Storms couldn’t keep eager Oak Park bakers from delivering their best pies for judgement at the Oak Park Farmers Market on Sept. 2.
The whole scene was a little bit Mayberry and skosh Stars Hollow in the best possible way. Tables, covered with green and white checkered cloths and dotted with wild flower filled mason jars, held a bevy of creative pies awaiting a taste.
From a traditional lattice-topped cherry pie to an unconventional Mexican street corn-inspired tart, each offering was as unique as the baker who crafted it.
Despite the fact the farmers market has been operating for 43 seasons, this was only the second annual pie bake-off held at the market. Both professional and amateur bakers were encouraged to enter and all pies prioritized the use of farmers market ingredients. Irrespective of filling choice, all entered pies were required to be handmade, from filling to crust.
To encourage crust creativity, farmers market vendor Brian Severson Grain Farm offered to custom mill organic flour to the specifications of each contestant. Barry’s Berries, Nichols Family Farm and Orchard, Ellis Family Farm and Walt Skibbe Farm provided copious fruit and vegetable options to keep the bakers’ fillings intriguing.
Oak Park Trustee Deno Andrews served as event emcee via Facebook Live as Wednesday Journal reporter Tim Inklebarger, restaurant architect Walter Pancewicz and youth judge Elora Cianciolo joined me to blind-taste and judge the 13 pies. Pies were judged on appearance, taste and creative use of farmers market ingredients.
While some entries were given memorable names like Ameri-Pie to Me and Nothing Compears Pie, other bakers made unexpected ingredient choices like adding herbal thyme to a blackberry pie or studding a deep dish apple pie with bacon and brie.
While judging a savory tomato-vegetable-ricotta pie next to a sweet peach-ginger pie could be daunting to some, Tim Inklebarger, the government, police and business reporter for Wednesday Journal, was equal to the task.
A former resident of Texas, Inklebarger once judged a chili cook-off in Alaska and his self-proclaimed favorite food is “whatever you got.” When I asked the laid-back judge to describe the hallmarks of a winning pie, he responded flatly, “That it be good.”
I suspect Inklebarger was simply waiting to be swept away by the quintessential nature of a perfect pie.
When I asked the same question of youth judge, Elora Cianciolo, the fifth-grader responded in detail.
“I like to eat my pie separately,” said Cianciolo, “so the crust should be sweet, but not too sweet and the filling should be thick and flavorful, but they should still taste good together.”
While the young judge hung onto a piece of blackberry-peach pie for quite some time, Inklebarger seemed quite fond of a classic cherry pie. Walter Pancewicz, of Aria Group architects, didn’t seem preoccupied with the structure of the pies generally, but did have a noticeable appreciation for refreshing pear pie with notes of rosemary in the crust.
As for me? I am typically a savory girl through and through, and while I adored several of the savory entries, a surprisingly perfect strawberry-rhubarb pie earned top marks on my forms.
The as the rains subsided, scores were tallied, a crowd gathered as market volunteers doled out tastings of all the entered pies, and winners were announced. The heated competition ended with a good-natured pie in the face for Deno Andrews.