Monday, August 3, 2009
No Justice, No Piece of Pie
On the last Saturday in July, Dan and I attended Pie Lovers Unite at the Ladies' Literary Club in Ypsilanti. It was an affair as awkward as it was tasty.
The entry fee for the event was either $5 a head or 1 pie per family. Of course, we had to bring one of Dan's fabulous pies, with his one-of-a kind crack crust. Before Dan started making crust, I always thought that pie was pretty lame. But that's only because most crusts are disgusting. The common myth is that you must use shortening (a.k.a. the world's least enjoyable fat). The key to Dan's pie crust is butter, just a little lard, and coarse sea salt. Yum! A good crust may not be the best tasting part of a great pie, but it is always the most valuable player.
Slow Food Huron Valley sponsors Pie Lovers Unite. In keeping with their mission, they encouraged entrants to use only local ingredients. Even though you can't grow a lemon in Michigan, we decided to bring a lemon meringue pie. Screw it. What's a pie contest without lemon meringue?
And so we set out for the Ladies' Literary Club, citrus pie in tow. The Club was packed by the time we got there. The atmosphere was sort of like a church hall gathering crossed with a Jane Austen drawing room scene - lots of little old ladies, attractive young people and questionable manners. The front parlor was crowded with self-proclaimed pie lovers seated around a dozen small card tables. We wound up in the back dining room, which was really the best place to be. The judges sat at one end of the room, sampling bits of every pie, all of which were stacked high on a massive table in the center of the room. I was perfectly content to stand there, ogling the pies and sipping a cup of coffee (from the aptly named Mighty Good coffee company) as the more formal ceremony took place in the adjacent parlor.
It was a pretty weird program. The emcee, though mild-mannered and pleasant, seemed to enjoy the microphone more than it flattered her. She spoke of pie passion in a humdrum monotone. She tried to rile up the crowd with a battle cry, raising her voice just a smidgen to say
to which three people responded, "Unite"
And that was that.
The next order of business was the pie-ku reading (yep, haikus about pie), followed by the pie walk. I'd heard of a cake walk before, but never really knew what it was. For the pie walk, participants gathering in a circle around the pie table and marching clockwise to some polka music. There were paper signs taped to the floor, each with the name of a local farm on it. When the music stopped, so did the participants. Then the emcee called out the name of one of those farms, and whoever happened to be standing on that farm's sign won a prize. I could totally get down with that.
But since there wasn't enough space for everyone to compete in a single pie walk, there were several. And then, the emcee came up with random and bizarre qualifiers, like "If you're wearing sandals, you get to be in this pie walk!" The most annoying qualifier was, "If you keep chickens in your backyard, you get to be in this pie walk!" I hate the way the slow food movement alienates working class people - renters can't partake in that pie walk!
If I ever host a pie walk, I'm going to come up with qualifiers that get you excited about the not-so-great details of your life like, "If you've ever had an abortion, you get to be in this pie walk!" That way, everyone has a chance to feel good about themselves.
Perhaps it's jokes like that that make me a pariah. I must have had the word "avoid" tattooed on my head that day, because I saw several co-workers at Pie Lovers Unite and only two of them spoke to me willingly (I tip my hat to HM and LG for being so kind). One woman averted her glance when I smiled and waved and another bolted when I said "Hello". I really try to not take this stuff personally, but it's getting to be a little tough.
My favorite awkward moment of the night happened when LG (who was one of the judges) gave me some very thoughtful feedback on the only lemon meringue pie in the competition. She swore that the whole panel was impressed with the "jiggle" of the meringue, and that the filling was considered well set. I gushed, "LG, I feel like I'm on Iron Chef!" And just as I was starting to feel at home at PLU, a thoroughly obnoxious woman approached us. She knew LG, but I knew her, too. I'll call her Bertha. Bertha volunteers at the theater where I used to work. She's a nightmare, one of those townies that you can never get rid of. Terrible manners, loud, crass, dumb.
In spite of all that, I tried smiling and waving at her, too. We're all pie lovers, right? She ignored me, until she was just about to walk away. Then she turned to me, stared down her bulbous nose and said, "Hey, you look familiar. Where do I know you from?" I connected the dots to the theater, and she replied, "Oh, I haven't seen you there in a long time." Then she turned on her heel and wobbled away.
Alas, Dan's entry did not win a prize, but we did get to eat a lot of pies - savory, sweet, some well crusted (though many were not). I got a pretty wicked sugar rush that night, right before I headed down to the karaoke pub. All in all, it was a pretty fab Ypsi night, despite all the social awkwardness and unfair pie walks.