Bragging rights at stake in Sprague pie-making contest

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Sprague - posted Fri., Aug. 5, 2011
A fruit pie with a decorative crust awaits judgement.
A fruit pie with a decorative crust awaits judgement.

The countertop of Margaret Becotte’s kitchen looked like a sweet tooth’s fantasy come to life.

Rows of pies covered the entire swath – pies with lattice crust, pies with decorative cutouts, pies with vented crusts, more than a dozen pies in all.

If that was too much, escaping into the living room did no good. The table there held a similar wealth of cream pies, some garnished with cookie pieces or slices of candy to indicate the flavor.

Outside in the shade, away from this bounty, two panels of judges waited in sweltering heat until the pies were brought out for their observation, consideration – and tasting.

Becotte hosts an annual pie-making contest, now in its fifth year, in her Sprague backyard. What started as a small gathering of family and friends eager for bragging rights as “best pie baker” has grown, as friends invite more friends and the circle expands.

“It looks like a magazine spread,” said Debbie Gurzynski of the pie assortment in the kitchen. She was helping check in pies from entrants, who are anonymous to the judges. This year’s contest netted 18 entrants in all.

Each entrant submitted two pies: one destined to be cut up and tasted by the judges, the other for the party-goers to enjoy afterwards. Judges ranked the pies on appearance and texture as well as taste, using printed scorecards.

Above the judges’ heads dangled the ribbon rosettes that serve as the contest’s only tangible prize. “Whoever’s won in past years still has [the ribbon] hanging in their kitchen,” said Becotte.

“The first year we poor judges had to do all of them,” said Patti Rossi of Uncasville. “I’ve been a judge, and it’s hard.” Despite the temptation, a judge can’t down an entire piece of pie: he or she needs to “leave room” to taste them all.

This year there were two separate judging panels, one for cream pies and another group for fruit pies. Rossi said this arrangement was better. “It saves time,” she said.

Becotte’s own love of pie-baking spawned the contest. “I bought an old-fashioned recipe book,” she explained. The book described a pie contest, “and I said to my son, ‘wouldn’t that be fun? Let’s try it next year.’”

“Actually, she’s a good pie maker,” said Deborah Tischio of East Haddam, speaking of Becotte. “She made one the first year and she won.” Since then, Becotte has “retired” from the competition, content to host the contest.

This year’s top awards for fruit pies went to Joshua Goddard, first; Melinda Paulsen, second; Mary Clare Skopek, third; and Jennifer Goddard, fourth. Cream pie winners were Rebecca Spinelli, first; Adrian Sparks, second; Elizabeth Paulsen, third; and the Loucraft Ladies, fourth.

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