Saturday, November 28, 2009

KCRW & 'Good Food' & Pie Judging Contest

A couple of years ago Robert and I went to the Los Angeles County Fair. I'm not much of a fair person and I wasn't sure what to expect but I actually ended up having a really nice time. My favorite part of the fair was where a lot of the judging took place. We entered a rather industrial feeling building, cavernous, high ceilings; one of many on the fairgrounds. As we turned a corner there was an area full of dining tables all with elaborately designed, over-the-top table settings. The competition was the best table setting for a party. Some of the tables were so overdone and crowded I doubted anyone would have been able to eat at them. We oohed and ahhed and giggled our way through them. The next area we walked through was definitely more to my liking: baked goods. There was display case after display case full of all manner of baked goods; pies, cakes, cookies and so on. All had identifying information: what the item was, who baked it, and occasionally a ribbon if it had placed. As we got there a pie judging was about to start. People were arriving with their pies and setting them before the judges who sat on a raised stage. Something as old-fashioned as pie judging still happened, and people actually entered pies -- in Los Angeles. For a moment the modern world disappeared. I was fascinated.

When I heard this summer that Evan Kleiman of KCRW's 'Good Food' was going to bake a pie a day for one month I was intrigued, in awe, and followed along as she reached her goal. Then when I heard that she was hosting a pie judging contest I just had to go and watch (and next year I'm going to enter). The event, KCRW's Good Food Pie Contest, took place on Saturday, November 14th at the Westfield Shopping Center in Canoga Park. The judges were all local chefs and foodies: Mark Peel of Campanile; L.A. Times Food Editor, Russ Parsons; Stefan Richter of Top Chef and L.A. Farm; Eric Greenspan of The Foundry; Elizabeth Belkind of the Cake Monkey Bakery; Amy Scattergood from the L.A. Weekly; Amelia Saltsman, author of The Santa Monica Farmers Market Cookbook; Eddie Lin of Deep End Dining and Extreme Cuisine; and Clifford Wright, author of Best Soups in the World and Bake Until Bubbly: Casseroles. No cooking slouches here. I'd long been a fan of Mark Peel's, having met him several times, and having eaten at his Los Angeles restaurant Campanile on a regular basis. I'd certainly trust him to judge my pie fairly if I entered one. Now that I write this I see that based on the judges it was actually a tad more elite than what I witnessed at the county fair but the spirit was the same. Home cooks presenting their best possible pie creations hoping to take home a winner's ribbon.

Evan acted as master of ceremonies as 123 pies were set out on long tables. Judging took place in these categories: Best In Show; Fruit & Nut; Cream/Custard/Chiffon/Mousse; Savory; Interpretive (Defies Category). Once the judging started the judges moved from their assigned pies to the next on their list -- they didn't taste every pie entered; each judge had to taste ten to twelves pies. We spectators were held at bay by ropes and stanchions but were close enough to feel like we were in the mix. It was a hoot to watch as they all intermingled, rubbed elbows, and occasionally commented on what they were tasting. An added pleasure of the afternoon was seeing blogger friend Chrystal Baker of The Duo Dishes in the crowd. I knew she wasn't there as a spectator as she and her blogging partner, Amir Thomas are always cooking. Sure enough she won first place in the savory category for their pie 'Tarragon Chicken and Grape Pie.' A pie they had on their menu when they cooked at Canalé a few months back where I met them. Robert and I were very excited for her. The winning pie (Best In Show) was none other than an apple pie baked by Barbara Treves. Once the judging was complete they lifted the ropes and the spectators were allowed in to taste the pies themselves. It was a fun and relaxing thing to do on a Saturday afternoon in November. And, like I said above, next year I want to enter a pie myself. Guess I better get baking so I can perfect my crust and decide what to fill it with.

Mark Peel, chef/owner of Campanile.

Eric Greenspan, chef of The Foundry.

Stefan Richter, Top Chef and chef of Stefan's at LA Farm.

Robert with Evan Kleiman of Good Food and Angelli Caffe.

Judging is under way.

2nd round judging.

Chrystal Baker of The Duo Dishes with her first place ribbon in the savory category.

Chrystal Baker of The Duo Dishes and me.

My Status: Settling into late fall, happily. New cookbooks to try, some to review; new kitchen equipment to try out. More cooking, eating, writing, blogging coming soon.

Upcoming Posts: my personal, childhood food history as told by my mother, Dawn Goodman. Reviews: Cooking Light, a review of the redesign of the Time Inc. magazine. Bread Matters, a review of the new bread book by Andrew Whitley.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009


My great-grandparents, Ora and Rolla Goodman, Orcutt, California

One of my favorite family stories is about how my great-grandmother, Ora Goodman - the inspiration for this blog - fed the hobos on Sundays. Sunday was pancake day at my great-grandmother's house. Every Sunday Gramma Ora made pancakes for the family, and always made extras for the local hobos. They'd come by the back door and she'd pass plates out to them. This isn't something I experienced but my mother did. She has childhood memories of this happening. The town this took place in, Orcutt, California, was a small town back in those days, and it still is. It was a poor town as well. The time period was the early to mid 1940s. The Great Depression was still a recent memory. There were still a lot of people living in poverty. My great-grandparents didn't have a lot but they did have a giving, generous spirit. When I first started reading about 'gleaning' - the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers' fields - I thought of this story. I thought of what I knew about my great-grandparents, and how spreading around the little bit they did have was true to form. It was probably also a more giving time. My mother tells me that the hobos would mark the houses that gave them food. A mark on a fence post, a pile of rocks, who knows exactly how they let each other know that this was a house that gave handouts. I love how the message was spread. Any hobo passing through town could easily find a meal. My great-grandmother's house wasn't the only house in town that gave out free food. Apparently it was a common practice of the time -- and I love that. That generosity of spirit. The helping hand.

Gleaning has been around for a very long time. Historically, going back to biblical times, farmers purposefully left the edges of their fields unpicked, and unharvested for the less fortunate. My mother currently lives in the area where my great-grandparents lived. It's an agricultural area. A lot of produce is grown there. She tells me that after a field is picked any leftovers are taken to local food banks. A practice that has endured for centuries. Ancient cultures promoted gleaning as an early form of welfare. Some ancient Jewish communities required farmers to not reap all the way to the edges of a field so as to leave some for the poor. (Source: Wikipedia) There has actually been an uptick in the act of gleaning recently. Our current economic downturn seemingly a turning point. The desire to live simpler, to reach out to others. An urban gleaning movement has taken hold. Urban gleaners harvest public fruit: like picking from a neighbor's over-burdened tree; an untended orange tree is picked free of ripe fruit; trees that bear fruit in public places, parks, libraries, government buildings are targets as well. A group in Los Angeles, Fallen Fruit, has made it their mission to collect as much public produce as possible and give it to the poor, hungry and needy. Fallen Fruit has a list of gleaning 'Dos and Don'ts':

  • Ask first, or leave a note with your contact information
  • Take only what you need
  • Be friendly
  • Share your food
  • Take a friend
  • Go by foot
Fallen Fruit creates maps to publicly available fruit. Some groups distribute unwanted food to shelters, and soup kitchens. Others collect food that isn't sold at farmer's markets. Volunteers go into farmers' fields to harvest produce that can't be sold. Home gardeners grow extra produce and give it to local food pantries and soup kitchens. One such group in Washington D.C. started a program called 'Grow A Row'. Participants plant an extra row or two in their gardens and donate the vegetables to a local food bank. Neighborhood Fruit helps find public fruit local to where you live. Their homepage states "10,000 registered trees and more get added everyday." Another site Veggie Trader is for those with excess produce in their gardens looking for other home gardeners to exchange with. Food Forward collects backyard produce to donate to local food banks, and has donated 30,000 pounds of citrus to food pantries this year. All of these groups, and there's a whole lot more out there, have taken the Victory Garden concept and created a modern social movement.

Maybe all of this giving, this generosity of spirit, is something positive that has come out of our nation's financial malaise. It reminds me of the story of Gramma Ora's pancakes and feeding the hobos. Her act of 'gleaning.' It makes me think of simpler times when the act of giving was just a part of life. No forethought, no planning. If someone had less than you, you helped. If they were hungry, you gave them food. It's nice to see that giving spirit returning. I thank my great-grandmother for setting the example for me. Those were some very lucky hobos.


My Status: Settling into late fall, happily. New cookbooks to try, some to review; new kitchen equipment to try out. More cooking, eating, writing, blogging coming soon.

Upcoming Posts: my personal, childhood food history as told by my mother, Dawn Goodman. Reviews: Cooking Light, a review of the redesign of the Time Inc. magazine. Bread Matters, a review of the new bread book by Andrew Whitley.

Bookmark and Share