It’s a celebration in Celebration that is Homer Simpsonian in both scope and subject matter; and it returns to Central Florida April 26-28 for its 12th annual run. Chili? Hardly. Doughnuts? You’re getting warmer, but no. This is the Great American Pie Festival, which coincides with the American Pie Council/Crisco National Pie Championships. Go ahead. Say it. I’ll wait….
Pie may seem like quintessential Americana but actually, says Hoskins, "it goes back to ancient Greek and Roman times." — Photo courtesy of American Pie Council
Indeed. Championship pie, to be precise. Pros, amateurs and commercial and junior chefs from the four corners descend on Orlando, this year to the Caribe Royale All-Suite Hotel and Convention Center, where some seriously stiff competitors will be dishing it out for cash prizes and/or bragging rights.
“Celebration is the perfect backdrop for our event,” says Linda Hoskins, executive director of the APC (the dream job I never knew existed). “Orlando provides plenty of housing for bakers who come from out of town and need to rent condos in which to bake. Of course, it's attractions also bring tourists from so many locations that we have pie festival attendees from all over the world.”
Who doesn't like their pie a little saucy? — Photo courtesy of American Pie Council
Last year’s event drew more than 801 mouthwatering entries: apple, pumpkin, chocolate silk, banana cream – and that’s just the tip of the gently caramelized meringue peak. Offerings run from traditional to uncannily exotic. Categories feature an array of components: nuts, custards, tropical fruits and peanut butter for starters. Even raisins.
“In the past few years,” says Hoskins, “the APC and Crisco have introduced the New Innovation category, which has allowed bakers to get really creative…. One pie had three different, separate cream fillings and was presented with pastry crust ‘chips’ – then served like a dip.”
Exciting stuff, to be sure, but the highlight of the festival is the Never Ending Pie Buffet which is, praise the pastry gods, precisely what it sounds like. Last year’s staffers (mostly volunteers) served up an astounding 90,000 slices of pie to happy hordes of dessert aficionados who, in between sampling, enjoyed perusing the book-, art-, clothing- and other vendors along with fun activities, baking demos and – of course – a pie-eating contest.
Pie buffet tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for seniors over 65 and children under 5. Just put a few extra holes in your belt for good measure because once you’re in, it’s all you can eat, all you can drink, all day long.
Competitors put their pie holes to the test. — Photo courtesy of American Pie Council
Got a Ph.D. in pie? Tie up the strings on your cutest apron and bake a lattice-top masterpiece. And if you were born with two scorched thumbs, fear not. You might have what it takes to be an esteemed judge. No previous experience is required – you’ll just have to explain why you think you’ve got a practiced eye for pie. Fill out either application online at www.piecouncil.org through March 30, 2013.
Hoskins, arguably the Grand Poobah of pies, says the Pie Creation Station is a don’t-miss. “Everyone enjoys making some pie! Plus, it will make you hungry for more.” Her strategy for conquering the buffet? Hit it up early! “Then go back and have some more pie after visiting the rest of the festival and enjoying the entertainment.”