Eight bakers advance to the second round of Home of Economy-Grand Forks Herald Pie Bake-off
Caitlin Olson had the highest score in the first round with a cherry pie that accumulated 102 points.
GRAND FORKS – Ilene Sherlock was curious.
The East Grand Forks resident had read about the first-ever Home of Economy-Grand Forks Herald Pie Bake-off and wanted a first-hand look at the entries. Without realizing the event’s judging was closed to the public, she came to Home of Economy on Monday morning to get a look at the 16 pies that were placed on a table, waiting their turn to be scored.
“I was reading about this in the Herald and I thought I’d better come see it,” Sherlock said after being invited in for a closer look. “Don’t you love this? It’s so fun to see what people can do. It’s amazing the talent that’s here.”
After a judging session that took three hours, eight bakers advanced past the first round of the bracketed tournament and next will compete on Monday, Aug. 29, in hopes of moving to the tournament’s semifinals.
Winners in Monday’s judging were Tammy Schmitz (sponsored by Alerus); Caitlin Olson (sponsored by Hope Church); Brityn Proulx (sponsored by Valley Senior Living); Alexandra Lunseth (sponsored by Northern Roots Boutique); Jill Hanson (sponsored by Hugo’s); Brenda Dufault (sponsored by Toasted Frog); Peggy Raddatz (sponsored by Ground Round); and Evan Andrist (sponsored by North Dakota Mill).
Other participants were Brenda Kovar (sponsored by Blue Moose); Lynda Kappel (sponsored by Wall’s Medicine Center); Victoria Bouvette (sponsored by Bremer Bank); Amy Lents (sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce); Brenda White McCauley (sponsored by Altru Health System); Jeannine Lazur (sponsored by Harry’s Steakhouse); Rose Fuchs (sponsored by The Lighting Gallery); and Mallory Handford (sponsored by American Crystal Sugar).
Another participating business is Greenberg Realty, the tournament’s apron sponsor.
The highest score of the day went to Olson, whose “Sweetheart Cherry Pie” impressed the judges — even more so considering it was a vegan creation, made without any sort of animal byproducts.
“How does this look before slicing?” judge Lane Leech said, reading aloud one of the criteria on the scoresheet.
Moments later, she answered her own question.
“Fabulous,” she said.
Said judge Kristen Whitney: “I could eat this crust for days.”
Olson’s pie scored 102 points in her head-to-head matchup against Kappel’s “Old-fashioned Rhubarb Strawberry Pie,” which drew compliments for its overall taste.
Olson spent time throughout the past week making multiple versions of the pie, then choosing the one she thought might score highest in the contest. She used a combination of locally sourced cherries, along with some store-bought bing cherries. She said it helped create a combination of sweet and tart flavor.
“It’s amazing. It’s more than I hoped for,” Olson said when told told her overall score. “I’m so happy.”
After Olson’s 102 points, Hanson, of Newfolden, Minnesota, had the second-highest score. Her “Black Tie Blueberry Pie” scored 100 points. It was judged about halfway through the contest, and at that time was declared by judge Marsha Johnson as “my favorite pie so far.”
It also was the first pie judged in the contest with lard in the crust ingredients. Lard — generally rendered pork fat — often creates a flakier crust, the judges noted.
And crust — even more than filling — was the talk-about subject throughout the first day of judging. There were, however, exceptions. Olson’s cherry pie drew universal raves for its filling, as did a pie submitted by Andrist (titled “Elaine’s Juneberry Rhubarb Pie") and the Rhubarb-Raspberry Pie baked by Schmitz.
Schmitz had the third-highest overall score, at 90 points. Close behind was Brenda Dufault, who scored 88 points for “Mom’s Coconut Cream Pie.” The average score in the event was 69.
Hanson’s pie had the highest score in the crust judging, getting a perfect 45 points. Olson’s crust was second, with 36 points, and Dufault was third with 35 points.
The contest had three judges for the opening round, since Jessica Rerick could not attend due to a scheduling conflict with her appearance at the Mrs. American Pageant in Las Vegas. She’s expected back for next week’s judging.
“It was a nice variety, mixing up not-so-traditional approaches with what we have available to us (in the region),” Johnson said after the first round concluded.
In the second round, the matchups will be Schmitz vs. Olson, Proulx vs. Lunseth, Hanson vs. Dufault and Raddatz vs. Andrist.
Bakers are not allowed to repeat a pie recipe until the championship round, if they advance that far. It means the second round of competition will bring eight new pies to the judges’ table.
Leech, the head chef at Harry’s Steakhouse, said she believes the first round showed the importance of crust preparation, but she also offered the bakers a suggestion on fillings.
“If there are fruit pies, I hope they’re working to have something more involved than just a thickening agent,” she said.
Whitney, the executive chef at the Museum of Art, agreed.
“I understand they want their pies to hold and that’s why they’re putting so much in," she said. "But it’s a little overpowering."
The overall winner will have the choice between a $1,400 pie safe from Home of Economy or a $500 gift card to Home of Economy, plus $500 in cash from the Herald, in the name of the baker’s sponsor. Second prize is $200.