Pie, honey and potatoes -- oh my!

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March 28, 2014 | 7:04 pm

I love pie. When The Gazette features department launched the pie vs. cake debate earlier this year, I was Team Pie all the way.

I was beyond thrilled when I found out that the Pillsbury Pie Baking Championship was one of my Iowa State Fair food judging assignments.

The competition was one of four food contests I judged on Tuesday. The others were Cooking with Mr. Dee’s; Foods Made with Honey; and the Szathmary Collection of Historic Recipes.

Cooking with Mr. Dee’s was my first contest of the day. The contest focused on Mr. Dee’s Frozen Potato Products, with three classes in the competition: Sothern Style, Shredded Hash Browns and O’Brien Hash Browns. With only four entries, all in shredded hash browns, it was a quick contest to judge – and yummy for someone who left her house late and didn’t have time for breakfast.

Prizes awarded ($100 for first place, $75 for second and $50 for third), I left Elwell Family Food Center to experience a few fair necessities before my next assignment. Brad VanGorkom of Cedar Rapids told me to take the sky glider near the Farm Bureau Pioneer Hall in order to capture a picturesque view of the entire fair, so I walked down the midway and up the hill to do just that, making a quick stop in the cultural center to see the photographs other art projects.

(I had just missed the Beard Growing Contest at Pioneer Hall, which was a bummer, as Facebook later informed me that the Iowa Nice Guy (Scott Siepker) took second for Best Groomed. That would have been fun to see.)

After my ride on the sky glider, I rushed back to the food center for the Pillsbury Pie Baking Championship. Judging was set to begin at noon.

The contest had two classes: Dessert and savory. With so many pies in the contest, the dessert pies were split among four judges. Luckily, I was placed in that group and got to sample a delicious strawberry cream pie, a decadent chocolate pecan pie (Confession: It was the first pecan pie I’d ever hard), a classic rhubarb and a sawdust pie (it sounds odd, but it was really good). Cutting the pies wasn’t easy. It’s never easy to cut the first slice of pie anyway, but with so many to try, I was taking slivers. Teeny-tiny slivers.

My top two pies were placed on a table with the top two dessert pies from the other judges. We tasted each one again and debated. We fought for the ones we loved and questioned some, all the while keeping our voices down because the people who made them were sitting in the audience. In the end, my top two didn’t win a prize, but it was awfully sweet to see the woman who did get first place (and win $200) cry when her name was called.

(You can view the results of all Iowa State Fair competitions here: http://www.iowastatefair.org/competition/results/. Also, it should be noted that all of the food judged at the Iowa State Fair doesn’t go to waste. Non-winning entries may be picked up an hour after judging. Contestants who don’t care to claim their food can leave it at the Elwell Family Food Center. Representatives from Central Iowa Shelter & Services stop at the fair twice a day – noon and 6 p.m. – to pick up this food.)

I didn’t have time to walk any of the pies I’d sampled off before my next judging assignment: Foods Made with Honey. More than 50 foods were entered in this competition, which had three classes (breads and rolls; quick breads; and honey creations). Each class had multiple subclasses, some of which had only one food entered.

The other judges and I split the classes up and got to work. We’d announce the winners in each subclass, with the first place winner in each ultimately competing for first place in the overall class. I never found out who the winners were (I was rooting for the person who made the Kahlua honey butter to win the honey creation class; it was amazing!) because my last judging assignment began just as honey was wrapping up. I shared my top choices with the other judges and dashed to Room 3 for my final assignment of the day: The Szathmary Collection of Historic Recipes.

The Szathmary Collection of Historic Recipes contest was new to the Iowa State Fair this year. Sponsored by the University of Iowa Special Collections and University Archives and Old Capitol Museum, the contest challenged entrants to recreate one, or more, of three recipes found in the Szathmary Collection. The recipes selected included almond cheese cake (from the Ann Kenwrick cookbook, dated 1770); summer mince pie (from the Frances Collins cookbook, dated 1825-1846) and Marlborough pie (from Alice Electra Pickard’s cookbook, dated 1868).

Entrants had to recreate these historical recipes, showing how they interpreted the information they had to bake the final product. It was interesting to read their notes on how they determined their ingredients and methods. This is similar to what the Historic Foodies do in their meetings every month.

My judging day ended just after 4 p.m. I was full. As I write this, I’m still full. Maybe by Thanksgiving I’ll be able to eat a slice of pumpkin pie, but for now, all pie is off limits … Not that I’ll turn down the opportunity to judge more at the 2014 Iowa State Fair.

I’m full, not crazy.

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