With names like “Awesome Apple Pie” and “Eat This Pie!” listed on the contender sheet, the South Side Pie Challenge—held this past Saturday in the cafeteria of the Ray School in Hyde Park—was not lacking for bravado. The elementary school cafeteria was decked out with signs displaying pie facts, recipes, and student pie art. Meanwhile, Gutenberg & the Illuminators and Chicago Men’s A Cappella dished out sweet folk music to set the autumnal mood.
To aid my recovery from four pie slices and two cups of coffee, I colored pictures of pies with some discerning event volunteers. Owen, ten, partial to creme pies, was “very excited to see who wins.” Xavier, also 10, was pushing for a cookies-and-cream pie to win. He had a little too much pie, and in his haze, was convinced there were “over 500 pies” competing. Angeliki, nine, who couldn’t decide between apple and chocolate pudding as her favorite, set the record straight: “There are only 106 pies! There were 53 entries and each person bakes two pies.”
While the trio’s hard-won consensus was that the Oreo pie was the winner (both tins disappeared quickly), the Harriet butterscotch pie took the cake in the creme category. Judges based scores on general attractiveness, crust consistency and flavor, filling consistency and flavor, and overall taste. “It was hard to decide,” said Ray principal Tatia Beckwith, sporting a large gold “Judge” ribbon on her lapel. “The crust can make or break it.”
There were three winners and an honorable mention in each of the four groups, but every pie entered into the Challenge was credited for bringing in proceeds for the Hyde Park & Kenwood Hunger Programs at Hyde Park Union Church. With gaggles of families and friends swapping slices and crowding the tables to try all the varieties, the Challenge seemed to be a success.
Just as all the kids stopped running around the serving table and joined their parents settling into a sugar crash, the ribbon ceremony started, steadily lifting the spirits of the attendants out of their hypoglycemic slump. Even though this was the first South Side Pie Challenge, Kate Agarwal, communications and marketing manager for the event, declared that the Challenge would hereby be a yearly event.
Before the ribbon ceremony—during which winners received ribbons, pie cookbooks donated by 57th Street Books, and prizes from event sponsors—an aproned Agarwal proclaimed, “We needed a pie challenge on the South Side—it brings this community together.” And so it did—though Xavier might still take issue with his buddy Angeliki’s pie count.