I'm back from Branson, and I didn't win. Here are the 4 top pies:
1. Sour Cream Peach Pie -$2,500 + 4 days, 3 nights in Branson for 2.
2. Mixed Nut and Fig Pie - $1,000
3. Dreamy Creamy Peanut Butter Pie - $500
4. Vermont Maple Oatmeal Pie - $250
Of course I'm disappointed, as are the other 8 contestants who did not win prize money. What we did win was the trip to Branson, including airfare and meals, a signed copy of Al Roker's best-selling Grilling Cookbook, an apron with Taste of Home Cooking School on it, free entry into the Taste of Home Cooking School, a gift bag, free tickets to Branson shows of our choice on Friday and Saturday evenings, and a Finalist Medal. They told us there were 1200 entries for this pie contest, and we had the top 12 recipes.
Taste of Home has never had an on-site pie baking contest before, and they are hoping to make this an annual event in Branson with the Branson Chamber of Commerce. I'm sure it will get better every year. For this first time, there were a lot of mixups, inconsistencies, errors and last-minute switches. Needless to say, the contestants were in a state of confusion.
My recipe was the only one using a food processor. Each station had a KA mixer, but I needed a food processor. Unfortunately, they didn't have one, so they tried to borrow one. It was a GE and it was from about 30 years ago. That was problem #1. The processor had a chute coming out the side and when I put the almonds in, they went all over the floor. We did finally solve that problem, then the next problem was the microplane grater. They brought me a coarse grater that had dull blades (yes they do get dull). Then they brought me a regular fine grater. Neither of these was able to extract any zest out of the limes. Finally, they brought me a microplane fine grater. There was no oven thermometer to check the calibration of the ovens (which were off by 10 degrees I later found out). My recipe called for a 1-1/2 quart pot, and they gave me a 4-quart pot. I needed a hand mixer, and, again, they gave me a borrowed one about 30 years old. It had vents in the top -- seen any of those lately? It was filthy dirty. When I started to beat the topping with it, oil and lint spewed out of the vents into my topping. The TOH rep told me not to worry about it, no one would know. The pie plate they provided was a straight edged deep dish pie plate, and I needed a standard fluted edge. They finally brought me disposable pie plates, which I didn't want to use but had no choice. The TOH reps came around to all the cooking stations and repeatedly told us not to worry about presentation. We were supposed to finish our pies, then cut them into pieces for the 10 judges. At the last minute, they told us to put the pies on a presentation table so the judges could see them before they were cut. We were marked on presentation. But the real kiss of death was my placement in the judging. They put me first. Never go first or last. The first pie is always scored low because the judges haven't seen any of the others yet. By the time they get to the last pie, they're all filled up with nuts, berries, etc. and can't even taste the last one. I knew when they put me first it was over.
Contests are luck of the draw. And I drew all the short straws on this one. But I learned a lot. Next time (if there is a next time), I'll be sure to bring ALL my own equipment. But the placement in the judging is something that cannot be controlled. My hubby told me to keep submitting this pie, because it's a winner. And when he tells me that, it spurs me on, because he is not a dessert eater. He really loves this pie.
It was a fun time in Branson. I met some wonderful people that I would love to see again (several have submitted recipes to the Pillsbury Bake -Off Contest and just might be there next year.) The Chamber provided "Velcro Buddies" for each of the finalists. They stuck to us like velcro and took care of all our last-minute needs. My Velcro buddy, Kitty, was wonderfully kind, thoughtful and delightful to be with. She introduced me to Janet Lennon, took me to the Landing (an outdoor mall), and to the Branson Five and Ten Cent store, and just made sure that I was ok. All in all, it was a fun time and a great learning experience that I'll never forget.