2016-07-01 / Dishing

A Slice of Summer

Anne Quinn Corr | Photos by Matt Fern

Clare Traynor may need to install another shelf in her Pleasant Gap kitchen; her trophies are teetering on the windowsill but they could use a righteous altar of their own for two good reasons. First, the trophies themselves are works of repurposed art, and second, she’s likely to bring another one home this year. Traynor has won in the professional category of the pie contest held at the Pennsylvania Organic FarmFest for two years running and plans this year’s entry based on her past success with a pie that celebrates the juicy fruit of Central PA.

“A Slice of Community – People’s Choice Pie Contest” is one of the many fun activities at this summer’s FarmFest, held at the Grange Fairgrounds in Centre Hall on July 29 and 30. Stacey Budd, outreach coordinator for the Friends & Farmers Cooperative, has been the organizing force behind the pie contest at FarmFest since its inception two years ago. She is also the creator of the clever trophies, assisted by her soldering iron-wielding boyfriend, Josh Johnson. This enthusiastic proponent of local foods has definitely stacked the deck in favor of showcasing the flavors of our region.

Rather than relying on a panel of food professionals as tasters, Budd and her cohorts have designed the competition in the spirit of community.  It is a people’s choice contest and open to all FarmFest attendees who pay $5 to sample two entries, assign points and help decide the winner.  The pies are entered in the categories of sweet, savory or gluten-free/vegan and further delineated into amateur, professional and children’s categories. Tasters judge the pies on appearance, filling taste, crust taste and overall impression. Additional points are awarded for each local ingredient used in the process. The proceeds from the pie contest benefit both FarmFest and the Friends & Farmers Co-op, which is seeking to raise money for a bricks and mortar store in the Centre Region.

Budd is dedicated to the concept of pie contest as fundraiser and eschews sampling the pies herself in favor of having more to sell to the judges; she also submits a couple of her own to increase the variety and proceeds. She explains the purpose of her reward system, which is to build more community interest in the event each year. “Because most of our entries come in the amateur category, I like to award a first and second place. I make homemade fair ribbons and sew some aprons as prizes. Because we only get a few children and professional entries, we just award overall winner in these categories.”

Reigning champion Traynor, whose business is called Sweet Indulgence Desserts, has been baking professionally for 30 years from a licensed kitchen in her Pleasant Gap home. Both past winning entries included rhubarb; Strawberry Rhubarb won in 2014 and last year her Bluebarb Pie took first place in the professional category. “This crowd seems to love rhubarb pies,” says Traynor, who specializes in pies made with seasonal fruits. “I freeze 80 pounds of local rhubarb in the spring and it carries me through to the holiday season.” While most bakers are finished with rhubarb once the sweeter fruits of summer roll in, Traynor has a special pie subscription commitment to fulfill later in the year. One of Traynor’s clients, Steven Bodner, is a local realtor who gives his clients a certificate for a pie baked by Sweet Indulgence at either Thanksgiving or Christmas. They can choose between five kinds of pie, including one with rhubarb. “It makes the holiday season very busy around here, with 180 pies to drop off to his office.”

If you are not one of Steven Bodner’s clients, you can purchase a slice of Traynor’s pies at Harrison’s Wine Grill at the Hilton Garden Inn, Red Horse Tavern in Pleasant Gap, or Webster’s Bookstore Café in downtown State College. Faccia Luna, Luna 2, Champs and the American Ale House all carry other items from the Sweet Indulgence dessert line, like the Chocolate Mousse Pie and the Peanut Butter Pie. (FarmFest regulations prohibit pies that need refrigeration from the contest.)   

Organized by Pennsylvania Certified Organic, FarmFest is the annual meeting for PCO members as well as the second annual soil health summer conference for PASA, the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture.  This year’s working title for PASA is “Living Roots 24/7/365” and features leading no-till farmer and cover crop-innovator Steve Groff, as well as a team of soil health experts and knowledgeable sponsors who will share their expertise with any farmer who can get away in high summer for learning and networking.

But you don’t have to be a farmer to attend FarmFest; it is open to the public and serves a variety of organizations and sustainable-living interest groups. Grange Park is an excellent venue for the zero-waste event, and many attendees rent out the iconic Army tents that next month will house the Central PA farming faithful during the 142nd Annual Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair, better known as “The Grange Fair,” August 19-27. It’s a different crowd at the fairgrounds during FarmFest, with local music in the grandstand and tie-dye and Birkenstocks lending an air of Woodstock nation, but the strong spirit of the farming community proves that alternative farmers are just as rooted in the soil as the conventional ones. And they get just as hungry; but this food court sells only homemade and organic food.

The vendors include: Brazilian Munchies, Dn’D Family Farms Rollin’ Smoke BBQ, Gemelli Bakers, Homan’s General Store, Murray’s Chicken, Organic Weiner Wagon, Street Meat, That Kitchen Witch and Trickling Springs Creamery.

There are silent, live and bag auctions to benefit the Pennsylvania Farmers Union and PCO and a photo contest of PCO farms that will generate a calendar to sell as a fundraiser in 2017.

Go out to FarmFest and learn all about organic agriculture and sustainable living through educational opportunities, local foods, lively entertainment and interactive events — and one homegrown pie contest.
Or bake a pie and try to earn your own bragging rights — and a mighty fine trophy! •SCM

For more information about the official pie contest rules and how to enter (which is free for all contestants), visit

Clare Traynor’s Bluebarb Pie
2 c. blueberries (frozen or fresh)
2 c. rhubarb, chopped
1 c. sugar
3 Tbsp. cornstarch

Combine all ingredients and put in crust, top with lattice crust, bake at 350°F for 1 hour to
1 hour 15 minutes. (“Easy peasy!” says Clare.)

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