Pie Off 2008

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pieoff1.jpgA few years ago I met a fellow who talked some very big words about pie. He seemed to think he knew a lot. He said he had this friend, Aligator, who organized a pie competition every year, and, if I was lucky, I might get to attend.

Through veils of secrecy and language written to intimidate even the most scholarly, Pie Off was turning out to be something to be reckoned with. People who came just to watch and snack and spy were turned away. Gorgeous, fruit-laden pretties were disqualified for blatant disregard for the rules, and stories were told about past year rule breakers, who were, conspicuously, missing from the day’s event.

Pie Off was going to be a serious affair.

Weeks before the date, emails came from an undisclosed location. There was an argument about whether I would be allowed to make a pie. Ransom notes for the precious Pie Off Trophy were hung in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood. Christo* was hired to wrap the secret location. More emails came.

I was asked to be a Pielebrity. Star-struck like a fan in line all night I said yes, having absolutely no idea what I just said yes to.


Pie Off Rules were challenged. An interloper threatened meat pie and the Committee issued a warning.

“Dear Bakers,

As you have no doubt heard, the Pie Off Steering Committee and International Sisterhood/ Brotherhood/ Sockpuppethood of Pie Bakers, Iron Ship Builders and Boilermakers, PIE-TCB have been embroiled in a summer-long dispute over banned substances appearing in award-winning filling throughout the ten-year lifespan of Pie Off, Pie Off East, and all related Pie Off events.

I am happy to report that these disputes and allegations have been resolved in their entirety, and thankfully without much media fanfare. And while I am not at liberty to discuss any settlement terms or amounts, suffice it to say that you will most likely see the value of gourds, tomatoes, and lamb suffer a rather steep decline in the coming months.”

A baker’s dozen of questions about filling categories were raised and answered,

“the combo rule is one of preponderance. bakers/teams are allowed to enter combo pies. the choice of category should be based on whichever fruit is the preponderant ingredient in the filling. if different fruits share equal representation in the filling, then bakers/teams are allowed to make a game-time decision, submitting their pie into one of the appropriate categories.”

The date approached. An invite arrived on Facebook. The location stayed covered. I asked the Committee if I could talk about Pie Off on Eggbeater. A firewall protected email exchange took place. I could tell about the event but give no details about where exactly pies would be dropped off and judged.

The exact response to my question was this:
“In general, the committee does not mind, and perhaps even supports, online discussion of Pie Off, Pie Off International and Pie Off, The Movie. We would only ask that any blog mention of this Sunday's event does not amount to an open invitation. This "eggbeater" village intimidates us more than a little, quite frankly; and our humble gathering wishes only to craft pie with the tools and notions that our mamas gave us.

In short, the answer is yes.
you dig?”

The clincher? No spectators. You had to bring a pie to get in the door. But you could bake a pie with one other person.

One would think with so many rules, regulations and verbiage, one might feel constrained. But many pies came, were eaten, judged and enjoyed. In fact, before pies were eaten, someone set up a serious pot of oil in a back yard and made whole fried pie snackettes.


In total 38 pies were made in 5 categories.
1. stone fruit (peach, nectarine, cherry, plum, apricot)
2. Tree fruit (apple, pear)
3. berry (strawberry, blueberry, cranberry)
4. Caneberry (raspberry, blackberry, boysenberry, marionberry)
5. citrus/tropical (lemon, key lime, banana, mango, etc.)

My Pielebrity status translated into being the overall judge and I, along with another pie discerning individual, chose 1st, 2nd & 3rd place after judges picked a #1 pie in each of their categories. Pie bakers could also cast a Baker’s Choice ballot and a fellow who had never, in all of his life, made a pie before, won with basil-blackberry.

At the end of the day, after tasting 38 pies, I had a better understanding of just how awful bad pie could be and how inventive one could become with a pie plate, something called homemade pie dough and “filling” could be interpreted.

I also saw the power of Pie. Pie binds us. Pie tells a story. Pie is simple, and very very hard. Pie explains hospitality in edible form. Pie is summer. Pie is conviviality. And Pie competitions are fierce.

And, as said best by the Aligator,
Revenge is a dish best served Pie.