Let me start off with this: I spent my day at a never-ending pie buffet.
Today in Celebration, Florida, where I am a Wyoming transplant among the sunny jungle of Floridians, the Great American Pie Fest was held for the thirteenth year in a row. Shockingly, I had the day off from work, so I grabbed my cutest sundress and walked just a few blocks from my apartment to ‘the pie capitol of the world’ (as the website proclaims) where countless booths and endless slices of pie sat waiting for me. Right in my own backyard.
Does life get any better?
Of course, as a culinary student with an appetite for anything food related, I had to view the festival with a discerning eye. Without further ado, here is my honest review of the Great American Pie Fest of 2014.
Parking was insane, something I expected, so I decided to walk the few blocks from my residence to the adorable downtown area of Celebration. Market Street, home to shops and events and all sorts of good times, looks like a perfect American Main Street. It is literally a flawless design, kind of like a living, breathing version of Disney World’s Main Street minus the trolley dancers (although they do have trolleys.) The festival took place at Lakeside Park, which is where the Farmer’s Market is held every Sunday morning, and expos of all kinds take place.
As I approached the festival, I could hear an emcee from an unseen stage announcing, “Just look at those faces! Oh my, half of a cherry pie already down–can you believe it? Aaaand… look at that, he’s finished! That’s a new record! Just look at those messy smiles, folks!”
It was hot outside. April in Florida feels like mid-summer Wyoming with humidity. When I entered Lakeside Park and purchased my buffet ticket ($10 for all you can eat pie) they handed me a free bottle of ice water. A nice touch, since the heat was a little intense.
Dancing out front was a giant pie of the costume variety, waving and taking pictures. A girl in a dress decorated like a pie bounced and waved in her Village Inn advertisement attire.
I started at the front and worked my way back. There was a lot of pie. Most of the large supermarkets were giving away pie, as well as some other lesser known pie corporations. Really, the whole thing felt very corporate…no home cooks were involved, it was all mass-produced pie. (Well, I take that back. There’s a competition for the best pie in America, but I wasn’t around to see that since it takes place at a convention center.) I started with a blueberry pie from the Publix booth–good, sweet, nondescript. I went back to a few more booths and found more of the same. Plastic containers, like takeout boxes, were stacked by the dozens to accommodate the crowds. In the steamy Florida heat, the pie fillings were puddling quickly around the crust.
Unfortunately, there were not enough tables or chairs in the shade to accommodate all the pie-lovers. I stood in the hot sun and ate my pie, taking in the demographic. It was a very family-oriented event. Live music played, some cooking demos were going on.
“Here’s the difference between MY garlic and YOUR garlic,” one pushy salesman was saying loudly. He was advertising a type of microplane grater. I didn’t hear the rest, I just smiled to myself. I love the sounds of food people.
The Winn-Dixie booth was handing out coconut cream pie, and I’m a total sucker, so I grabbed a piece and tried to snag some shade to eat it. I was, admittedly, disappointed–heavy and sweet, the pie was warm on the outside and cold in the middle. Really cold, I’m talking ‘frozen-and-not-given-time-to-thaw-properly’ cold. It made the cream filling ice-crystal grainy. Actually, it felt nice against the outdoor sauna that is Florida weather, but texturally it was not very delicious.
After four pieces (blueberry, apple, Boston cream and coconut) I moseyed out of the pie buffet and towards the demonstration stage. I caught the tail end of a cookbook author and was able to watch a comedian performer show off a bunch of juggling tricks. He did a lovely improvisational routine with a little boy who was continually drawn to the stage, and the audience was in stitches.
Fortunately, I was in the prime spot to catch a demo from food stylist Susan Spungen, who was making a peach pie similar to the one she styled for the movie Labor Day with Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet. (Her charming website is here.) I got the chance to stop by and chat with her momentarily, although the large line behind me gave me limited time. Still, how often does that happen? A food celeb in my own backyard? How cool!
In her demo, she mentioned dusting the bottom of the pie crust with instant tapioca (the powder) to keep loose filling from making the crust soggy. I didn’t know that– how clever!
At this point, I’d spent several hours eating and meandering and eating some more, so I called it a day and left Lakeside Park for my second home: Starbucks. (I am such a consumer of corporate coffee it’s really sad. And I’m ashamed. But I really, really love Starbucks. I’m your stereotypical white girl with a green cup in my hand.)
It was truly a perfect day. I sipped my iced coffee, read the Celebration Newspaper and listened to the endless playlist of great music coming from the tapas bar next door.
I will admit, the pie itself was a bit disappointing, and the fact that everything was a big corporate advertisement was a tad bit of a letdown. But the pie eating contest was entertaining, as were the demos and entertainment, and the day couldn’t have been lovelier. A fun time? Certainly. Worth traveling across the country for? Um, no. Probably not.
For anyone in the area, the festival continues tomorrow from 12:00 to 5:00, and there will be plenty of pie to sate your appetite!
Since this is an annual event, perhaps I’ll be around to attend next year! I might even participate in the pie eating contest. That sounds like a blast.