Eight pies lined the table at the Payson Farmers Market pie baking contest — and I had blithely offered to judge them.
A self-professed foodie, I nonetheless had no particular qualification to pass judgment on tasty pastries into which people had poured their heart and soul.
And it didn’t help to have the sweet man with the only organic apple honey sweetened man-pie hovering anxiously.
Pies have an ancient history with mankind. Before refrigeration, they were the only means to save food, the insides sealed by the outer crust. Great travel food!
Janet Clarkson, in her book, “Pie: A Global History,” wrote that evidence of pie-like culinary delights go back to the ancient Egyptians. Back around 9,500 B.C., these ancients made pie-like goodies out of oats, wheat, rye and barley, then filled the pastry with honey and baked it over hot coals.
When the pharaohs came along, their cooks added nuts and fruit to the honey and used more of a bread dough. The tomb of Ramses II, who ruled from 1304 to 1237 B.C., has pictures of these pies or galettes on the walls.
The Greeks modified bread dough into the pie pastry we know of today. As an added twist, instead of just using sweet treats to fill the pastry, the Greeks cooked meat and used the pastry to seal in the juices of the meat. Naturally, the Romans stole the idea from the Greeks, then experimented with oysters, mussels, lampreys and other meats and fish.
Recipes for pie crusts passed from cook to cook until the mid-1500s when cookbooks started showing up in homes, rather than being limited to professional kitchens.
My aunt introduced me to pie addiction on her farm in Nebraska with a dose of the most heavenly rhubarb pie, with crust flaky and flavorful. Her secret? Lard, she said.
I asked my fellow judges and the Roethleins about the advantages of lard they all agreed: Lard makes the best crusts.
Probably why my crusts fail: Not guts, no glory.
So now here I am — judging crusts. Nothing soggy. Points for flavor. Don’t forget presentation: How did it look on the plate? Did it mush all over? Look appetizing? Hold together well? Here the anxious baker with the organic honey shone — with layers of lovely apple slices cooked to a perfect al dente texture. It was food magazine beautiful on the plate.
And the final category — taste. Buttery, yummy crusts filled with fruit or a zowey macadamia nut crust with toasted coconut surrounding a banana cream pie or a graham cracker crust with a blueberry/strawberry cream pie nestled inside.
Along with those pies, we tasted a lemon meringue pie, a blackberry-strawberry pie, a rhubarb-strawberry, a plum pie and two different apple pies, one a caramel apple pie the other the organic apple man-pie.
Bakers made latticed tops, did traditional tops with scores, and the plum pie baker went over the top with a pastry hand standing in the middle of the plums surrounded by heart pastry pieces on the edges.
The judges took their job seriously. Frank LaSpisa (Payson Roundup advertising director) had his daughter try the pie with him and then they compared notes. Stephanie Landers (host of the Rim Country Forum show on the KMOG radio station) and I mumbled a couple of thoughts to each other as we tried the pies.
I took copious notes — a first impression is often the best, but with eight pies I knew I would forget.
Then we had to rate every pie category from 1 to 10.
That’s when I froze. How could I put a number to these pies? I’m a word person and my numbers would bring elation or despair.
Finally, I made my decisions. The other judges turned their numbers with mine and Lorian Roethlein tallied them up.
The strawberry-blackberry pie baked by Megan Woods won best overall pie. Second place went to Deb Schwalm and her plum pie. Nancy Roy won third place for her banana crème. The most original pie went to Schwalm and the People’s Choice award went to Roy for her banana crème.
Despite his obvious enthusiasm, Mr. Man-Pie did not place.
His pie was beautiful, healthy, sweet — totally organic.
Alas: No lard.
No guts. No glory.