Pie not?

My Cajun Country Mystery series contains recipes, but I’ll be honest. Sometimes coming up with them, whether as originals or adaptations, is the hardest part of writing the books. Still, when KCRW, our local public radio station, announced their tenth annual Good Food Pie Contest, hosted by Good Food‘s Evan Kleiman, I decided to be adventurous and enter a recipe I’d created that I like to call “Sugar High Pie.”

The event took place on the UCLA campus on a Sunday in late April. Once I registered, I was told to drop off a pie at 12:30 p.m., which I did. I’d serve the second pie to festival attendees, who each received tickets entitling them to two pie tastings.

I walked up the steps to where event tents were set up outside the Fowler Museum, a co-sponsor of the event.

Long tables filled the tents, each laden with a load of pies.

Since we wouldn’t be serving our pies for a few hours, I wandered around the event, eventually happening upon Bad Pickle Tees, a vendor selling food pun tee shirts. I couldn’t resist picking up a couple for my daughter. (She loved them. And Mark Baker, if you’re reading this, you would too.)

Finally, it came time to share my pie with the festivalgoers. Expecting to be descended on by hordes of hungry pie lovers, I cut into my confection. Or tried to. You see, I learned at the last minute that even the crust had to be homemade, which ruled out the premade Trader Joe crusts I’d bought. I found a recipe and made my first crust. It was Rock. Hard. As I sawed away at the pie, my chance to win the Nut division diminished with each fruitless attempt. I finally used latex-gloved hands to break the pie into bite-sized pieces. And those hordes? Only one person took pity on me and used a precious ticket to sample my pie.  But her face lit up after she tasted it. “This is delicious,” she said, not bothering to hide her surprise.

I resorted to giving away my pie, no ticket needed, to anyone I could coax into trying it. That wasn’t easy, considering my next-door neighbor was sharing a S’mores Pie.

I warned people to eat around the hard-as-nails crust, and got the same shocked reaction every time. “This is really good!” “Wow, yum!” “Are there raisins in here? I don’t usually like them, but they totally work in your pie.”

So, no, I didn’t win the contest. But I got the satisfaction of knowing that, crust aside, my recipe was a hit. And that gorgeous savory pie pictured above? It didn’t win either. Which was too bad, because it tasted as good as it looked. (Yes, I snagged a piece from its baker.)

Would I enter the contest again? Oh, hell no. But it was fun to do once. And if you’re curious about the recipe for “Sugar High Pie,” you’ll find it in my sixth Cajun Country Mystery, which will be out in September 2020.

Readers, have you ever entered a contest, baking or otherwise? Or done something once that was fun but you’ll never do again?

46 thoughts on “Pie not?

  1. Obviously you had some professionals entering your contest. I have never seen a pie as colorful as the one in your picture. I can definitely relate to crusts that didn’t turn out so well, but it sounds like you mastered the most important part: a delicious filling. I have to say though, two pie tastings per person sounds a little stingy. If I went to an event like that, I would want a lot more than two samples!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. They want to make sure everyone gets a taste and they don’t run out. But there were plenty of pies, to my surprise, and a lot of people ended up giving out tastes without tickets. I filled up!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I entered a garden club flower show where we had to create flower arrangements to decorate almost every room in this enormous mansion. I picked a relatively obscure spot in a hallway outside of a powder room, I was pleasantly surprised to win a second place ribbon. It was very much out of my comfort zone, and I don’t think I would do it again, but it was nice to see some absolutely amazing arrangements (and the enormous mansion!) ~

    Liked by 4 people

  3. I LOVE recipes at the back! Not so much because I want to cook them myself, but because they sound eminently make-able, and that adds authenticity to the “world” that you’ve built. But then I also have an inexplicable urge to knit a snood after reading some 1800s period piece, so there’s that.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. I used to play Celtic harp and years ago, a friend persuaded me to perform at the Juneau Folk Festival for which I selected a baroque little Turlough O’Carolan tune. Because of the number of musicians performing, the event hosts separated the room those waffle fabric room dividers which block no sound whatsoever. At the exact same time as my performance, a group of West African drummers began playing. Loudly. I couldn’t hear my harp. I couldn’t keep my rhythm. Lost the tune. And I will never play the Juneau folk festival, or music in public, ever again.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Pie crusts are tricky, not because they are difficult to make, but because they are so easy, and folks don’t believe it: The trick is to barely mix them, and to be willing to believe that that ragged mess of flour, shortening, and water really is what you’re after. It took me a half dozen times before I made my first crust that wasn’t hard as a rock (and I studied baking at a culinary arts school).

    So don’t feel bad, Ellen! And yes, I want to taste your filling!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I used butter instead of shortening and I think part of the problem was how long I had to bake the filling to set. Definitely didn’t work with the crust. And love to have you taste it sometime. (Note: the alternate title was Sugar Coma Pie, so that tells you how sweet it is.)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I use a mixture of butter and shortening in my pie crust and it makes a flaky one. But I had a lot of failed crust before I perfected mine. I enter the baking contests at my local fairs. I’ve actually been lucky enough to win.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. I would’ve used my ticket to sample your Sugar High Pie, Ellen — it sounds great! I’ve had my own troubles with pies. My late Aunt Beanie’s Chess Pie was amazing. She had never written down the recipe so I stood in her kitchen and watched her make it, writing down everything. Mine still doesn’t taste, or look, like hers. Not even close.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Love Chess Pie. And I had the same problem with my Zia Rose’s gravy. It was amazing and I tried to get her to give me the recipe. It was all off the top of her head and mine NEVER tasted like hers. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I have a feeling if I had been there, I would have bought a shirt or two.

    I entered a pie baking contest my job at the time was hosting. I won, too, in the pie made by a guy category. I had made the key lime pie recipe from one of Joanne Fluke’s books. It really is delicious.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Congratulations on entering the contest & making the best of the situation. I’m glad people complimented the way the pie tasted. That’s got to make you feel better!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I’m not a baker, so I wouldn’t enter a pie baking contest, but I would definitely want to sample pies at such a contest! I entered a cooking contest when I was young and won first place in the main dish category with my hamburger stroganoff.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. I’m so impressed, Ellen! I’m still mortified by a cake I made once for a Cub Scout fundraiser. It was very, very high and…my homemade chocolate frosting didn’t thicken. It literally slid off the cake and pooled on the plate. A mom of 4 boys bought it immediately for 10 bucks before it had to be placed out on the sale table. Bless her. (She very sweetly said her family would love it and there was nothing she liked better than real frosting.) We used the leftover frosting at our house (I think I made too much, lol) to dip graham crackers in. Sad sad sad. And I will never bake for the public again. (Leslie, what did I do wrong?)

    Liked by 2 people

  11. You won’t believe it, but substituting super chilled vodka for the water makes it really easy to create flaky (non-tough) crusts! I don’t make crust with water…ever. One of the benefits of vodka is you can use more so you end up with a pliable dough that’s easy to handle. Pulsing the flour, salt, and super chilled butter (or shortening) in the food processor, then pulsing the vodka into the mixture cuts down on the time it takes to make a crust too, and helps to not overwork the dough (which makes the crust tough). Despite how easy crust is to make this way, my go-to is still Pillsbury refrigerated dough, lol!

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Wow, Kim, I had no idea! You don’t taste the vodka, huh? Our food processor broke a while ago. I could never figure out how to work the thing anyway, so it’s basically a doorstop.


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