Surprising Group Helps Preserve Pie Baking Contest Tradition
Never does the term Edible Bites seem more appropriate than when it comes to judging food competitions. The judges take small bites, chew and hold in it in their mouths in an attempt to fully evaluate its quality.
Most high-end judging competitions are difficult as subtle difference can determine winners and losers. Then there’s the open class apple pie baking contest at the Kewaunee County Fair in Luxemburg. On the surface, it would seem like the type of competition that would attract a sizeable crop of entries. After all, Kewaunee County is in the middle of one of the prime apple-growing regions in the state.
But when B.J. Simonar and his wife Shannon went to the fair 10 years ago and noticed that there were only two entries, he jokingly mentioned to her that he just might have to enter a pie to help keep the tradition alive.
“She didn’t take it as a joke and told me I should,” said Simonar. He did.
Forget the fact that he had zero experience in making an apple pie. Simonar was making a statement that continues to echo through the fair’s exhibition hall.
He has never won, despite sparse competition those first years, but his standing in the Luxemburg business community was significant enough to slowly persuade other businessmen to grab baking utensils and crank up their ovens.
What has followed has been quite a few lousy pies, but a new appreciation for the joys and challenges of baking from an unexpected collection of participants.
Some of the world’s most renowned bakers are men, so the concept of men entering a pie baking contest shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. But the willingness of a group of guys who might not be able to tell the difference between a spatula and a whisk adds a whole different flavor to the proceedings — in addition to some sour filling and pasty crust.
Simonar’s efforts to grow the event by drawing on the male’s basic need to compete at anything he tries developed slowly.
Then, five years ago, Tim Treml and the Seidl brothers (Bruce and Brian) entered. Things were getting serious – kind of. “We had 18 entries last year,” said Simonar, a tad disappointed that the numbers dropped to 14 this year. “We got so many that we had to divide into three categories.” The traditional, lattice-top and crumbletop pies are each judged separately and then a grand champion is named from the three blue-ribbon winners.
Treml won two categories last year and grand champion for which he donned the crown, the sash emblazoned with “Pie King” and carried the scepter through Sunday’s Chamber of Commerce parade. This immediately drew warnings from within the increasingly competitive pie-baking community as Treml said he received an email from the “little old ladies pie baking club” that they were going to take him down next year.
“It’s all good-natured and a lot of small town fun,” said Treml.
Well, it wasn’t the ladies’ club that took Treml down this year. Bruce Seidl captured his first championship with a traditional crust entry that had the pair of female judges swooning over its taste and flaky crust.
It wasn’t always that way, according to Seidl, who has used the same recipe since first entering five years ago.
“It’s the only pie I ever bake,” he said, unable to exactly describe the recipe. Calling to his wife for help, Granny Smith and Golden Delicious seem to be the apples of choice. Other than that, it’s a secret.”
Seidl picked a great year to win since a local television station was on hand to cover the event. Clearly not prepared for such publicity, Seidl’s wife had to detour him from their plans to eat out to make an appearance at the fair.
Although not particularly eager to go in front of the camera, he and Simonar saw the opportunity to further promote their contest and they’ll need to.
“In four years it will be the fair’s 100th anniversary and our goal is 100 pies for 100 years,” said Simonar. Reminded that Luxemburg isn’t that big a community, Simonar admitted they’ll need to reach out to businessmen in Algoma and Kewaunee.
“We’ve got four years,” he said holding up four fingers … and probably a lot of lousy pies to judge.