By Larry Blagg
The California Raisin Marketing Board along with BEMA, Overland Park, Kan., the Grain Foods Foundation (GFF), Ridgway, Colo., and the American Bakers Association (ABA), Washington, D.C., participated in the Crisco National Pie Championships, April 8-10, in Orlando, Fla. This annual event draws pie aficionados from all over the United States, including commercial pie companies, professional chefs, the best amateur pie bakers in America and a 600-strong army of volunteers serving as judges, pie cutters, servers and crew who manage the Never Ending Pie Buffet in Celebration, Fla., which took place April 9-10 in conjunction with the contest.
Linda Hoskins, executive director of the American Pie Council (APC), the Lake Forest, Ill., host of the pie championship, and her band of pie fanatics, drove this activity to such heights that foodies across America dubbed 2011 the “Year of the Pie.” That is an amazing testimonial to the work of the APC.
The championship kicked off with presentations from Judi Adams, president of the GFF, Rob MacKee, president and CEO of the ABA, among others, with Kerwin Brown, president and CEO of BEMA, serving as MC for the day’s events. It was exciting to hear of the resurgence of the commercial pie industry and about the rebirth of this home-prepared comfort food favorite. Additional talks included the rise of gluten-free and whole-grain baked goods, the influence of the new dietary guidelines for school feeders and what’s happening in Washington, D.C., that affects all food producers and retailers.
Then came the judging. Being a volunteer judge means wearing your best expandable waist clothing and being ready, willing and able to offer your opinions about a whole category or flavor of pies. Luckily, I volunteered as a pie critic/taster for just one day and only sampled 24 pies in the innovation category. Such a task should be listed in Wikipedia under the definition of “fun.” What made it even more interesting than the myriad of flavors and crusts that passed in front of us was the wide experience of my fellow judges. At our table we had folks from California, Florida and Arizona, all of whom had traveled to and stayed in Orlando at their own expense to be part of this pie extravaganza. One judge was a well-known food critic, another was the team cardiologist for the University of Southern California football team and the third was a student culinologist at a Florida cooking school. A more compatible group would have been hard to find. We took our jobs as judges seriously, but not ourselves, which made for a pleasant morning.
Following the judging, we moved on to Celebration, Fla., to pass out free slices of Rhubarb & Golden Raisin and Chocolate, Walnut and Raisin pies at the Great American Pie Festival. The festival featured a two-day never-ending pie buffet, and provided an opportunity for visitors to try old favorites, rare flavors and combinations of both. The California Raisin Marketing Board is grateful to the owners of Rocky Mountain Pie Co., Salt Lake City, Utah, for baking, delivering and even helping to cut up the pies served at our booth. Who could have asked for more.
To find out the pie winners and to receive recipes from the raisin pies, go to www.loveyourraisins.com or www.piecouncil.org.
Editor’s Note: Larry Blagg is senior vice president of marketing for Fresno, Calif.-based California Raisin Marketing Board, which sponsors America’s Best Raisin Bread Contest. Go to www.loveyourraisins.com to enter the 4th annual America’s Best Raisin Bread Contest.