Unconventional pie prevails in bake-off

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By Melissa Elsmo

Food Writer

Mother-daughter duo Jennifer Smith-Garcia and Bella Garcia took home top honors at the Oak Park Farmers Market's 2019 Pie Bake-Off on Saturday Sept. 7.

Understanding the minimum entry age for the pie bake-off is 16, Smith-Garcia, entered under her own name and made a pact that she and her 11-year-old daughter Bella would make the perfect pie together.

"Baking is a hobby for me, but baking is a passion for Bella," said Jennifer, "and I have to give credit where credit is due."

The duo went to the market in search of apples for their pie, but Bella was unexpectedly taken with the bounty of Red Haven peaches from Hardin Farm. The young baker then found a bevy of fresh cayenne peppers at the Genesis Growers tent and selected some raspberry vinegar from Jim Vitalo of Herbally Yours to keep things even more interesting.

"My dad is always talking about new flavor combinations like apple and cheddar or blueberry and basil," said Bella, "and I thought peaches, peppers and vinegar would be something he would like."

Bella and her mom made four practice pies leading up to the bake-off. While Jennifer peeled, pitted and cut all the peaches, her daughter worked hard to create a balance between sweet and spice in the finished product and paid special attention to her bourbon caramel sauce. Bella considers the sauce the "something extra" that pushed their peach pie over the top.

Bella, a fifth-grader at St. Luke's, hopes to own a "restaurant with a bakery inside" one day and intends to put her prize-winning peach pie on the menu.

Bake-Off Results

1st Place:  Bella's Favorite Pie, made by Bella Garcia and Jennifer Smith-Garcia of Oak Park

 2nd Place: The Red (Apple) and the Black (Berry) Pie made by Emily Paster of River Forest

 3rd Place: Fruit Basket made by Alexandra Smith of Oak Park


Molly Svec, co-owner of Spilt Milk

Alexandra Rey-Talley, last year's winner

Michelle Mascaro, Happy Apple Pie Co. owner

Victor Lencioni, junior judge

Email: melissa@oakparkeats.com

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Susan Montgomery from Chicago  

Posted: September 17th, 2019 9:37 AM

What a "sweet" story! As someone who also loved baking as a youngster, I'm delighted to see that Bella is already off to experimenting with various combinations of ingredients. I wish her many happy years of baking and, to her family, many happy years of sampling her creations!

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