130 Pies Devoured

Julia Zorthian PhotoFor two hours, Friday was Pie Day.

Orange Street was closed off at Crown, and CitySeed New Haven’s “Pie On9” event began at 6 p.m.

Neighbors could attend the pie party with a $15 entrance fee ($5 for children) in exchange for unlimited pie, Ashley’s ice cream, dancing and a cash bar by 116 Crown.

Even before gaining access to the all-you-can-eat pie, people approaching the tents could see the panel of eight judges sampling and evaluating dozens of pie slices that CitySeed volunteers brought before them. Earlier in the afternoon, local bakers dropped off their creations for entrance into one of the five categories: “Most Beautiful Pie,” “Best Fruit Pie, “Best Savory Pie,” “Best Connecticut Grown Pie” and “Best Pie Made by a Kid.”

The judges —Mayor Toni Harp, Ihsan Abdussabur from the CitySeed Master Cooks program, “United States of Pie” author Adrienne Kane, George Krivda from the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, Kathy Riegelmann of Katalina’s Bakery, Cast Iron Soul chef Steve Ross, “Foodie Fatale” blogger Jocelyn Ruggiero and Sustainable Food Systems president John Turenne — broke into pairs for the categories based on taste, keeping track of the rankings on papers with “Best So Far” written across the top.

Contestants dropped off 130 pies in total, compared to last year’s 86 entries, said CitySeed staff member Ellen Pendergast.

CitySeed Executive Director Nicole Berube said it was the organization’s second time hosting the festival in collaboration with downtown special services, and the proceeds would go toward their Food Stamp Double Value program, which will double the value of SNAP food stamps at CitySeed’s five markets.

As people swarmed the pie tables, cutting into each contest entry as CitySeed volunteers monitored and restocked, DJ TootSkee provided a soundtrack with interludes of commentary.

“Who wants to go to 4 o’clock in the morning?” TootSkee shouted into the microphone. “Where’s Toni Harp? We want to go to 4 o’clock!”

Roommates Field Rogers and Caroline Diehl carried their empty pie dish, which had previously held their blackberry, peach and maple rum pie under a traditional butter lattice pie crust. Their entry into the “Best Fruit Pie” category had been fully consumed before they even arrived, and was one of the first to be completed.

Pie enthusiasts long before entering the contest, they had been baking a pie in their apartment each week all summer. Rogers called their participation in Pie On9 the “perfect culmination” of a season of making both pies and pie puns.

Besides a shot at glory, pie bakers were incentivized to drop off their pies by the prospect of free admission. Abby Klein (at right in photo) got a slice of dessert before she was named the fruit category winner for her key lime pie.

Together, Abdussabur and Harp judged the pies for the category “Best Pie Made by a Kid.”

“All of them were really good,” said Harp once she had submitted their choice for the winner, just before 7 p.m. “It’s amazing the pie went so fast.”

DJ TootSkee persistently urged the attendants to eat more rapidly in order to finish off the 130 pies. The crowd polished off the pie tins in the first hour. CitySeed staffers and the judges started the prize ceremony early in response. 

Elsa Houlihan took home the prize for the kid pie category, with her creation titled “Peacharrific.” She almost made it away from the D.J. table with the grand prize parcel for the “Best Overall Pie” winner, but was informed she had picked up the wrong prize by accident. She swapped it for a smaller package.

Darrell Void’s triple berry pie — with strawberries, blueberries and blackberries — won the best overall pie prize. She told the Independent she did not enter with any expectation to win; she saw the competition as an “excuse to make a pie.”

It was Void’s first baking competition ever, and her first time baking the triple berry pie, since she usually makes an easier strawberry cream variety. Void (left in photo, with both her mother and daughter, Riley) did not follow a recipe for the pie, but compiled a number of different sets of instructions and techniques, including using berry juice and cinnamon.

“Now I’m going to have to remember how to make it again tonight,” she said.

After the prize ceremony, the bar stayed open and the D.J. kept playing until 8 p.m. so attendants could linger and dance. 

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