I have a new friend in pie and her name is Gina Hyams. (That’s her in the picture.) We met in January through a Yahoo! group for journalists (thank you, David Hochman), where I posted a request seeking pie ideas for the TV pilot. Gina replied, “As long as we’re on the subject of pie, this seems like a good idea to announce my new book, Pie Contest in a Box.” To which I replied, “That’s brilliant!” And just like that our pie sisterhood was born. Now, not only do we share our new pie discoveries and contacts daily, we will be sharing the stage at the National Pie Championships April 23 to 25 in Orlando, Florida, where we will be pie judges. Gina is doing interviews leading up to the championships and started by writing about the executive director of the American Pie Council, Linda Hoskins. (Read Gina’s Q&A with Linda here.) Next in her line-up was me. Me! I don’t have a pie shop, a pie job, or even a pie book/TV deal (not yet anyway). The only thing that qualifies me to be interviewed — let alone judge a national pie contest — is that I am really, really passionate about pie. So for now I’m being billed as Pie Evangelist.
I’m reprinting the interview below — without seeking Gina’s permission first because A) it’s 2AM right now on the East coast where she lives and B) I wrote the answers myself so I figure I can’t be accused of plagiarism! But I encourage you to read the interview on Gina’s blog as it looks so much more impressive on her site. And I don’t have the vanity to include a picture that big of me on my own blog. (Thank you, Gina!) I can’t wait to see who she interviews next.
Gina: Can you talk about how focusing on pie has helped you cope with the loss of your husband?
Beth: A mentor of mine always preaches, ‘If you’re feeling blue do something nice for others. I interpret ‘nice’ to mean ‘bake pies and give them away.’ Since my husband died unexpectedly seven months ago, I have been feeling verrrrrrrry blue and as a result I have been baking a lot of pie lately and giving it all away. In fact, on National Pie Day (January 23, 2010), I baked 50 pies and handed free slices out to strangers on the streets of LA. That’s 400 slices of pie. That made me feel a little better. At least for that day. If only every day could be National Pie Day! But also, Marcus loved my pie and he was very supportive of me writing my pie memoir. He was reading my manuscript up until the day he died. Knowing that he wanted to see me get this book published keeps me going.
Gina: Why do you love pie?
Beth: Why pie? I am still asking myself this. I love many baked goods – brownies, chocolate chip cookies, carrot cake – but there is something truly special about pie. I think it has something to do with a nostalgia that goes way beyond our parents and grandparents. Maybe because pie’s origins go way back to the Egyptians and Romans it’s baked deep in our DNA.
Gina: What is your fondest pie memory?
Beth: Age 8, Banana Cream Pie, The Canteen Lunch in the Alley, Ottumwa, Iowa. I was with my dad and four siblings. My dad was in charge because my mom was in the hospital. We all sat around a horseshoe shaped counter on bar stools. We each got our own whole heaping-high piece of pie. And that was after eating Maid-Rite hamburgers. Banana Cream is my dad’s favorite pie by far. My mom got my dad to marry her because she made him of this pie. So I wouldn’t have been born if not for banana cream pie. Thus, all my memories of banana cream are fond ones. But The Canteen Lunch in the Alley was where my pie initiation began. And, by the way, the place is still there – check it out!
Gina: What is your favorite kind of pie?
Beth: My favorite pie is apple crumble. And blueberry. And blackberry. And peach. And…you get the idea.
Gina: What is the oddest pie you’ve made, seen, or heard about?
Beth: Stargazy pie from England, where whole fish are laid under the top crust with their heads poking out, eyes looking up toward the stars. Truly disturbing. There’s a pic in my blog post from when I heard about it, though never actually saw or ate one.
Gina: Have you ever participated in or judged a pie contest? Please tell me about your experiences. Do you have any competition tips?
Beth: No, I’ve never judged a contest of any kind, which makes me especially nervous to go straight to the National Pie Championships as a novice judge! I feel sorry for the contestants who get me for a judge because not only do I have a hard time making decisions (I’m a Gemini), I am not terribly discriminating when it comes to pie because, basically, I like almost any pie I eat!
Gina: What criteria should pie judges consider? Is there a proper technique to tasting pie?
Beth: Pie should look (and taste) like it’s made with love. You can always tell. Pie should reflect life; it should be slightly imperfect – it should look homemade. It shouldn’t be too fancy, no manicured or coiffed crusts, it’s not a French pastry going to a ball; it’s hardy American fare so the crust should look a little, shall we say, rough around the edges. Proper tasting technique is this: always, always, always chew with your mouth closed. And use a napkin to wipe your mouth. Please.
Gina: What is the secret to a perfect crust?
Beth: Butter. End of discussion. Okay, that and do not, I repeat, DO NOT overwork the dough!
Gina: Do you think great bakers are born rather than made? Can anybody learn to make pie? What personality traits make for the best pie bakers?
Beth: Anyone can learn to make pie. However, in my teaching experience, I’ve learned that pie making is well suited to people who are not perfectionists, not overachievers, not Type-A. (These types almost always overwork their dough.) Pie making is good for free spirited, creative types who are not afraid to ignore recipes, break rules, improvise, and who are open to experimentation. Overall, I see pie making as an equal-opportunity, all-access, all-age activity.
Gina: Why does pie matter today?
Beth: Pie makes people happy, happy people want to do nice things for others, when everyone is doing nice things for each other all the time there can be no war, and therefore pie can save the world.