KCRW Pie Contest Addendum


Me feeling confident.


Well, guess who continues to build character at an astounding rate?  Yes, it’s me.

Although I went in pies a blazing, I left the KCRW Pie Contest without a ribbon, or even an honorable mention, but did manage to have a good time.  Luckily, I was with Allegra, who is always fun and very supportive.


Allegra – living up to her name.

Now that I know the crowd (Public Radio people here in L.A. are a little more progressive than most people) I know that next time, a mere cranberry apple pie doesn’t stand a chance.  I’ll have to come up with something more quirky and experimental with a much more clever title.  I’ll also keep working on my crust, because I saw a lot of great looking crusts out there and I still think my flake factor can be improved.

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Becky Cummings, the creator of the awesome coconut cream with chocolate ganache pie.

We contenders were all stationed beside each other at long tables.  I was beside some really nice women, who’d entered last year and were very supportive.  One woman had a cheesecake made with goat cheese, which I think had lavender in the crust and was topped with a blueberry topping. It was amazing!

The woman to the right of me, Becky Cummings, had a killer coconut cream pie with chocolate ganache on the bottom crust that was really delicious. She was so sweet, she even let me taste her pie before the tasting officially started. And on the left of me was Jeanne Ackerman, who had a spinach pie.  She let me taste hers too and it was delicious. Her crust looked wonderfully flaky and gave me crust envy. I wish I’d thought to get her photo.

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People zipping right past my pie.

At first I was confident in the allure of my pie, but as people piled in, I started getting nervous. Those admitted in to taste the pies, only got two tickets, which means they could only taste two of the 382 pies entered.  So, everyone was being pretty picky about the pie they wanted and apparently very few wanted apple cranberry. My heart broke a little every time people went at breakneck speed to get to the blueberry lavender lady near me, or the guy with white hair across from me, who must have had meth in his pie, because everyone seemed to want whatever pies he and his neighbor had entered. I think they both won a prize.

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Two men with the most popular pies in town – probably laced with meth.

The only person whose pie was almost as unpopular as mine was a little girl who’d made a pumpkin pie with chocolate crust.  She was one pie to the left of me, but she was cute, so even she got more takers than I did, at first. She’ll probably come back and win next year with a  tamarind, chipotle, lemongrass, cardamom pie with chili infusion or something.


My pathetic unpopular pie in the middle

My neighbors kept telling me not to worry,  that my pie would be eaten, but, while they’d already given away three or four tastes of their pie, I was only down one slice  and it was a barter slice, just to get a taste of the nectarine pie I wanted to sample.


My first customer.JPG

My first customer!


My heart was sinking until a sweet young girl walked up, handed me a ticket and told me she wanted a piece. I was so thrilled, I took her photo for my blog. Then a wonderful young man named, Achilles came up and wanted to try my pie. He liked it so much he came back and  brought his girlfriend, Sarah with him. She had entered also and I’m not sure if she went home with a prize or not, but they were adorable and made my day!


Eventually, I was able to give away all my pie slices and leave with my head held high, but it was a little sketchy for a while.

Achilles and Sarah.JPG

Achilles and Sarah



But here’s what I learned about baking pies after this little adventure. I gleaned this from a Bon Appetit website article and the school of hard knocks.

  1. Always bake your pie on the bottom shelf of the oven so the bottom crust is crunchy.
  2. Always start the oven out at 400 to 425 for about 15 minutes, then lower it to 350.
  3. Put your pie in the freezer for 15 minutes  before baking it.
  4. Always put a tray under your pie in case it bubbles over.
  5. Taste your fruit to see how sweet it is, then add sugar accordingly.
  6. Brushing the crust with a simple egg wash made from egg whites and a tiny bit of water, leaves the crust nicely finished with a little shine.
  7. If you are at the KCRW pie contest, don’t cut your pie pieces so small. No one will want to give up a ticket for a puny piece of pie – no matter what the officials say.
  8. Never doubt yourself or your cooking abilities. Someone out there will always appreciate your food.

If they don’t, then come back next year with a vegan, cardamom, tahini, coconut pie with balsamic glaze. Who knows?  Maybe you’ll win!

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This is how I felt!


Beautiful but non-winning pie


Blatant attempt to ingratiate pie – wish I would have thought of it!

The Cutthroat Annual Tunno Pumpkin Pie Contest

Remember the nice story I wrote last week about my family loving each other because my mom was a great cook and so nurturing and wonderful? Most of the time that’s true, until it’s time for the cutthroat Annual Tunno Pumpkin Pie Contest. It commences right after Thanksgiving dinner, which is a good thing because we’re all too full to move, let alone hurt each other.

Fran in 3rd

This was 2011. Elissa, first place, Matt 2nd, me, third and Marc, fourth. Chris says his pie was out of place, hence questionable voting.

I’ve only been around for a few of the competitions because I live in California. The few I’ve participated in, I’ve never won, which is really irritating because I love to bake and my pie is damned good.

No, the trophy for the last four out of five years has gone to my stinking nephew, Chris, (no bitterness here) who I asked to share his recipe for this blog. Here’s his response:

“The recipe should be worthy of a footnote, as it’s been the most successful run since the 1949-53 New York Yankees, but I have to keep it under wraps until I start losing (if that ever happens). Unfortunately, I am ultra competitive and cannot release the information.”

Humility – 0 points

Honesty – 1 point

Does he bake? No. As far as I know, the closest he comes to food is the fact that he eats it and looks like Bobby Flay. He handles sports communications for one of the best teams in baseball. I won’t say who because I don’t want to be responsible for his kidnapping in case someone is desperate to get the recipe. He eats, lives and breathes sports – not baking. Further proof the world is an unfair place.

The moment of victory - Elissa reveling in her win.

The moment of victory – Elissa reveling in her win.

His competitiveness is a family trait inherited from my mom. She shamelessly bribed my nephews with dollar bills to vote for her pie in the contest’s gritty early years. This was probably because she knew her pies needed help. Hers were an interesting shade of yellowish-green compared to the other lovely caramel colored pies. When asked about her ingredients, she proudly said, “I put inna nading but eggs.” She piled them in  — hoping for a custard-like texture. It didn’t work.

She never won, but never stopped trying. Sounds disturbingly like me.

The contest has not been without controversy. In 2003, my sister-in-law, Donna entered a pie that won. Was the pie hers? No. Was that legal? No.  Did the long arm of the law come down hard? Yes.

Chris, who recorded it for posterity said, that when the pie won first place, Donna blurted out that it had been made by her friend, Cindy Uvena.

When this treachery was discovered, brother Bob, grabbed the wooden meat tenderizer/gavel and called the family to order with a resounding whack on the counter. He asked Bernie if he knew anything about it and Bernie, who was several glasses of wine in, sheepishly admitted transporting the traitorous pie in the car. Our own brother was an accomplice! My nephew, Matt, who had just come in second to an outsider’s pie was yelling, “Who the heck is Cindy Uvena?”

Donna ended up with a three year pie suspension. Her accomplice, Bernie, got a one year suspension, and Matt had to live with the knowledge that he came in second to a non-Tunno pie.

Trophy close-up. Note Elissas fingers tightly wrapped around the prize.

The coveted trophy. Note Elissas fingers tightly wrapped around the prize.

There have been other moments, like the 2012 uprising when Bob wanted to change the rules. Right now everyone tastes and votes for first, second and third place among the 12 to 14 pies. Bob wanted to break the pies into smaller groups because eyes start to glaze over and blood sugars go out of control after the fourth taste. Each group would claim a winner and the winners would be pitted against each other.

There was grumbling, but Bob is a force (much like my mother) with or without a meat tenderizer mallet/gavel. I think I came in third that year. Oh the humiliation. It’s a good idea though, because who wants to taste 14 pies?

I love this contest and the fact that we’re all so damned competitive. There is smack talk to make it more exciting, (thank you Chris – you know I love you) and some years the entries are unbelievably bad like the salt pie my dad made when he was in his 90’s. Not sure what happened, but Bernie (his sous chef) must have looked away when Dad was adding the salt to the filling. Everyone did their best not to spit it out and even Dad said, “That tastes terrible!”

But it’s great fun and even though we tease, we really do enjoy it and end up loving each other again, once the sugar high wears off.

Chris and Elissa - ruthless competitors.

Chris and Elissa – ruthless competitors.

I won’t be there this year, but I think:

#1. A blind testing is the way to go.

#2. I, Little Miss Crusty Pants, say crust should be a factor because it’s the whole pie that should be judged, not just the filling. Looks should matter too.

#3. Everyone should vote for their favorite, with no first second or third.  The pie with the most votes is the winner, then second and third place would be the pies with the next number of votes.

#4. Each pie should be numbered, so no one knows what number each pie gets. This way we avoid contestants ruthlessly voting for their own. (Yes, I did and still didn’t win!)

#5. Small pieces of each numbered pie should be placed on plates by a non-participant.

#6. A non-participant should be the one who counts the votes. I won’t say who’s been counting them in the past, but his name rhymes with Swiss. (He always shows us the tallies and, damn him, he always wins, but when dealing with a family with a Kennedy competitive streak, it’s best to take him out of the line of fire for his own safety.)

#7. I also think other pies should be allowed and there can be a separate category for those.

#8. Someone should buy Bob a real gavel.

If only we could get a real judge to come in, now that would be great.  Any Pittsburgh food critics out there who love pumpkin pie and want to judge? Please write! My family needs you!

(Hey, while you’re dreaming of pumpkin pie, check out my online store!)


Fran’s Awesome Always a Contender Pumpkin Pie 

Always a contender pumpkin pie.

Always a contender pumpkin pie.

(It’s from a Libby’s label — so is Chris’ recipe.) This makes two pies. I used to put cloves in, but cloves can be gritty and overpowering, so now I leave them out. If yours aren’t gritty you can use a tiny pinch – but a little clove goes a long way) This makes two pies.

Preheat oven to 350


4 eggs slightly beaten

1 can 29 oz Libby’s solid pack pumpkin

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 tsp. salt

Close up  on Fran's Always a Contender Pumpkin Pie.

Close up on Fran’s Always a Contender Pumpkin Pie.

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ginger

3 cups half and half

Fran’s Pie Crust:

2 1/2 cups flour

1 tsp salt

1 Tbsp. sugar

1 cup butter

1/2 cup milk (or more)

Plastic wrap and additional flour.

Mix together flour, salt and sugar.  Cut in butter.  When it resembles coarse meal, add a little milk (Not all of it!) — enough to bring about 1/4 of the dough together. When it holds together (it will be sticky — better too wet than not wet enough) place it on a floured piece of plastic wrap. Wrap the plastic around the dough and put it in the refrigerator to chill. Do that until you have no flour mixture left.  You should have four to five small discs of dough in plastic.  When chilled, roll out dough on a clean, floured surface. Makes enough for two double crust pies.

Roll out crust and place in a pie plate.  Flute or crimp the edges of the dough and set aside.

Combine pumpkin, eggs, sugar, spices, salt and half and half.  Mix thoroughly.  Pour into pie crust and place on top of a cookie sheet in the 350 oven.  If you have a pie crust shield, you should definitely use it so your crust doesn’t burn. A Mrs. Anderson’s basic one is $4.99 at Bed Bath and Beyond, a prettier one is available at Williams Sonoma for $6.40. They probably work equally well. If you want, you can very lightly brush the crust with 1/2 and 1/2 for a nicer finish.

Passing Down the Mascara Wand to Your Daughter– Gracefully

Just as a woman is watching her face shrivel up like the faces in those paintings in the haunted house at Disneyland, a cruel irony of life surfaces. She sees her daughter burst into full bloom in front of her; probably as beautiful as she’ll ever be.

Mom daughter roses

Mother/Daughter roses.

It’s like roses on a rosebush. The mom is the one that’s left with just a knob and some straw-like hairs poking out, next to the fully bloomed, lush rose wafting her fragrance across the yard with a toss of her head. Continue reading