A tale of woe and hope and pies | AspenTimes.com

A tale of woe and hope and pies

Sasha Klein

There are few competitions as terrifyingly daunting as the Mountain Fair Pie Baking Contest. Top bakers from around the region pit their long-honed skills against one another in competition as fierce as the Olympics.

It is a wonder the judges seemed so nonchalant. Maybe 20 masked or face-painted long-time judges sat under the tent, drinking champagne and joking, oblivious to the turmoil I felt as I turned in my creation.

It was a habenero-spiked chocolate torte on top of a thin almond crust topped with rum-soaked raisins and crisp caramelized bananas. I grudgingly placed it down in the “Exotic” section. Turning in a pie is a feeling I imagine comparable only to dropping one’s children off for their first day of school. (It’ll be several years before I have that experience.)

After hours spent in the laboratory that was my kitchen, experimenting with different amounts of aged dark rum, different ways to caramelize bananas, and varying temperatures of habenero-spiked butter to form the perfect, glossy ganache for my hopefully dazzling, record-shattering, creation, I finally had to let go and turn my “Banana Billy” in for judgment.

“Billy,” one judge guessed, “is the Romanian word for rum-soaked raisins.” I had hoped that turning a pie into an unpopular category would increase my chances for victory. But a well-seeded basketball team is not assured victory in the playoffs; no amount of playing the system could protect me from my adversaries.

And they were daunting: pecan pie, blueberry pie, some chocolate-cream concoction, and “the obvious pie-to-beat ” an Oreo-cream concoction: a half-foot-tall behemoth of a “pie” whose creator, not to be seen anywhere near the judging tent, was clearly more confident than I.

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After hovering fearfully for nearly an hour, watching the judges mull over their pies, I could take it no longer. I fled.

Upon my return, the near-deserted judges’ tent seemed to reflect the desolation and past possibility that I felt. Approaching the tent, I felt resigned. A small flag on a toothpick notified fair-goers that my pie had come in second place.

I informed one of the few remaining judges, a woman with a strawberry painted on her face, that I would not stay for the award ceremony. Dejected, defeated, I was about to walk away when she handed me an envelope. Inside I found a card, covered with glitter, ribbons, and a picture of a mountain coming out of a pie.

It was the most beautiful award I had ever seen. And, digging deeper, I pulled out $15, enough to cover all my expenses for the year’s contest. Rebounding from my emotional malaise, I have already started planning for next year’s contest ” propelled by dreams of similar profit and, hopefully, even greater glory.

Friends of The Aspen Times took three ribbons in this year’s pie-baking contest at Carbondale’s Mountain Fair. In addition to Sasha’s ribbon in the exotic pies category, reporter Naomi Havlen won second place for her Key Lime concoction in the cream pie category, and Ericka Meade, girlfriend of managing editor Allyn Harvey, took second place in the fruit category with an apple-pear pie.

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