We were digging into our 13th or 14th slice of pumpkin pie before we found one that actually tasted like pumpkin. Jill was on slice number 18 or 19 before she found an apple pie that tasted like apple. Such are the tragedies of life for judges in the American Pie Championships. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it and, last month, we were among those somebodies.
Two words that always go well together are free and food, so what could be more fun than a weekend of sampling the best pie recipes from across the country? From apple to cherry to sweet potato and pumpkin, the buffet was open.
Between us, Jill and I tasted and rated more than 70 pies from promising (and not-so-promising) amateurs and well-established professionals over a weekend in Florida. Our fellow judges were food writers, bakers, pie equipment salesmen and plain old consumers like us. And, if we were paying any attention at all, we shared another journey into the every day is a model of life file. A few lessons from the world of pie:
Pies Are Square. There were very few hippies, yippies, bikers, artistes and other nonconforming types at the party. If you ever want to see Mainstream America, in a good way, check out the people whose passion is pie.
Keep it simple. A pumpkin pie should have pumpkin; an apple pie should have, um, what’s that fruit….apple. So many entrants came up with interesting concepts that went nowhere, simply because they made it so complicated that the recipe didn’t seem to fit in the category.
Life isn’t fair. A great baker in Arizona or Colorado is going to face new challenges in the humidity and altitude in Florida. If the competition was in Aspen, you’d take home all the awards, but it isn’t in Aspen, so you walk home empty handed.
Find the common ground. I got to be the table captain for one session, which gave me the chance to see the variety of taste preferences on our panel. Nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee, but lots of people don’t like much clove or ginger or brown sugar or eucalyptus or jalapenos in their pies. So how do you find a winner? The best is universal, pleasing everyone to some degree.
Everything becomes a job after a while. Even the role of honored judge gets to be a drudge by the time you’re analyzing the mouth feel of your 15th slice. Whatever you’re eating, nothing tastes as good, or bad, as the first bite. As in the rest of life, novelty is a treat, until it stops being novel.
The greatest gift is time. Spend a few hours in someone else’s world and you discover a whole new dimension to them. The friends who invited us to be pie judges are involved in the industry, but we see them at all kinds of activities that have nothing to do with pie. Taking a journey into their other world added a new dimension and spark to our appreciation of them.
All these great life lessons, and FREE FOOD!!! What could be better?