity. The scores were tallied up by officials in another room, so while we did discuss the pies we liked best at our tables, we didn’t have to come to a consensus about a winner ourselves.
I judged the Open category and, as a word of advice to any would-be pie judges out there, this is a good category to be in because you get to taste all different flavors, not just 22 variations on a theme. I was also a judge for the Best of Show pies at the end of the day. I tried butterscotch pies, rhubarb pies, apple pies, chocolate pies, mousse pies, marmelade pies and nut pies, just to name a few, for a total of 33 different pies! We had 1-2 bites of each pie, making sure to try every component of the pie both alone and together. It sounds like a lot of food (and it was), but since it was spread out over the course of a day it wasn’t difficult to get through it all.
The pie pictured above, a Chocolate Covered Strawberry Pie, was the favorite from my table and was the Open category winner!
I have to say that the other people judging with me – Linda, Kay, Bill, Betty, Marita and JP – were all excellent judges. We had some great conversations about the pies we tasted, the ingredients and techniques used, and what we did and didn’t like about them. I felt inspired to bake a few pies myself by the time we were through!
Most pies were very good and a few were really great, with only a very tiny minority falling into the less-than-good category. I gave out plenty of high marks and left lots of positive comments as I judged. We were also instructed to leave constructive comments on our judging sheets, so if anyone who participated got a sheet from me, I hope that any comments I left were helpful enough to take your pie into the Best in Show round next year if it didn’t make it this time around!
Overall, the experience was a great one. Everyone from the American Pie Council did a great job coordinating the event, and it was a blast to eat all that pie and chat with the other judges. I took photos all throughout the competition, although I put the camera away during the Best in Show judging. As a result, I have lots of pictures of the pies I ate to give you a virtual taste of what the event was like.
I’m glad that the scores were done by numbers, and not by consensus, because I have no idea how we would have chosen a winner from all the great pies we tasted during the Best in Show judging. The winning pie was a Lemon Swirl Cream Cheese Pie (recipe here), baked by Kate Stewart Rovner, who took home $5000 along with the title of Best in Show. This pie was very much like a cheesecake, with swirls of lemon curd on top, as well as piped whipped cream, fresh raspberries and little lemon slices.
The 2011 National Pie Championships will be held around this time next year, so there is plenty of time to start thinking about what your winning recipe might be. As for me? Maybe I’ll start saving a little bit of room for all those pies I’ll judge next time around.
Update: Just posted the recipe to Lemon Swirl Cream Cheese Pie.