Last Saturday, I had the good fortune to be a judge in a pie contest sponsored by Boulder's Alfalfa’s Market. Along with bragging rights and a $50 gift card for the winning pie in each of four categories, contestants and onlookers were treated to free slices of pies from the Alfalfa’s bakery, which kept spirits high during the judging—and gave shoppers ideas for their holiday tables.
I was in the good company of five other foodie judges: John Lehndorff, food writer and executive director of the American Pie Council; Lynne Eppel, editor and publisher of Edible Front Range; Dana Derichsweiler, owner of the pie-centric Walnut Café; Steven Lembke, chef at the Louisville’s Huckleberry restaurant; and Ashlea Tobeck, pastry chef instructor at Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts.
I love that Alfalfa's used this opportunity to further part of its own food message: Given the store's commitments to organic and non-GMO ingredients, pie makers were encouraged to use these clean foods in their creations. The contest also demonstrated how a natural foods markets can build more community and goodwill in their neighborhood. I mean, who doesn’t get a little competitive now and then, and what better food to encourage some healthy smackdowns than homemade pie?
Why is a pie contest a good idea?
I spoke with Bea Steiner, Alfalfa’s marketing director, about the impetus for the pie contest. “John Lehndorff is really passionate about pie, and I was also talking to Lynne about ways that Edible Front Range could be more involved with Alfalfa’s,” she said. “After that, it all fell into place, and we simply promoted it through the store and online; people could either sign up online or at guest services.”
Motivating entries was easy. In addition to the gift cards, winners will be published in Edible Front Range magazine—and everyone who entered got a 10 percent discount coupon at Alfalfa’s, a boon for both the shoppers and the store. Sweet!
Alfalfa’s is no stranger to community-building events. “We do a lot of larger events at our store, such as a pancake breakfast fundraiser for Community Food Share and an Organic Day that includes baby cows from Aurora Organic Dairy and a panel discussion about what organic means,” said Steiner. “We try to do events where people will be involved and engaged in some way, and that even if they don’t attend there’s still a good residual energy that people feel.”
Cooking, obviously, is a sweet spot for Alfalfa’s events. “I like the idea of people finding old recipes, new recipes, and experimenting in the kitchen,” she said. “That’s what we’re all about here: people enjoying cooking, having fresh food and meals, and exploring what they enjoy about cooking. That was my main motivation. It’s so neat to see all those people come in with their pies; everyone was kind of proud about their particular pie, so it created a neat energy.”
While there were some amazing pies (and some not-great pies), these stood out as the best of the best. I’m including their label numbers so hopefully you can find them in the photos.
1st Place: Salted Caramel Apple Pie by Dorian O'Connell (A6)
2nd Place: Eleanor Meloul (A4)
1st Place: Fresh Pumpkin Pie by Deborah Cameron (P3)
2nd Place: Eleanor Meloul (P2)
1st Place: Pecan-Cashew Pie with Almond Meal Crust by Craig Spalding (G1)
2nd Place: QT Pies Lemon Meringue by Chelsea & Quincy Flagg (G3)
1st Place: Peanut Butter, Chocolate, and Meringue Pie with Rice Cereal Crust by Dorian O'Connell (M6)
2nd Place: Concord Grape and Fennel Pie by Barbara McLachlan (M8)
My personal favorite, which garnered an Honorable Mention in the apple category, was this gorgeous apple, cranberry, and pecan pie (A7) laced with quite a bit of fresh lemon (other judges deemed it not “apple-y” enough, but I dispute that).
What events do you look forward to in your neighborhood store? Tell us here or on Facebook.