Pie…. ah, who doesn’t love pie. Fruit pie, custard pie, pie with whipped cream on top, pie with ice cream, pie with a light flaky crust. Pie! As much as I love eating pie, I haven’t had much luck making it. Have been thwarted by the most important step — making a crust that is light and flaky, not tough and rubbery.
Growers Teena Borek and Robert Barnum
The Cantankerous Chef aka Robert Barnum spent his summer vacation patiently working on pie crust. He was passionately in pursuit of the perfect light, flaky crust to use in his tropical fruit pies. He told me that I could get a taste of that perfection in his homegrown longan-walnut-‘bola raisin pie at the Slow Food Miami “Pie on the Porch” competition this past Saturday.
It was a great afternoon to hang out on the wide wraparound porch at the historic Merrick House while sipping lemonade. Kids ran around on the lush green lawn under the shade of huge live oak trees. A vegetable garden had been set up on a side lawn. It was round, with coral rock borders, and looked very much like a pie cut into four slices. Boy Scouts from
Little plants ready to grow.
Troop 4 tilled the soil, and starter plants provided by Teena’s Pride Farm were waiting to get planted into the beds. Slow Food Miami director Donna Reno explained this would be a historically accurate kitchen garden, growing foods much like the ones the Merrick family ate. The garden and pie competition are two of several events to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Merrick House.
By the time I arrived, the porch was packed with eager, hungry people. Serving tables were set up, but where were the pies? They were inside the house getting judged. The seven judges aka the Supreme Court of Pie, led by Chief Justice of Pie Hedy Goldsmith herself, were ensconced in the dining room of the Merrick House. They were seated around a large table, armed with scorecards, plastic forks and glasses of water.
The Supreme Court of Pie
In the adjoining kitchen, 23 pies were arrayed on the counter. The pies were judged one by one. Three thin slices were cut and brought out to the table. The judges sampled and passed around the slices, discussed them briefly, and made their marks on score sheets. The judges evaluated pies on overall appearance, taste, overall impression, creativity, regional ingredients, and name. It was serious, intense work.
Pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith goes eyeball to eyeball with coconut pie.
According to the competition rules, “All pies must be made with a fruit or main ingredient that grows locally.” The pies had to be homemade, using home grown or local, and non-artificial ingredients. The pies had small cards describing what they were, but contestants were not identified.
Once the pie was judged, a runner brought it out to the porch, where hungry guests were waiting for a taste. As a Slow Foodie began slicing and doling out pieces, people immediately mobbed the table. You’d think they hadn’t eaten pie in ages. “It’s a feeding frenzy out there,” the runner commented when she returned to the kitchen. I was intrigued by a green avocado pie and a salmon-colored mamey pie, but those vanished before I made it to the table.
The first pies to emerge from judging got mobbed.
Tracked down Robert’s longan-walnut-‘bola raisin pie and dug in. It was a pie of complex flavors and unusual textures. Am not a fan of fresh longan, but baking mellowed and sweetened its flavor, and it tasted more like lychee. Encountered chewy bits of ‘bola raisins made from dried carambola, and crunchy bits of walnut. The texture reminded me of mincemeat pie, but count on Robert to push a recipe and turn the familiar into something different. As for the perfect crust, yes, it was light and crumbly, as promised. (If you want The Cantankerous Chef to make you a pie, and maybe dinner to go with it, give him a call at 305-235-1768.)
Most of the pies that I tasted (but I didn’t taste them all) followed the competition rule that the predominant ingredient must be local — mango, avocado, mamey, passion fruit, guava, coconut and longan to name the ones I saw. Some were nowhere near local — apple, apricot, pecan, chocolate — but they sneaked into the competition anyway.
The official winners were blueberry (could be local, blues grow in Florida), chocolate pecan (not local), and papaya (could be local). Details are posted on the Slow Food Miami web site.
Robert Barnum's longan-walnut-bola raisin pie.
Robert’s longan-walnut-‘bola raisin pie won an Honorable Mention. His cantankerousness vanished for a few moments. “Yippee!” he cried out happily. “I’m in fourth place,” he kept telling me. Yes, indeed. Good to see his work receive public recognition on its merits alone. Good to see SFM inching closer to recognizing local food.
In the past, SFM was chided about using (or not using) local food at its locavore events. With this pie competition, the group came one step closer to walking the walk. If the Holy Grail of a locavore event is that the ingredients (all, most, or as much as reasonably possible) are sourced locally, this event came a bit closer. However, pies made from non-local ingredients (for example apple, chocolate, pecan, apricot) should have been kept out of competition.
Foodies Naomi Ross and Brian Lemmerman enjoying pie bliss on the porch. They bicycled over from UM in the rain to taste something good to eat.
If you missed the pies, you can still visit Merrick House. It’s a lovely place, and one of the few structures that still remain from an earlier era. I’m glad I was able to visit it briefly, and want to come back another time to tour the house and grounds.
907 Coral Way
Coral Gables, FL 33134
Kara Kautz, Historic Preservation Officer
Read Full Post »