Editor’s note: The following narrative is by Homer Agee, the judge of the 2020 Warren County Harvest Fair pie contest. Mr. Agee did not know that one of the pies was poisoned. May he rest in peace.
It was a brisk September afternoon at the Warren County Harvest Fair. A goodly number of folks were milling about just beyond my judge’s canopy. I rang the cowbell, and called the crowd together. Cowbells work wonders at county fairs. The clang carries well above the hubbub and the din.
“Well folks,” I called to the crowd. “It’s time to judge the pie contest.” They all applauded the announcement. Six pies were spread in a line before me on the red checked tablecloth. Index cards identified each pie and its baker.
There was the blueberry crumb pie baked by Anne Thracks, the blueberry crumb pie baked by Sarah Pressly, and a blueberry crumb pie baked by Eleanor Snoodly. Laura Root also baked a blueberry crumb pie, and so did Daphne Berrie. Phoebe Hatcher baked a coconut custard pie.
Anne Thracks was from Thurman. All the rest were from Warrensburg(h), and they all had been competing at the fair for years and years. Good bakers all. Laura Root was last year’s winner with a blueberry crumb pie. Daphne Berrie vowed to take this year’s prize, a vintage, green tint, nine inch Pyrex pie plate provided by Hank’s Antiques and Collectables of Glens Falls.
This was not my first time judging the annual pie contest. I’d say that my belly would ordinarily give me away, but it had been a couple of years since the last one, and I had managed to drop a few pounds since then. But, I wasn’t svelte. I was still big enough to be the mall Santa last Christmas. People knew that I liked to eat, especially dessert.
When it comes to dessert, pies are the creme de la creme, and blueberry crumb pie is my favorite. It would be a real test to tell all the blueberry crumb pies apart. But, I’m as impartial as any judge could be. Even, if maybe I don’t particularly care for coconut custard pie. I would still be very fair.
A lot goes into baking a blueberry crumb pie. You need fresh blueberries, sugar, some grated lemon zest, plus fresh lemon juice, some brown sugar, cinnamon, flour of course, and lots of butter. Don’t forget the cornstarch. The custard pie ain’t much, just some custard, pie crust, and a bit of nutmeg. Sweetened, shredded coconut is optional.
It’s how you put all those ingredients together that determines a better pie from a good pie and a best pie from a better pie. Taste will tell. That’s what I’m for, to do the taste test, and to judge the best from the rest. I was ready to dig in.
Now, of course, it is a blind taste test. It would not be fair to know whose pie was which because you might be biased. For example, if you knew that the blueberry crumb pie was baked by Laura Root, you might be inclined to think that it was the best, since she won last year.
Or, if you knew that the blueberry crumb pie was baked by Anne Thracks, you might reject it because she was from out of town. You have to be fair to everyone, and that’s why the test is blind.
Of course, one bite would tell you that it was Phoebe Hatcher’s coconut custard pie. Then your judgment might be questioned, especially if you used to date her in high school. But, that’s a different story.
So, the index cards were all removed from the table, and the pies were shuffled, and I dug in, going down the line right to left. As it happened, the coconut custard pie was the third one that I tasted. It was actually very good, in comparison, and I don’t usually like coconut custard pies. I would say it was my favorite at that point.
The fourth pie was the third blueberry crumb pie, and to me, that was the best one so far. The blueberries were the perfect texture and tartness. The key is to let the berries, lemon juice and sugar stand for 20-30 minutes so the berries can release their juices.
There was something special about that pie. It had real piezazz, excuse the pun. The pie crust was truly buttery, and the brown sugar and cinnamon crumble topping was literally to die for……….