If pie is the food trend of the year, as National Public Radio recently reported, then the folks at the Olympia Bakers Guild are ahead of their time.
The guild, hosting its third annual Pie Baking Contest on Saturday, already has broadened beyond pie: It began life as the Olympia Pie Bakers Guild.
“We decided that we need to open our cookbooks a little wider here and try different things,” said guild member Kathy Kinard, one of the organizers of the contest. “We have in our guild award-winning cake bakers and cookie bakers.”
The group is considering other fundraisers based on those goodies – but that is not to say that the group has abandoned not-so-humble pie, which it uses to raise money and food donations for the Thurston County Food Bank and the Senior Nutrition Program.
Between donation fees and sales (at $3 or three cans of food per slice), each pie raises about $50, Kinard said. “That $50 can feed a family of four for two weeks.
“Is entering a pie in a baking contest on your bucket list?” she said. “I hope so.”
The contest is aimed at amateur and novice bakers, with professionals serving as the judges. There are categories for bakers 12 and younger, teens and adults.
While they’re amateurs, too, the guild bakers are often called upon for advice – and when they’re not planning the contest, they do spend their meetings talking about baking methods. “We’re not experts,” Kinard said. “We’re people who really enjoy baking and think about it.
“How could you get more nerdy than us?” she asked. “We talk about flour and baking soda and the temperature of the kitchen and the temperature of the butter and how do you make meringue not weep.”
Contestants won’t have to worry about meringue, though. Only fruit pies are accepted, with no dairy or eggs allowed in the fillings.
But any fruit – and any spices – are fair game. And variety is important to the competition.
“The pies that won were all different kinds,” Kinard said of past contests. “It wasn’t like it was always the apple or always the berry or always the peach or always the cranberry crumble.
“Every single pie is different.”
She does favor seasonings that set the pie apart, she said. “I prefer things that are off center. I would rather taste some ginger or cardamom in a pie and be surprised. But some judges like the traditional.”
“I like a filling with taste – and with something I can recognize,” said Mary Ellen Psaltis, a nutritionist and food blogger for The Olympian who will serve as one of the judges. “Nix to mushy apples, but yes to spicy apples with texture.
“And adding an interesting ingredient is food for thought – like putting Cheddar cheese in an apple-pie crust or hiding a layer of chocolate underneath the filling.”
But it’s the crust that many bakers see as the hard part, it seems. And only homemade crusts are permitted in the contest.
“A pie needs to have a flaky crust – not too thick,” Psaltis said.
But Kinard is trying to get potential bakers to relax about the crust.
“There’s all this anxiety over the crust,” Kinard said. “People need to relax. Even if it starts to fall apart, you just press it into the pan. No one is going to know.
“It’s a very organic process,” she added. “I’m more of a Buddha nature baker. It’s all good.”
Pie doesn’t worry Psaltis, either – mostly because she doesn’t bake it.
“My husband might have married me because my mom makes the best pies,” she said. “He makes a good pie, I will say. I let him bake pies for the family. I do all the other baking.”