Yesterday, Clif and I went to D. R. Struck Landscape Nursery in East Winthrop to witness an apple pie judging contest. Struck’s, as it is known locally, is an oasis of loveliness on Route 202, a very busy road. As its name suggests, Struck’s offers trees and perennials and garden ornaments, not only for landscape customers but to the general public as well. There is also a good-sized retail store with all kinds of temptations—food, garden gifts, snappy cocktail napkins, and other assorted goodies. Every fall, Struck’s has a fall festival, which includes an apple pie judging contest.
Now, anything involving food attracts A Good Eater’s attention, and I called Struck’s to see if Clif and I could photograph the event and feature it on the blog. Robin Struck, one of the owners, gave us permission to do so, and we learned that after the pie judging, slices of the competing pies would be available to the general public for $2 a slice, with proceeds going to the Winthrop Food Pantry. (Full disclosure: I volunteer at the food pantry, but I brought no preconceived notions to this event, only a stack of one-dollar bills and my prodigious appetite.)
In Maine, October can be a temperamental month, and the day before the event had been quite rainy. But the day of the fall festival was sunny and crisp with a bright blue sky. Robin had set up the pie judging event in a clearing of potted trees and trees with moss-covered root balls. The judging table was up front, and there were benches and chairs set up for the public. Between the cornstalk-decorated entrance posts and the bales of hay with red, yellow, and white mums, the little impromptu amphitheater looked pretty enough for a fall wedding.
The judges were State Representative Pat Flood; Carla Noyce, from White Flour Catering in Hallowell, Maine; and Dennis Price, from the Theater at Monmouth. All three brought a winning combination of eagerness and seriousness to the contest. As Dennis Price put it, “Anytime is a good time for pie.” Exactly. There were five pies to judge, and the criteria included aroma, presentation, tenderness of crust, and overall taste. Each criterion was to be rated on a scale of one to five, with five being the ultimate score. There was, of course, a cup of water for each judge so that they could cleanse their palates.
At this point, pie enthusiasts might be wondering why anyone would need to cleanse the luscious taste of pie from the palate. As someone who has lately made it her mission to go to events and sample as much food as possible, I can tell you from experience that it doesn’t take the palate long to be overwhelmed by varied and various tastes. This in turn affects how the food is perceived, and food tasted last will be at a decided disadvantage. There is no help for this, but it is something to be aware of.
The tasting and judging ensued, with Robin Struck cutting and serving the pies. Each pie had its own distinctive look. One had elegant pie-dough leaves decorating the top; another had little pie-dough apples. Comments were made, pies were considered, and the judges marked their assessments on slips of paper, one for each pie. As Robin tallied the scores, there was much discussion of the merits of the various pies. First place went to Chase Robbins, second place to Billian Dolby, and third to Morgan Beland. And, interestingly enough, Chase Robbins’s pie was the first pie tasted.
When the judging was over, and the pies were brought onto a counter in the retail store, it was time for Clif and I to do our own judging. Readers, I must admit that Clif and I tasted each pie. We couldn’t resist. However, there are two items I want to present in self-defense. One, we had extremely small pieces, which we shared. Two, we paid the full price anyway, even though we took half slices. After all, the money was going to a good cause.
Our conclusions? Clif agreed with the judges, and Chase Robbins got his vote. I liked Chase’s pie, but it was a bit too tart for me. Some like it sweet, which is why Morgan Beland’s pie, the third-place winner, got my vote. Well, that’s how it goes sometimes. Taste is subjective, and most of us can’t help but have a preference for our own.
Now that this event is over, I have apple pie on my mind, and I know it won’t be long before I’ll be making one of my own. Apple pies are a sweet fall ritual, Not only do they please the taste buds, but they also fill the house with a wonderful aroma.