4. Disappointing Desserts

AppleI picked up my ringing cell phone. It was Lena.

“Hi, Lena.”

“Hi! We’re out front!”

“OK! I’ll be down in two seconds.”

I got in the back of her car and sat next to her three-year-old son, Ford.

“Hi, Ford!” I greeted him. “That’s an awesome hat. Are you ready to eat some pie?”

Ford shook his head exaggeratedly and smiled.

“Are you excited?” asked Lena.

“I am. I’m nervous, though,” I answered. “But I won’t be devastated if I don’t advance. Really, it’s just a fun distraction. I don’t think I’ll do it again next year, though; it’s a lot of work.”

We found a parking spot around the corner from the field house. The clouds were battleship gray and a storm was about to break.

“Shoot. I forgot my umbrella in your car,” I said.

“Do you want to go back and get it in case you want to stay when we have to leave?” offered Lena.

As we continued on to the park, I said, “Nah. I’ll be fine. And I’m not going to want to stay if I don’t advance.”

“Ohh.. hahahhah!” Lena laughed. “Is Brett coming?”

“He said he would, but I’m not counting on him. I can’t really count on him for anything except needing me for when things aren’t going his way.”

“Ohh.. are things not going well?”

“They were never going well. He’s very self-involved which means I have to care about every little detail about his life and he doesn’t care about mine unless my schedule isn’t working in his favor. It’s exhausting.”

“Oh yuck. That sucks. I’m sorry.”

“I don’t care anymore, honestly,” I said matter-of-factly. “I’ve kept this relationship going for a year longer than I should have. It’s my own fault.”

“Well, don’t be too hard on yourself. He was still a big part of your life.”


Peeled-AppleWhen we arrived at the field house, there was a tent set up where we could purchase tickets to trade for pie. Lena shelled out $20 for tickets that I knew she would never use.

With the clouds rolling in closer, we moved into the crowded building. My heart was still thumping with anticipation of the results as we climbed the stairs to the pie rooms.

On the outside of the door, a big sign was posted that listed the names of the semi-finalists. My name was not on it.

“I didn’t advance,” I said, trying not to frown.

“Oh no. Are you sure?”

“Do you see my name? It’s not on there.”

“Oh I’m sorry.

“Oh well. Let’s go look at the pies,” I said trying to move quickly past my disappointment.

Hundreds of people were filing in and out of the rooms surveying what was left of the loser pies. I found mine. It looked OK up against the other pies. I think it probably could have used some more egg wash. There were some truly beautiful pies — braided edges and paisley tops! — and some very disgusting-looking pies — one had green slime oozing out of it.

As we looked at all the pies trying to figure out which ones Lena should try, she said to me, “I wonder why your pie didn’t make it. You have such a good crust.”

“I don’t know. I guess it’s a crapshoot,” I replied. “It probably depends on what judge tries your pie in the first round, the bite they take, the temperature.”

“Yeah. There are a lot of variables.”

We turned the corner to find yet more people and more pies of all shapes and sizes. It was overwhelming. Sitting on the bleachers in the main room, I spotted a friend of mine who judges the contest every year.

“Theo!! Hi!”

“Brooks!! How did you do?” Theo, per usual, was very enthusiastic.

“I didn’t advance,” I frowned.

Sliced-Apples“Oh no! I’m so sorry. Remember last year, though? I was so proud of you!”

“Yeah, well, maybe next year,” I tried not to sound too bummed. “Have you met my friend, Lena?”

They exchanged pleasantries.

“Theo was a judge,” I explained to Lena.

“Oh!! Will you tell me which pies I should try?” she asked.

“Of course!” Theo excitedly turned toward the door and led us to endless amounts of pie.

“What was the worst pie you tasted?” I asked trying to make myself feel better with someone else’s failure.

“Oh. My. God. There was a bacon pie. It tasted like barbecue sauce and rancid fat with an undercooked crust. WORST. PIE. EVER.”

“Where is it? I want to see it,” I begged.

“Actually, I think they might have thrown it away. It was *that* bad.”

Theo guided Lena to the two pies he thought were the best. They weren’t pretty — one had a really good, almost croissainty crust and the other had a really good cinnamony filling, but probably used too much lemon. Neither one was very traditional.

“Oh!” I remembered to ask Theo about the event he hosted the day before. “How was the mac and cheese contest?”

“It was awesome! Why didn’t you enter?”

“I was busy with pie, duh.”

“Right. Well, it was really fantastic. Amazing mac and cheese. But.. oh my gosh,” he said ominously. “The girl I was interested in entered…”


“It was terrible. TERRIBLE.”

“Is that a deal breaker?”

“I don’t know! Maybe…”

Apple-streuselTheo got a weather alert on his phone. There was a tornado warning in the area.

Because we had Ford with us, Lena panicked about getting in the car and getting home before the storm bore down on us in earnest.

We braved the rain, ran through the puddles and dodged droplets on the way back to the car.

Lena dropped me off in front of my house and I was back to where I was at 7am, just as exhausted as I was when I got up that morning only a little less confident. An idea I had of starting a pie business seemed a little less attainable at that point.

My phone rang. It was Brett.

“Hey. Where are you?” He asked.

“At home. Where are you?”

“At the pie contest. Why aren’t you here?”

“I was there earlier, but I didn’t advance so I went home.”

“Oh. I’m sorry,” he weakly consoled.

“Meh. There’s always next year,” quoting every Cubs fan ever.

I ended the conversation and looking at the leftover apple filling that was glaring at me on the counter, I decided to make an apple crisp. Though I’m not wild about apple pie, I can’t resist apple crisp. Or any crisp for that matter. Unfortunately, the contest doesn’t allow crisps or betties or anything but a double-crust pie. Frankly, if I was to eat an apple pie, this is what it would be:


My Tiny Apple Pie


  • 7 oz pastry flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 TB granulated sugar
  • 2 oz  cold unsalted butter (or shortening), cut into pieces
  • 1 oz shortening, cut into pieces
  • 1 TB cold bacon fat
  • 1 oz cold water

Combine dry ingredients and mix well in a food processor. Add cold butter. I like to put the mixture in the freezer for a while before I continue.

Pulse until mixture forms pea-sized chunks. Add cold water, one tablespoon at a time until dough forms (you may not use it all).

Form two discs (or one if you’re doing a single-crust 9” pie). Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour. Dough must be used within two days — trust me when I say dough older than that (even if it’s been frozen) can ruin a pie.


  • 1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and cut into ½ inch slices
  • 1 Honey Crisp apple, cored and cut into ½ inch slices
  • 1 TB butter
  • 1 TB sugar (for cooking)
  • ½ tsp corn starch and ½ tsp water to form slurry
  • ¼ tsp lemon juice
  • pinch salt

Melt butter in pan over medium high heat.

Add granny smith apples.

Add sugar (draws out the water) and pinch of salt.

Occasionally stirring, cook until apples are slightly soft.

Add Honey Crisp apples. Stir in slurry.

When all the apples are soft but not mushy, remove from heat, add lemon juice and let cool.


  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 2 TB cinnamon
  • ¼ cup flour
  • ¼ cup rolled oats
  • pinch salt

Combine ingredients and work through using your hands until it becomes something like wet sand with oatmeal.

Use half of mixture to mix with apples.

Roll out one disc and fit into 4.5” pie pan (I like ‘em small; I live alone so I can’t eat a whole 9” pie — if I’m making a single crust pie, I can make two tiny pies, keep one and I can give away the other).

Spoon apple mixture into crust-lined pie pan. Top with remaining half of oat-sugar mixture.

Trim the edges. Fold them in toward the pie and pinch. Crimp edges and place in the freezer for 30 minutes or more.

Preheat oven to 375F.

Remove pie from freezer. Using wide strips of aluminum foil, cover only the edges of the pie so they don’t burn.

Place in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Remove foil. Lower heat to 325F.  Bake until the filling bubbles (about 30 minutes).

Tip: for a crispy bottom, use a pizza stone as a platform in the oven.

Let cool.

Serves 1-2 people.


I didn’t plan to enter the contest the following year, but if I did, this is the pie I would enter. Screw traditional. 



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