Here’s a tiny glimmer of what has been going on in my world for the past 5 months. Let’s start chronologically.
In August, I entered a pie in the traditional apple pie category and my air force cake in the sponge cake category in the Creative Activities competition at the Minnesota State Fair this year, and… I took a pink 4th place ribbon for the cake and a yellow 5th place ribbon for the pie! After hearing about my ribbons, I went to the fair to visit the Creative Activities building to see my cake and pie on display and was rather embarrassing when I proceeded to jump up and down and tell everyone who walked by the case which ones were mine.
I happened because I saw a tweet calling for people to enter cakes in the state fair before registration closed and thought, if they need cakes, I can make a cake! When I saw that competitors were allowed to enter a maximum of 25 lots, I was astounded: who has 25 different, special recipes to enter in all these different categories!? I later learned that people don’t choose a dish, hone the skills that dish requires, iterate on and perfect the recipe, then bring it to the fair as I always vaguely felt was how it worked. No, a lot of people just throw together recipes that they may or may not have made before and tote them off to the fair. Regardless of what other bakers took the competition to be (including the little, old, super-Midwestern, super-Lutheran woman and her husband who were waiting in line to submit the maximum 25 baked good lots and definitely were bad mouthing me to each other), I had fun, did not take it too seriously, was not in it for money, and was happy to be recognized for a good cake and a good pie. And here are my score cards:
In September, for my 28th birthday, was the Early Autumn Pie Tour. Well, actually it was the only autumn pie tour and it included whole pies from Sun Street Breads, Wuollet’s Bakery (the Uptown location), Lund’s and Byerly’s Bakery (the Richfield location), and Sarah Jane’s Bakery. I also baked the tandem pie I made with my State Fair entry. That’s five whole pies! It was a perfect birthday. They were all apple pies except for the Sun Street pie which was some ginger, apple, plum mix.
I have pages of notes about the first day’s tasting and the second day’s tasting and lots of comments on how surprised we were that there was quite a difference in our preferences between the first and second day. But the highlights were: 1) my state fair pie was not my best pie; 2) the Sun Street pie was amazing; 3) all the others had some aspect that I just found weird. So right now, I think the only Twin Cities pie I would highly recommend is Sun Street, which is too bad because they don’t have pie on their menu, I special ordered it. I think I’ll try a frozen grocery pie in the next pie tour. Maybe that’s a decent go-to when I need a pie fix and don’t want to make my own.
And then I fell back into the pit of grad school. Classes, research, and a particularly grueling fellowship and Ph.D. program application cycle. I stopped baking and then pretty much stopped cooking all together. There was Baker Square pie at the holiday events I attended. I officially became a vegetarian, though I still prepare meat for Pretty Boy and will use lard when I really resume making pies again.
I then moved. And survived it. But barely. And I would not say I am surviving having all my kitchen stuff packed away in storage.
But here I am. On National Pie Day for which I baked my first pie since last September. It’s triple berry pie, and I tested out a neat trick I heard about on NPR about using alcohol in pie crust to prevent the formation of gluten. I used frozen strawberries and raspberries from a garden that is no longer mine. It tasted bittersweet and like summer on the coldest day of the winter, but it was good to be back in the kitchen, working with sugar and flour and pie crust dough. More crust experimenting to come. Someday. Until then, Happy Pie Day.