Pie-Judging

It was in the far corner of the Old Agricultural Exhibition Hall that I had my epiphany. Stacked on long tables and rising above them on makeshift shelves rested rows of homemade pies, jams, cakes, and pickles. But it was the pies I wanted to linger over, smell, and taste. It was all I could do to keep from snitching a small piece of crust as I stood longingly in front of them.

I knew then I had come to the place I had been seeking all my life. I wanted to be a pie-baking judge at the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society’s Fair in West Tisbury. You see, I had already come to understand that pie-making on the island is a refined art. Every farm stand, and there are many, seems to have its own baker. Some days, on the roadside between the towns of West Tisbury and Vineyard Haven, you can spy a small hand-painted sign announcing “Pies ahead.” Slow down, or you’ll miss them, a handful of freshly-baked fruit pies sitting on an old wooden table dragged from someone’s front porch. Next to the pies sits the money tin, resting assuredly that any honest pie eater will leave the right amount.

And there’s the Saturday morning farmers’ market held at the old fairgrounds, where pie connoisseurs debate the merits of the lemon lavender or wild blueberry. Which has the best crust or the right amount of tartness in the filling? Will the juices run all over the plate when you cut it or softly caress each slice of apple or peach?

At the fair, it is not just the impressive variety that draws me: peach, raspberry, pecan, blueberry, lemon chess, and strawberry/rhubarb, some with cut out pastry crusts, others with rich crumb toppings. I am captivated by the effort of so many folks who love to bake, to try their hand, who rush out to pick the freshest blueberries before the dew is gone I imagine the chubby, purple-stained fingers of children as they sort through the berries, pinching the crusts. I see the faces of local bakers and summer visitors alike that I haven’t met but know somehow. They stop their pickups or Land Rovers or rattling beach cars by the roadside to drop off their treasures at the fair, each pie covered with a checkered towel or plastic wrap or foil. I see the quickness of anticipation in their step, the shoulders straightening, the caressing hold on the tin as if it held an infant.

I know them all: their kitchen tables dusted with flour, their spotless stoves with high-tech controls, and the cranky ovens that need coaxing and coddling to deliver the perfect crust. I can even discern their recipes, the twist of lemon, the dash of nutmeg, and isn’t that ginger on those peaches? I know everything in my heart, but I just want to taste the pies for real, to examine the texture of the crust against the fruit with my tongue, to savor the sweet juice before it slides down my throat. The exquisite flavors of a Vineyard summer, the sun and the surf, the windswept meadows, the ripe fruit, the laughing days, all distilled into a series of single homemade bites. I’d give them all blue ribbons.

 

See Recipe for Gingered Peach and Blueberry Pie

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