(Host) For as long as there have been fairs, there have been prizes for the best pies. When the 132nd annual Tunbridge World’s Fair opened this week, there was no shortage of candidates for the coveted Judge’s Choice Award for pies. This week, one perennial winner opened her kitchen and her cookbook to VPR’s Steve Zind.
(Zind) This is the tale of one pie’s journey from the oven to the world famous Tunbridge Fair. Part one of our odyssey takes place in a spotless, sunlit kitchen.
(Osha) “My name is Janet Osha. I live in Braintree, Vermont. I’ve been making pies and entering them in the fair since around 1994, 1995. I’ve won a lot of Judge’s Choice ribbons and every time you win one you want to get it again next year.”
(Zind) For this year’s entry, Osha is making a pie with ties to Vermont and motherhood.
(Osha) “It’s an apple pie, but I’ve already won a big ribbon with my apple pie recipe so I’m trying to make a variation on it, and I’d like to turn it into a maple apple pie. Look at that. That is going to be mapley! Those judges better like this.
“I have a pound of Indian maple sugar, I’ve got about 10 large Granny Smith apples, a little bit of maple syrup, a little bit of heavy cream, dot it with butter, about a quarter cup of flour, also, to soak up the juice.
“That’ll look good. I think the way it looks makes a difference. The same with my car – it runs better if it’s clean. My pies taste better if they’re pretty.”
(Zind) “Are there any secrets that you’re not telling me, that you prefer to keep to yourself?”
(Osha, laughing) “No!”
(Zind) Osha decorates the pie with her trademark: slices of dough made to look like leaves. Finally, into the oven it goes.
Part two of our odyssey, in which the pie goes to the fair. (Sound of a cow mooing.)
(Judge) “Janet Osha? Do you have more than that one pie?”
(Zind) Osha delivers her still warm pie to the Turbridge Fair Floral Hall. That’s where the judging happens the next day. Two hours before the deadline for entries, she is not alone.
(Pie maker) “I brought a sweet potato pie and I brought another pie. A quarter of it’s blueberry and the rest is cherry and it looks like the American flag, with Stars and Stripes on it.”
(Pie maker) “It’s a sour cherry pie and I want to eat it because it’s my favorite. However, I’ve held off all day.” (Sounds of laughing.)
(Zind) The pie makers never do get to taste their pies – they hand them over to fair officials and hope for the best. Osha enters her pie and eyes the competition.
(Osha) “Oh, that’s a good looking one right there. That’ll probably win it.”
(Zind) Now, the Day of Reckoning. On Thursday morning, Lyn Jarvis, a host of Channel 3’s Across the Fence, joins Carolyn Peake to do the judging.
(Judge) “How many pies we got? Let’s see, on the one-crust pies….”
(Zind) They carefully lift a slice out of each pie, then taste.
(Judge) “Mmmm, pecan coconut! The crust is just fantastic. It’s going to be hard to stop with just one bite.”
(Zind) After four or five hours of sampling breads, cakes and muffins – along with 19 pies – and fending off passersby who want their own taste, this begins to look like work. Oddly, none of the pie makers are around for the judging. Like Janet Osha, they’ll peek in later to see how the judges rate their entry.
(Jarvis) “The crust is an important point to look at, because it wants to be light and flaky. You don’t want a pie that’s too runny, the filling is too runny – it wants to hold together. And a nice mix of the ingredients so that the flavors blend well together. Appearance you look at. And, of course the taste, I guess that’s what clinches it.”
(Zind) The competition is stiff. A half dozen pies are neck and neck down to the wire. In the end, a surplus of apple pies hurts Janet Osha’s chances. The judges like her pie, but she has to settle for a second place ribbon. It takes a few minutes to choose the 2003 Judge’s Choice winner from among the best pies.
(Judges) “As far as flavor, I have to go with that one, just because it’s unusual. The grape-raisin mixture.”
“Okay, that’s the winner. And who is it?”
“Marie Danforth of Tunbridge, a local woman!”
(Zind) Janet Osha says she’ll be back next year in search of another blue championship ribbon. And what’s the point of all this effort each year, when the prize is a ribbon and a check for three dollars?
(Osha) “Competition, the thrill of that. Going over there on Thursday night to see if there’s any ‘blues’ on my stuff.”
(Zind) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind at the Tunbridge World’s Fair.