When I inform friends that I judge the Blue Ribbon pie contest at the Illinois State Fair, their usual response is asking if I need an assistant. For the past 10 years, I have had the honor of judging with Desiree Logsdon. Desiree is the BUNN Senior Vice President of Corporate Citizenship.
I must say I did work my way up to pies starting with Spam (turkey) many years ago. We judge on taste, appearance and creativity. The judging takes place in the Hobby, Arts and Crafts Building across from the Dairy Building, home of the butter cow.
The Blue Ribbon contestants actually bake their pies on stage prior to our judging. Some entries are very creative, and one of the most creative was an “Elvis Pie.” My trivia question for you today is: what are the five ingredients in an Elvis pie? See the answer at the end of this article.
The pie competitions are just a few of the many culinary competitions taking place in the Hobby, Arts and Crafts Building, all coordinated by Superintendent Billye Griswold from White Hall. For Billye and her assistant and husband, John, planning and coordinating all the events is a year-round job, and they are now planning for 2022. John spoils us during the judging, cutting into each pie as skillfully as a surgeon and consistently (almost always) presenting us a perfect slice. Billye taught Family and Consumer Science at Carrollton High School and started judging at the Fair in 1975.
I asked Billye what makes for a winning entry. “ Presentation in preparation and in the final display. Enter a quality product using a simple recipe. List all the ingredients and in the method be sure to include all the ingredients in the order of preparation. Keep smiling, show confidence.”
Billye asked me to remind you that all the contests are for amateurs, and they have categories for adults and juniors. She welcomes new contestants. The Hobbies, Arts and Crafts Building is also where all the produce is on display (biggest pumpkins ever), textiles, antiques and live cooking demonstrations on stage. Thankfully, it is air conditioned.
A couple of pie baking tips are;
- To avoid the bottom crust sticking to the pie pan, you can brush the bottom of your pie plate with a light coat of melted butter. That will also help the bottom of the pie brown.
- Be careful not to have a soggy bottom of your pie.The only thing worse than a bottom crust that sticks is a soggy or undercooked bottom crust. It is tricky to get that right! If you are making a crust with a syrupy filling like pecan, consider blind baking the crust for a few minutes before filling it. For fruit pies, you can sprinkle the bottom crust with a tablespoon of flour and a teaspoon of sugar prior to filling.
Want to enter a culinary competition? Usually in February or March the new General Premium Book listing all the competitions goes online at illinois.gov/statefair/competitions/premium-books. Scroll down to General Premium Book and General Entry Form. Blue Ribbon entries must be turned in by June 15 and culinary entries by July 15. Copies of the 2021 culinary contest recipes are available in the Entry Office in the Emerson Building for $3 each (call 217-782-1524.)
And now, the answer to that trivia question: Elvis Pie ingredients are chocolate, bacon, peanut butter, marshmallow and of course, banana, all personal favorites of the King. Thank you, thank you very much! Special thanks to Billye and John and of course my co-judge Desiree.
This year’s Blue Ribbon winner was a Pineapple Macadamia Nut Pie prepared by Mary Beth Pederson from Morton, Ill. Congratulations Mary Beth for a tasty and great looking pie.
Pineapple Mac Nut Pie
Ingredients for the Crust
- 1 1/3 cup flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup Crisco
- 3-4 Tablespoons water
Ingredients for the Filling
- 4 ½ cups cut up fresh pineapple (about 1 large pineapple)
- 1 cup frozen, pitted sour cherries
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 5 tablespoons cornstarch
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons melted butter
Ingredients for the topping
- ¼ cup sugar
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ¾ cup flour
- 1/3 cup melted butter
- 4 oz roasted, sated macadamia nuts (3/4-1 cup)
Preheat oven to 375.
Combine flour and salt in a large bowl. Cut Crisco into flour mixture until mixture resembles very coarse sand (pea sized clumps). Sprinkle water one tablespoon at a time tossing lightly after each addition until dough begins to form a ball. Roll dough into 1/8-inch-thick circle. Fold into quarters and ease into 9-inch pie plate. Place in freezer until ready to fill. Cut top of pineapple. Cut down through pineapple to cut in half and then cut each half into 4 wedges. Cut a strip off the fruit side of each wedge to remove core. Cut skin off each wedge. Slice fruit wedges in half and then into ¼ inch slices. Put pineapple in a large mixing bowl. Combine sugars, cornstarch, and cinnamon and stir into pineapple. Sprinkle with lemon juice and stir. Set aside.
Roughly chop nuts. Combine all topping ingredients together in small bowl and mix well. Cut cherries into quarters and fold into pineapple filling. Remove crust from freezer and fill with pineapple mixture. Drizzle with butter and spread.
Bake at 375 for 60 to 70 minutes covering top of pie or edges of crust if they brown quickly. Remove from oven when pie is golden brown, and the center filling is bubbling. Cool completely. Enjoy!