"As American as apple pie." What exactly does that mean? Although the United States is the world's second largest producer of apples, at 248.6 million bushels worth more than $2.7 billion each year, apples and pies in general did not originate in North America. Both the fruit and dessert were brought over from Europe with the New World's first colonists.
I think John Lehndorff of the American Pie Council said it best: "When you say that something is 'as American as apple pie,' what you're really saying is that the item came to this country from elsewhere and was transformed into a distinctly American experience."
No matter its origins, apple pie is sure to be a star player in back yard barbecues and Independence Day celebrations this summer, as a 2014 survey commissioned by the American Pie Council found that pie is the preferred dessert of Americans with apple pie ranked as the top flavor.
I completely agree with the results of the pie survey, as apple has always been my personal favorite. I can trace those origins back to my fondest olfactory memories of childhood being of when my mom would bake cinnamon and sugar stuffed apples — yum!
So when Turlock chiropractor Dave Dubyak put out a desperate call for apple pie contest entries last summer, I decided it was time for my own house to be filled with the mouth-watering smells of cooked apples and my most favorite spice, cinnamon.
Dubyak has been sponsoring an apple pie contest at the Stanislaus County Fair for over 12 years now. Although he is fond of pie, the main reason for his continued support of this event is philanthropic. Each contest entrant must submit two pies, one for judging and one to be donated to the United Samaritans Foundation for their daily lunch program.
As a reporter, I've covered the apple pie contest in the past and to me it harkens back to a time when families gathered at the fair to see who can bake the best pie in the county. So with visions of blue ribbons dancing in my head, I decided the contest would be the perfect time to make my first attempt at baking an apple pie from scratch.
You might think it's a little odd to begin my apple pie baking career with a publicly viewed judging, but that's just how I roll! Or that's what I told myself so I wouldn't give up at 1 a.m. when I was on my third batch of pie dough. If you've never baked a pie from scratch, let me tell you — it's hard. Most baking is just following the directions. But with pie crust, it's almost like you have to check the atmospheric conditions, cleanse the kitchen of bad juju and then say a prayer to the baking gods, just to get a decent crust.
Because I'm a newbie at pie baking, I did a lot of recipe browsing. In the end, I took ingredients and baking techniques from a variety of sources to make up my own recipe. Of course, my pies also had a secret ingredient — cinnamon. Okay, so that's not very secret or unusual in an apple pie, but I tripled the amount of cinnamon most recipes call for because you just can't have too much cinnamon (at least I can't).
Once I made it to the fairgrounds with my pies intact —one of my biggest fears was dropping them while walking to the judging table —all I had to do was wait for the judging to start. Luckily (or not) my pie was the first one the judges graded.
Now, at each of Dubyak's pie contests, the judges are asked to rate each entry on five categories: overall look, texture of the crust, texture of the filling, taste of the crust and taste of the filling. When the judges started rating my pie, I got very excited because they ranked the overall look very high. I did have the one and only lattice crust pie, so that may have been a factor.
My excitement was short-lived, however, as the judges didn't think too highly of the actual taste of my pie. Let me tell you, I'm pretty thick-skinned when it comes to criticism, but watching five people publicly say my pie sucks was pretty humiliating.
I don't know what it says about my character, but I felt a little better when some other pies were rated below mine.
In the end, it was Marianne Foglia of Ceres and her apple pie the judges liked best. When the results were announced she jumped up and down and shouted, "I feel like I'm on 'The Price is Right!'"
I asked Foglia what the secret was to her award-winning pie. She said, "You have to make it pop." She also said that she used a pinch of almond extract for extra flavor.
Although I didn't win, I was glad that the best pie honors went to someone who obviously put a lot of heart and soul into her baking.
As my first (public) attempt at baking the perfect apple pie didn't work out very well, I called an apple expert for advice.
Lois Cover has been the proud co-owner of Cover's Apple Ranch in Tuolumne since 1998. Although she's only been an apple farmer for 17 years, there have been apples growing at Cover's Ranch since the turn of the century when Frank Ralph planted 26 acres of apple trees between the towns of Tuolumne and Soulsbyville.
Along with a working apple farm that is open for school and family tours, the ranch features a gift shop, restaurant — and bakery.
"We make all our pies by hand," said Cover. "A crew of four or five of us come in once a week and bake them."
Cover said she couldn't estimate exactly how many pies she bakes over a year, but during Thanksgiving week alone 300 to 400 pies go out the door for families to enjoy. The bakery makes a traditional double crust apple pie, a Dutch apple and then a mile high pie with twice the number of apples.
The secret to baking the perfect apple pie?
"It's a combination of everything," said Cover. "If the crust isn't good, it's no good. If the filling is off, it's no good."
They always use tart apples for the filling, Granny Smith or Winesap if they have a good crop on the farm, and plenty of spice, she said.
Although Cover wouldn't give up the ranch's apple pie recipes, anyone can come take a pie home from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Cover's Apple Ranch is located at 19211 Cherokee Rd., in Tuolumne.
I think I will devote this summer to finding the perfect apple pie through some serious taste testing before I attempt my own apple pie creation again.APPLE PIE CONTEST
Those looking to put their baking skills to the taste test, while also helping to feed the hungry, are encouraged to enter the 13th annual Apple Pie Contest at the Stanislaus County Fair.
There is no entry fee for the contest, but each contestant must submit two pies — one for judging and one that will be donated to the United Samaritans Foundation for their Daily Bread Lunch service.
The contest will be judged by a group of local dignitaries on the opening day of the fair, July 10. Each pie will be graded on a scale of zero to five for the following categories: taste and texture of the crust, taste and texture of the filling, and overall appearance.
First prize is $100, with the second place finisher receiving $50.
Although there is no fee to compete, preregistration is required. For more information about the pie contest, or to register, call the Stanislaus County Fair at 668-1333, visitstancofair.com
or call Dubyak Family Chiropractic at 668-1944.IF YOU'RE GOINGWHAT:
Cover's Apple Ranch, working apple farm with a miniature train, tree houses, restaurant and bakeryWHEN:
8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through SaturdayWHERE:
19211 Cherokee Rd., TuolumneINFO:coversappleranch.com