Colorado food / Food and Cooking

Ka-ching! Pie judgment day is a good bet in the Nevada dessert in 1995

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The art of pie is alive in Colorado (Photo by Kim Long)

(Washington Post, March 29, 1995) There’s something deeply satisfying about throwing a pie at someone.

There’s the running windup, the last fiendish glance at your victim to steady your aim, then the throw, followed by that rewarding “splaaattttt!” when the pie finds its mark.Admit it: A pie in the face is as American as, well, apple pie. It speaks to the Soupy Sales within us or, in my case, the Inner Three Stooges. “Nyuk, nyuk. Throw a pie, you numbskull!” taunted my Moe, Larry and Curly as I sat in Tarzan’s Lounge in the Golden Nugget Hotel here, listening to the whirr-ching-chink of nearby slot machines and slowly digesting the four dozen pies I had tasted as head judge at the 1995 National Pie Championships. As a judge, I felt it was my responsibility to remain dignified. But the urge to pie someone was too strong. I paid $1 for a foam plate crowned with a pound of Rich’s Non-Dairy Topping and nailed a guy who had his face stuck through a hole in a giant playing card. I didn’t know or care who he was. He flinched a little when I pied him again because it felt so fine the first time.

After dozens of pies the day before, tasting dozens more at the World’s Largest Pie Buffet, reading pie poetry and talking about pie for days with radio DJs all over North America, who could blame me if I went bonkers for a few seconds and creamed a willing victim?

Laughlin is not the first place you would think to hold a big pie powwow. Pennsylvania, maybe, or Ohio. If America still has a middle of nowhere, Laughlin is located in the middle of that. At night, about all you can see is a great glow from a giant, cigarette-smoking neon cowboy and a row of huge casino/hotels, including a gargantuan riverboat, which fill the banks of the palm-tree-lined river.

Laughlin hosted the event because Jo Elle Murray, the young marketing director of the Golden Nugget, wanted a nice event for the families and seniors the town attracts. What she got was a remarkable two-day pie party attended by hundreds of pie lovers and pie makers that one wag dubbed “Piestock ’95.” By its sheer excess, the celebration pounded

home the reason National Pie Day was declared 15 years ago by the American Pie Council: The art and craft of pie making must not die in this country.

Compelling reasons fuel our pie anxiety. According to the folks at Crisco, the number of American pies baked from scratch fell 48 percent from 1979 to 1989 and continues to decline. Americans are buying fewer pies, as well. Pie sales have been drooping faster than a meringue topping on a humid day, down 15 percent from 1987 to 1992, says the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Millions of Americans have never tasted real pie, only frozen or fast-food versions. So cowed are we by the nutritional police that pie, which requires lots of fat for flakiness, has become virtually anathema.

However, you would never have known that pies were no longer center stage in our dessert life if you had seen the rows and rows of them — three long tables’ worth — filling the casino lounge. Fruit pies, nut pies, cream pies, meringues, and more, released the sweet allure of pie perfume, which wafted out into the casino a few yards away.

As ridiculous as it seems, Laughlin was really the perfect place to hold this competition. Being a pie judge is a gamble. It’s a risky job that’s not for the weak of heart or stomach. You have to taste each pie as if it were the first and then cleanse your palate with water or a cracker and get ready for the next. Pie can taste burnt, soapy, cloyingly sweet or overspiced. It can taste like used cat litter. At this event it could also be the best damn pie in the U.S. of A.

Baking a pie and entering your pride and joy in a contest is no safe bet either. You never know exactly how one will taste until you break into it. Ingredients become “pie” only when they bake and meld within that caldron of the crust. Your finished work of tart can’t be fixed, frosted over or made flakier later. For better or worse, it’s done dough.

At this debut event, there were 48 pie makers from Nevada, Utah and Arizona. Those from farther afield (like the coasts) were reluctant to fly with pie. No doubt the entrants who did come wanted the $1,000 in prizes and the two-night stay in Las Vegas with tickets to see illusionists Siegfried and Roy. But what really drove them was the bragging rights among the pie guys.

For one contestant, delivering the freshest possible pie required heroic efforts. Irene Brock, a two-time state pie champion from Utah, took her second pie out of the oven in West Valley City at 5 a.m. that day and caught an 8 a.m. flight, getting her to Laughlin just in time. She eventually won third place for her caramel walnut pie.

The judges rated the entries according to the official American Pie Council criteria: whole-pie appearance, post-slice appearance, taste (including mouth-feel, aftertaste and aroma) and the overall impression.

As chief pie judge, I also recommended that the judges toss aside the score sheet and simply ask themselves: “Is this a truly memorable pie? Do I love this pie? Would I buy this pie and take it home? Am I compelled to taste this pie again, even though I still have 25 more pies to judge?”

If their answer is “Yes! Yes! Oh, oh yes, yes, yes!” it means they either need to have sex more often or they’ve got themselves one helluva pie.

Luckily in Laughlin, when the crumbs settled and the judges loosened their belts, some glorious winners emerged.

The first forkful of Lorraine Parry’s Lucky Lemon Cream Pie revealed a brilliant lemon custard — not too tart, sweet or bitter — wedded to a layer of fresh whipped cream atop a free-standing crust. That combination earned Parry, of nearby Kingman, Ariz., best of show.

Ann Sylvia of Bullhead City, Ariz., across the Colorado River from Laughlin, won the fruit category with a classic two-crust apple pie, but I will always cherish the winey, jammy, second-place raspberry pie baked by Lorraine Parry’s daughter, Ann Marie Slack, also of Kingman, which sings in my memory still.

In the specialty category, Rosa Horn’s first-place, not-too-sweet pecan pie was a revelation, and so was her reaction to winning. Screaming, she leapt to her feet, jumped in the air and twirled in her special pie dress sewn from cotton sugar sacks.

“It was very good entertainment,” said one grinning retiree as he sampled a slice of the leftovers.

After the pie judging, I was fogged by the impact of the 12,000 calories — including 11,000 calories from fat — and the sheer sugar overload. A pie hangover is no laughing matter. But I was in perfect shape to watch people throw pies and to eat the hair of the dog, so to speak.

A city councilmen, unlucky radio DJs, a mayoral candidate and other local celebrities came face-to-face with the onslaught of casino employees, disgruntled voters and total strangers as more than 300 pounds of topping were viciously lobbed to earn about $300 for the local food bank.

After cleaning the topping off her head, one female target remarked: “It’s a great hair mousse. It does feel good.” She then turned around and pied the next guy in line. Top target was Golden Nugget president Bill Hornbuckle, who endured 65 pies before giving up.

In between the pie-eating and pie-throwing frenzy, hope for the future of American pie making was glimpsed. It came in the form of pie poetry and pie art written and drawn by 5th graders in Laughlin and Bullhead City. The next generation of pie makers penned verses that revealed that real pie was no stranger to them. One student wrote, “A piece of pie will make you sigh.” Another declared: “My mother makes a mean cherry pie/It’s better than the kind you can buy.”

And best of all, one young lady clearly understood the real pleasure ahead:

“I can’t wait ’til I’m full grown, so I can make pie on my own.”

LUCKY LEMON CREAM PIE

(1 pie, 8 slices)

This lemon cream pie, baked by Lorraine Parry of Kingman, Ariz., won Best of Show honors as well as first place in the Cream Pie category at the 1995 National Pie Championships. (Dough is enough for two crusts.) FOR THE CRUST:

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup margarine

1/3 cup vegetable shortening

1/3 cup lard

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon nonfat dry milk

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling dough FOR THE FILLING:

2 cups sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

9 tablespoons cornstarch

3 eggs, beaten

3 to 4 tablespoons butter

1/4 teaspoon grated lemon peel

9 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon lemon extract For the crust: Using a mixer, cream together all four fats. Add sugar, baking powder, salt and dry milk. Add half the flour and mix well. Add 1/2 cup very cold water and blend, using mixer. Add remaining flour and mix with your hands to form a pliable, tender, easy-to-handle dough. Shape into a ball, wrap with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 to 2 hours.

Roll out half the pastry on a floured surface to form a circle 1/8-inch thick. Press the dough into a 10-inch pie pan. Cover bottom with cooking parchment and add pie weights. Trim edge with a sharp knife and prick bottom and sides several times with a fork. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes, remove parchment and weights, and continue bake until golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool.

For the filling: Combine sugar, salt and cornstarch in a 2- or 3-quart saucepan. Blend well. Add 2 1/2 cups boiling water and place over medium heat, stirring rapidly until mixture is smooth. Bring to a full, rolling boil to thoroughly cook the cornstarch. Remove from heat. Add a little of the hot pudding to the beaten eggs while stirring rapidly. Return egg mixture to hot pudding and reheat, stirring constantly until smooth and bubbly.

Remove from heat, add butter, lemon peel, juice and extract. Stir until butter is melted. Pour filling into cooled, baked pie shell. Chill for two hours or more. Serve topped with whipped cream sweetened and flavored with lemon extract to taste.

Per slice: 484 calories, 81 gm carbohydrates, 100 mg cholesterol, 277 mg sodium, 6 gm protein, 16 gm fat, 7 gm saturated fat

 

RAZZLEBERRY PIE

(1 pie, 8 slices)

Ann Marie Slack shocked judges and pie makers alike when she admitted that her winning Razzleberry Pie was the first pie she had ever made (but remember, she’s Lorraine Parry’s daughter). It took second place in the Fruit Pie category. This is an adapted version.

FOR THE CRUST:

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup margarine

1/3 cup vegetable shortening

1/3 cup lard

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

3 cups unsifted flour, plus extra for rolling dough

FOR THE FILLING:

3/4 cup sugar

3 cups frozen raspberries, thawed and drained

1/4 cup Chambord (raspberry) liqueur

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon quick-cooking tapioca

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Dash of salt

1 egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon milk for brushing the dough

For the crust: In a large bowl, cream together the butter, margarine, shortening and lard. Add sugar, baking powder, salt and half the flour. Mix well, using pastry blender, until the mixture forms small clumps. Next, add 1/2 cup very cold water and the remaining flour. Mix the dough with your hands until it holds together. Work quickly as the dough will not produce a flaky crust if handled and kneaded too much. When the dough is mixed, gather it in a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate about 1 hour before rolling it out.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Divide dough in half. Roll out half the dough on a lightly floured counter top until about 1/8-inch thick and 1 1/2 inches larger than a 9-inch deep-dish pie pan. Transfer the dough to the pan and lightly press it into the bottom and sides, making sure there are no air pockets. Trim the excess dough from the edge using a sharp knife.

For the top crust, make either a lattice or the more unusual pastry “leaves.” To make leaves, roll out the remaining dough into a 10- or 11-inch circle. Using a sharp knife cut out 20 to 30 leaf shapes about 2 inches long and 1 inch wide. Score the inside of the leaves with a knife to make the “veins.” Set aside.

For the filling: Sprinkle sugar over raspberries and gently combine, taking care not to mash the berries. In a small bowl, mix the Chambord and cornstarch until lumps are dissolved and the mixture is smooth. Stir in the tapioca, lemon juice and salt.

Pour the berries into the pie shell. Pour over the cornstarch-Chambord mixture. Next, arrange the dough leaves over the top of the pie, slightly overlapping or connecting them. Work some of the leaves into the edge of the pie shell and crimp the edge decoratively with a fork. Lightly brush the leaves with the egg yolk/milk mixture.

Bake pie on the upper rack of the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and place a ring of aluminum foil around pie’s edge to prevent overbrowning. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and return pie to lower oven rack. Bake for another 35 to 40 minutes, until leaves are golden and raspberries are bubbling. Allow pie to cool slightly before serving.

Per slice: 397 calories, 57 gm carbohydrates, 31 mg cholesterol, 341 mg sodium, 5 gm protein, 16 gm fat, 6 gm saturated fat

(In 1995) A founding member of the American Pie Council and a veteran pie judge, John Lehndorff is food editor of the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colo.

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