Dropping off the pie on Saturday morning was a little nerve-wracking – it was, after all, the culmination of three months of baking and really the climax of my story. I arrived around 8:30 (remembering, of course, that bakers are known for getting up early and so perhaps the 6:30 registration time wasn’t so ridiculous after all)…which meant I was actually the very last “amateur baker” to receive a free pie plate upon registration. A very nice volunteer then helped me carry my spoils to a little room where I was given two American flag toothpicks with randomly assigned numbers to place in the middle of each pie (I was afraid piercing the crust would cause it to crack…but happily my crusts retained their shape). And…off they went to be judged.
I milled around for a bit (there was a brunch upstairs in the “Kilimanjaro Room,” but I always feel awkward at events like that…so I skipped it). And I should confess…while Friday I was perfectly content by myself, Saturday would have been a nice day to have some company. The Great American Pie Festival didn’t begin until 11:00…which meant there was a lot of time to kill.
I went back to the front desk to see if I could check in again (I was returning from the hotel that had the oven…), but my front desk buddy, David from Brazil, said he didn’t have any rooms yet…so I had to find something else to do with myself.
Despite my anxiety, however, there were still some quirky little pie-themed moments that I enjoyed…
There was a man with a new grandson who had the baby’s face printed on a polo shirt and the words “Sweet as Pie” above.
(I saw my friend Linda the baker from the elevator …but she was wearing a risqué swimsuit and so I no longer felt we were kindred spirits…)
A few other observations: Pie People are really nice. (There was video loop in the baking/pie display room with a woman from the contest last year proclaiming, “These are my people! The Pie People!” There was also a woman in the video from Iowa who had her pie stuff shipped to the hotel…which I thought was pretty smart alternative to the 62-pound suitcase…)
There were a LOT of people from the Midwest. Especially Michigan (remember the Apple Queen?), Minnesota and, as I mentioned above, Iowa.
And…maybe if I had cable I would have recognized him, but there was a celebrity chef baking a meringue (Michael Something-or-Rather?), so I sort of watched him in action for awhile and tried to soak up some of his celebrity chef vibes.
But there’s only so much celebrity chef-gazing and pie-observing one can do in a given morning, I found…so I decided to head over to Celebration for the Great American Pie Festival as to not miss the opening ceremony. The program listed events every hour on the hour, so I assumed it was theoretically possible for me to spend all day at the Great American Pie Festival. (But, one such event was “Pie Flying Juggler, Kerry Silson,” and of Mr. Silson I was somewhat dubious.)
Celebration was an easy drive – just a straight shot on I-4 West – which was a good thing since I get so nervous driving around in foreign places (although I do really love driving around by myself listening to music I would never actually admit to listening to with anyone around…and I don’t get a chance to do that very often). I followed all the signs to Celebration but took a wrong turn once I arrived at the outskirts, so I went on a detour and got to see Celebration High School. Once I got back in the right direction, I saw a lot of new homes and electric cars. I wasn’t *exactly* sure where to find “Lakeside Park” (where all the festivities were taking place), but I assumed Celebration was a small enough place that eventually the park would present itself. Signs proclaiming, “Disney Liquidation Sale Straight Ahead!” made me laugh…but, sadly, there were no signs announcing the Great American Pie Festival in the same direction. I started getting worried when I reached what I presumed was the center of town and traffic was moving at a snail’s pace down one (Main?) street and there were no parking spaces and I didn’t know if I was going the right way or not…but then I turned down a random street – more out of fear of blowing right through Celebration than anything else – and fate smiled upon me and I saw a “Great American Pie Festival” banner. Then I got really, really lucky and found a parking space in the movie theater parking lot and made my way into the festival.
Lou Galterio, who was actually described as a “professional singer” in his festival intro, sang the national anthem and then took the honorary first bite of pie – which was key lime, of course.
Next came the baton twirlers and the little girls who did choreographed dance routines with pie tins – all to pie music. (Ever heard of Jay and the Techniques before? I hadn’t…but have to admit that “Apple, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie” song of theirs is awfully catchy…) I don’t know much about baton-twirling, so pardon my ignorance…but I also thought it was kind of funny when their leader began, “One thing I like about coaching baton…”
As I was actually participating in the bake-off, I received two complimentary tickets to the Never-Ending Pie Buffet…and it just so happens that there was also a luxury car show in Celebration on Saturday with lots of men milling about, getting their photos taken next to fancy cars and “DJ Joel” spinning family-friendly favorites. Since I wasn’t in New York anymore and the male-female ratio was presumably less out of whack, I was laughing to myself as I wandered through the car show about finding an attendee that struck my fancy and then luring him away with my extra ticket to the Never-Ending Pie Buffet (maybe one gets a little delirious when attending bake-offs alone?). But, no, I did not embarrass myself by trying to see if it was actually possible…and returned to the pie festival solo.
Food Network alum Dionna Hurt gave a presentation on how to make the perfect pie crust, but I found there was too much Crisco propaganda. She did have some good tips though: for instance, I didn’t actually realize that you don’t have to put flour on the silpat liner (she swears nothing will stick to it – ever); and I didn’t know the difference between convection and non-convection ovens…which explains why my pies cooked so much faster at the hotel. A convection oven, Hurt says, has heat that circulates and so pies will bake faster (my hotel oven had a convection oven). My oven at home, however, must be a non-convection oven that has heat that comes up from the bottom. She also talked about oven “personalities” which I totally blogged about before sitting in on her presentation – how about that? She was big on chilling dough and folding it in half and then half again before putting it into the pie pan…but I’m not sure if she made a believer out of me on those last two points.
The festival also had a pie-eating contest, pie-juggling (remember Kerry Silson?), and, yes, even pie-in-the-face.
Pie trivia included questions on the pie bird, National Pie Day…and which flavor pie can cure a headache (it’s cherry).
But soon it became clear that I was going to have a really hard time spending the rest of the afternoon marooned at the pie festival…and even though I was reluctant to give up that parking place at the movie theater, I decided to go back to the hotel to check in and then maybe check out one of the Orlando landmarks on my list before returning to Celebration for the awards ceremony at 6:45. My front desk buddy, David from Brazil, did actually have a room for me this time…but I was feeling kind of funny that afternoon and so I wasn’t able to keep up any semblance of witty banter with him. I’m not quite sure what was wrong with me – I guess I was a little bit lonely and a little bit sad that this project was almost over and a little bit uncertain about what to do with myself…both that afternoon and upon my return to New York sans pie project.
So…I called my mother and got a little pep talk and then drove to that mall with the birthday tiles because it was pretty close and I was nervous about not being able to find parking in Celebration again, so I wanted to allow plenty of time, etc., etc. But, since my birthday is not divisible by 5, the birthday tiles were kind of a disappointment. Had I been born a day earlier (or four days later), it might have been ever so slightly more thrilling. I wandered around the mall…but it was mostly some pretty highbrow stores and so I left empty-handed, ready to return to Celebration to finally find out if I had what it takes to be a pie champ.