At pie contest, visitor becomes an accidental jurist


PITTSFIELD -- Selma Williams, a retired newswoman who has lived in Pittsfield for the last three years, woke up over the weekend never suspecting a dream would come true for her at the Han cock Shaker Village Country Fair.

Williams came to the fair Saturday with her partner Norman Avnet, a retired Pittsfield radiologist, to support a friend who had entered a pie in the fair's seventh annual pie contest.

"We were talking to some friends," in the food court and pie contest tent, she began.
"The friend with pie didn't stay for the judging. He went off to see the chicken contests and we stayed."

At about 1:45 p.m. the dozen pies entered in the contest were brought out and placed beside numbered cards on the table, so no one would know who made them.

Williams came up to the table to watch the setting up. As it got closer to contest time, she and Avnet sat up front where they could best view the pies and the judges.

"I said to Norman, ‘I have one wish before I die: I want to be a pie judge! What heaven! To eat really good pie maker's pie,'" Williams said.

She said Avnet jokingly told Laura Wolf, Hancock Shaker Village director of operations and marketing, who organizes the annual pie contests, "You better make her a judge next year."

At 2 p.m. Wolf announced that the pie contest was about to begin. She gave the names and professional qualifications of the six judges but said one was missing. After a short wait and a little hurried discussion, Williams said:

"I hear that I'm the [replacement] judge."

Being a pie judge is fun and is a delicious experience but isn't as easy as it appears. Judges have to assess the overall presentation and appearance of each pie.

After they are given a slice, they must judge the appearance, flavor and aroma of both the crust and the filling and rate each quality.

Is the crust flaky? Tender? Melting? Flavorful? Is it like cardboard and cold cream?

Does the chocolate filling taste chocolatey? Are the apples full of fresh apple flavor rather than spices and extracts? Do they hold their shape? Are the lemons in the Shaker Lemon Pie lemony enough, but not bitter?

"It was a very interesting exercise. It was fun," Willi ams said later. "I had fun telling my children and anyone else I spoke to."

Williams said she always loved pie. As a young wife in the early 1950s, she learned to bake her own from scratch using a recipe from the "Wes son Oil Cookbook."

Now she bakes pies with the fruit from Avnet's extensive garden.

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"I make my pies with the season," she said. The first is rhubarb pie, then rhubarb and strawberry pies and then, after that, it's peach pies. I make a streusel peach cream.

"Of course [I make] blueberry pies and blackberry pies now that I've come here and the blackberries are so wonderful. Then apple pies. They are always fruit pies."

She said she likes light, flaky crusts.

"I used to make my own pie crust, but now I use refrigerated crusts. Pillsbury makes these rolled pie crusts. You just let them come to room temperature and unroll them and I think they are as good as most pie crusts," she said.

"I am not a fancy pastry chef," Williams admitted. "I am a plain New England cook."

Williams took early retirement in 1993 as editor-in-chief of North Shore Weeklies, 17 Massachusetts newspapers, then owned by the Commun ity Newspaper Company.

She then spent 14 years traveling back and forth to Ukraine, the Republic of Georgia and other former Soviet countries teaching former Soviet journalists how to write objective news. She applied for the job, initially, because she thought it would be interesting which, she said, it was.

On Saturday, however, she exclaimed, "This is the most fun I think I've ever had! I had a wonderful time!" Pie contest winners

Amateur Division

First place: Ann Burtenshaw for her apple pie with cheddar cheese crust.

Second place: Linda Leskovitz for her high apple pie with caramel and pecans.

Third place: Erica Westhuis for her cranberry apple pie with pecan crumb topping.

Professional Division

First place: Alexander Smith, chef/owner of Gramercy Bistro, North Adams, for his lattice topped Shaker apple pie.

Second place: Jabari Powell, chef/owner of MadJack's BBQ, Pittsfield, for his bourbon pecan pie.

Third place: Jabari Powell, chef/owner of MadJack's BBQ, Pittsfield, for his sweet potato pie.


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