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Pie Contest in a Box: Everything You Need to Host a Pie Contest

Pie Contest in a Box:
Everything You Need to Host a Pie Contest

By Gina Hyams
Andrews McMeel, 2011


INTRODUCTION: Why Pie Matters Today

“Pie makes people happy, happy people want to do nice things for others, when everyone is doing nice things for each other all the time there can be no war, and therefore pie can save the world.”

— Beth Howard, apple pie baker

Every pie tells a story of home. Queen Esther, who won Best Savory Pie at the 2010 Roaring 20s Jazz Age Lawn Party Pie Contest on New York’s Governors Island, explains, “Instinctively [when you eat pie], you are reaching for your idea of what home is, and for that comfort, with every bite, even if you didn’t have a mother and a grandmother and a great-grandmother that baked, like I did, or even if home for you was a negative situation.” In these high tech-driven times, the simple grace of pie is needed more than ever. Pie contests are a way for families and communities to unite on common ground. You might fight about politics or religion, but everyone agrees that pie is good.

When you start talking pie, faces light up. When you invite someone to be a pie judge, a Cheshire Cat-like grin is the usual response. Everyone, it seems, secretly wants to be a pie judge. Even people who don’t realize it’s their life ambition to judge pie are thrilled by the request. I recently tested my theory that anyone will agree to be a pie judge by inviting several winners of the MacArthur Genius Award (these are $500,000 string-free grants given by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation) to be judges at the Hancock Shaker Village Country Fair Pie Contest in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The geniuses replied immediately and with delight. One global warming scientist from Harvard said it was about the nicest invitation he’d ever received.

My point is that you can think strategically and aim high with your pie judge invitations. Who do you want to know, curry favor with, or honor? The handsome guy you always see at the dog park? The owner of a local business you’d like to work for someday? A dedicated volunteer or donor who supports your favorite nonprofit organization? The only required qualification is that they love pie and anyone worth knowing loves pie. (As singer-songwriter Aimee Mann says, “…you have to admit there is something about the texture of pie that is a lot sexier than cake. Cake is merely a square of sweet.”)

Pie levels the playing field. It doesn’t need to be expensive to win blue ribbons. You don’t need fancy equipment—just a bowl, a rolling pin, a paring knife, a whisk or wooden spoon, a pie pan, and beans to use as pie weights will do. Some bakers swear by food processors to make crust and those French ceramic pie pans with the scalloped edges are charming and you can spend a small fortune on eBay collecting vintage pie birds (ceramic steam vents shaped like birds), not mention all the fabulous retro aprons available these days. But none of those things is really important and you don’t need gourmet or exotic ingredients either. The best pies are often made of the simplest fresh ingredients, the most important of which is love. You just need to practice. A great thing about learning to bake is that even the most horrific-looking beginner pies tend to taste good.

Pie inspires good times, good will, and a sense of community. I hope that this Pie Contest in a Box, with its prize ribbons, judge badges, pie toppers, scorecards, and pie songs will lead to a happy day for you and yours…and that it will contribute, in its own little way, to world peace.

Gina Hyams

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Copyright © 1998-2011 Gina Hyams. All rights reserved.