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Lust for Crust! Part 3: Humble Pie

By Kim Bellware in Food on Oct 11, 2010 8:30PM

This past Sunday's perfect autumn afternoon in Holstein Park was a flurry of excited bakers, sporks, ice cream, silent auction item and of course, pie, for the 2010 Bucktown Apple Pie Contest.

This year, the annual fundraiser fielded more than 115 entries, with individuals and teams offering up their best takes on the classic apple pie for the fest's 30 judges. Chicagoist entered its own version--The Fabulist (a cheeky homage to our beloved site)--but its citrus-infused piloncillo and apple filling and buttery crust weren't enough to advance our pie to the finalists table. Still, the blow of crushing defeat missing out on the blue ribbon couldn't stop us from enjoying the rest of the festival, along with several of the dazzling creations from our fellow contestants.

Entrants had a two hour window the morning of the contest to check in with their pies, designating one for tasting and one for appearance judging. Once all pies were numbered, the 30 judges split into teams of two and began tasting a group of ten pies. From each group, the duo of judges chose which pie to advance while the 14 pies chosen as finalists were quickly spirited away to a table on the stage of the Holstein Park auditorium. Contestants were invited back a half hour before the festival opened to mingle, taste and browse the list of semi-finalists (all of which remained on the main tables with the other pies).

With the rules only prohibiting the use of fruits other than apples (juice was ok) and pies that needed special heating or cooling, the array of entries was stunning: pies with pecans, walnuts and fillings that looked like apple sauce, pies with spices of all kinds, vegan pies, lattice-topped pies, pies on a baking sheet, dark maple-y brown to pale amber pies and pies that looked like flaky, edible sculptures.

Crust and filling were equally important in the taste testing, and a little eavesdropping on the judges revealed that many of the pies in the middle of the pack suffered from having one but not the other. One buzzed-about semi-finalist had thin apple slices meticulously layered to almost resemble a galette filling, flecked with ground black pepper; a less fortunate pie was described as tasting "like lemon Pledge." A few judges noted that the most ornately decorated pies were often the biggest disappointments flavor-wise, and based on the pies on the finalists' table, "good appearance" was defined more by crack-free crusts and good edges than elaborate cutouts and designs.

A crew of eight finalists judges--including Paula Haney of Hoosier Mama Pie Company, 32nd Ward Ald. Scott Waguespack and TRU Pastry Chef Gale Gand--built a consensus to crown a winner. Apparently the husband-and-wife duos are the teams to beat: continuing the trend set by last year's winners (and this year's judges) Amelia and Kevin Hyde, the winning pie was with created by couple Keith and Debbie Gibbons (perhaps that's what our pie was missing--love!).

The excess of good food--and availability of pony rides--capped off another successful year for one of our favorite community-oriented fall festivals, and ribbon or no, we'll be readying our ovens for 2011.