I was flabbergasted to be asked to judge the pie contest this year. What an honor! I’d been making pies since I was a little girl. My mother made horrible pies and I wanted to do something she could not. I observed the ladies at community potlucks to see who got the most compliments on their pies. There were three or four who’s pies were always eaten, and eaten first, and they got the most compliments afterwards. Each brought a different kind of pie, so there wasn’t any competition between them in that, so it must have been the quality of their pies.
One by one, I approached each one and asked if she would teach me how to make her special kind of pie. They were impressed that I even paid attention to that sort of thing. When I explained that I wanted to make better pies than my mother, they each got a thoughtful expression on their face and nodded that they understood. My mother’s pie failures were not a secret. My mother even joked about her failures, but even she gave up trying. No one asked her why.
One by one, through my teenage years, I spent time in the kitchen of one of the women or another learning how she made her special pies. I didn’t tell any of them that I was going to the other’s house to learn from her too. I figured that was my own business.
Each woman was encouraging, though one was hesitant to share with me her special secret until I promised not to tell anyone and NOT to use that in a pie in competition with hers. She laughed at that, and agreed. I was so surprised, I didn’t even write that ingredient down. It still IS a secret!!
All those women are long dead now. I’ve been winning prizes for my pies for years. I guess I learned their lessons well. There are some younger women, one in particular, who seems especially upset every time I win. Her pies are passable, but certainly not exceptional. She seems to think that everything she does, no matter what, is special. I don’t know what her problem is. Her children never seem happy when they’re around her. I don’t know what kind of mother she is, but the children don’t act like they’re abused, they’re just happier away from her. Whatever the reason, she’s always miffed when I win. I try to be kind.
Anyway, the day of the contest came. I dressed carefully. Sometimes a photographer from the news was there and I didn’t want to run the contest down by not looking nice. But, I didn’t want to over-dress either. I’m no better than anyone else, I just make better pies.
I arrived at the contest just after all the pies had been put on display. I knew enough not to go hungry and not to have eaten too much; either one will interfere with judgment. I knew that taste was not the only criteria, but I wouldn’t be able to eat entire slices of any pie, no matter how thin the slice. Judging is very different than eating dessert.
Appearance is one criteria, the top of a pie can easily burn or become scorched before the bottom crust is baked. I prefer to pre-bake the bottom crust before filling and baking the rest of the pie. The bottom crust is totally different from the top crust, and the edge of the crust has its own possibilities of failure. The crust, generally, should be flaky, but hold its own shape.
The consistency of the filling and the quality and firmness of fruit, if it’s a fruit pie, are also important. Some of this is personal preference. I like the fruit to be a little firm, so it’s not mush. The amount of seasoning is also very important. You don’t want to hide the taste of the fruit.
There were nine pies with a wide variety of fillings. One was even a meat pie! I hadn’t expected that. A very thin slice of each pie was being cut and put on its own plate as I walked up to the table. I wanted to arrive after the pies had been prepared and not earlier. I didn’t want to make any of the contestants nervous as they set their pies out. I’ve known contestants to become so nervous they even dropped their pies. That spoiled the pies and their own experience of the event. My timing was perfect.
The pies were lined up along the table with the tiny slice on the paper plate behind it. I was a bit surprised at the audience in the chairs in front of the table. I assumed a few people would be there, but this was a small crowd. And a photographer was there, it must have been a slow news day – no traffic accidents or unusual deaths. That was good.
Before the judging, I was introduced. Where they found some of that information, I have no idea. It went back to my efforts as a little girl to learn how to make pies better than my mother. I didn’t realize that was such public information! Oh, well. At least the secret ingredient wasn’t mentioned! Then, I could begin the judging.
I started behind the table at one end and worked my way to the other. About half way through there was a commotion at a side door. I was concentrating on my job so much I didn’t pay attention until I heard loud cries from people and glanced up in time to see a very large dog chase another under the table and suddenly the table collapsed and all the pies slid to the floor!
Instantly, the dogs stopped running and began to smell at the pies. I vaguely remembered that the pie just one down from the end, was the meat pie. Both dogs sniffed it, then turned away. I thought that odd at the time, but the commotion and ruin of the contest crowded out all other thoughts.
Instantly the contest was called off, no surprise under the circumstances. Out of the corner of my eye, among the commotion, I saw a man approach the slice of meat pie, push the slice back on the paper plate with his thumb, then curl the plate around the slice and non-nonchalantly walk away. He’s going to eat it were no one can see? I wondered, but my attention was drawn back to the chaos in front of me.
The next week, I received a visitor at home. It was that same man. He identified himself as a police investigator and requested me to sit down. That was odd. He said information had come to the police department that an attempt would be made on my life at the contest. He had gone to observe. He had noticed that neither of the dogs was interested in the meat pie, which was very odd. That’s why he took the slice intended for me. Lab tests confirmed it was poisoned. OMG!!!