In spite of the mild sun-stroke I incurred during the sweltering afternoon heat at a recent country pie festival, it was all worth it. It happened in a lush field at the lovely McCully’s Hill Farm located a short drive from my part-time home of Stratford, Ont.
Here, I witnessed my first pie-eating contest up close and personal, something I would not have thought would be any fun until I experienced it. In general, I’m against eating competitions which I find gross and unappetizing, especially when people are ramming hot dogs or spaghetti with meatballs down their gullets. However, eating one pie – and that was the challenge in this case – does not seem over-the-top. To boot, pies have a reputation as an in-your-face food (remember Jean Chretien) and are among my favourite foods both to make and eat.
There were several eating styles among the six contestants: the two-handed approach, the full pie-in-the-face modus operandi, the one-handed scoop and even a drink-the-filling style adopted by one fellow whose blueberry pie was quite runny.
The winner was Mike Beik, a reporter for the Beacon Herald, who explained his success thus: “I shovelled it in as fast as I could with one hand.” Another competitor had done research on the topic and claimed that eating a little and drinking some water is a good pre-contest strategy to stretch the stomach.
I was one of four judges assigned the pleasant task of judging 13 home-made pies, at least half of which were above average and two of which were superb.
The winner was Tina Vanheuvel, lovely wife of Antony John and partner in their organic farm called Soiled Reputation located on the outskirts of Stratford in Sebringville. Her old-fashioned, classic peach pie was nothing short of sublime, Melt-in-the-mouth, flaky pastry encasing lusciously juicy peaches. More proof that sweet and simple is often best.
Tricks from Tina. She uses a lard pastry. For the filling, she tosses 5 cups of sliced peaches with 2/3 cup sugar, 2 tbsp flour, 2 tsp lemon juice, 1/4 tsp almond extract and a pinch of salt. Before baking, she brushes the top crust with cream, then sprinkles it with sugar and bakes the pie at 450F for 15 minutes, then for about 30 minutes or until golden brown at 350F.