There was no Davis County Fair this year due to COVID-19, but that hasn’t stopped the Davis County Fair Board from sponsoring its popular LuEtta White Memorial Pie & Cake Baking Contest.
The contest and the auction of the mouth-watering entries is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 19, at the Davis County Fairgrounds, and you can bet perennial winners Virginia Rysdam and Richard Long will be there competing for top prizes.
But for Rysdam and Long, the most important part of the competition is offering their pies for the auction that helps fund the fair the following year.
Rysdam said she has entered the fair’s pie contest for years and usually won first and second prizes. “I’ve won cookbooks, aprons, and lots of ribbons,” she said. “I usually tried to enter something in every category, but I always won something on my lemon meringue pie every year.”
When asked about her secrets to baking winning pies, she said she constantly tweaks recipes. She always uses lots of fresh fruit in her fruit pies, and prefers Jonagolds for apple pies (and applesauce).
When making the filling for fruit pies, Rysdam adds sugar and Clear Jel — which she buys at Amish stores — to the fruit. She allows the mixture to thicken before spooning into the crust.
She also adds spices and flavorings to the fruit mixture, such as cinnamon and almond in peach filling.
Rysdam uses real lard — not processed lard — in her pie crusts. “The family saves lard if they butcher, or I get it at lockers,” she said. “I also use a little butter in the crust.
“Processed lard is very different; it doesn’t work as well for pies. When I work the crust, I want it to look and feel a certain way. My hands can tell when it’s going to be okay.”
Rysdam often freezes pies when fresh fruit is in season. She puts the pies in baggies, dates them, and puts them in her freezer.
“Fresh is probably better, but not a lot,” she says. “When I take a pie out of the freezer, I put it on a cookie sheet and bake it without thawing first.”
With a family of nine — Virginia and her late husband Jim had seven children — she has had plenty of experience baking pies. “When all the kids were home, I probably made 10-12 pies a week,” she said.
Rysdam is happy to see more younger women entering the pie-baking contest now. “I like that. I feared baking pies was going out of style. I don’t care if they beat me in the competition. It’s just a good fundraiser,” she said.
Rysdam has also entered the cake baking competition at the fair and said she just comes up with “weird” combinations and puts ingredients together.
She recalls one year making peanut butter fudge and putting it between layers of chocolate cake. “I whipped chocolate frosting and used macadamia nuts and Butterfinger candy bars. It was rich and heavy,” she commented.
Rysdam said Jim was her guinea pig and willingly tried her creations. “He liked to eat. I miss him so much,” she mused.
Rysdam said she is very blessed to have a good family and has taught her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren how to bake.
“Nothing could be better than a good family, and they are so good to me,” she said.
While Rysdam began baking when she was eight or nine, another successful contestant in the fair’s pie- and cake-baking contests didn’t begin baking until about 16 years ago.
Richard Long, who frequently wins the men’s pie-baking division at the fair, began baking when he was defrosting the deep freeze and found a package of blackberries.
“I decided I should do something with them and found a cobbler recipe,” he said. “When you bake something, you form a mental image of what it should look like. However, when I looked at my cobbler, it didn’t look quite right. I had used baking soda instead of baking powder.”
Long quickly discovered he liked to bake, but also with the attitude that he wanted to improve every time he baked something.
“I had flops with my first pies,” he said. “I never really entered the fair contest for the competition. The biggest joy I get is when someone bids $100 or more on what I make. Then I have to smile.”
Long’s wife, Mary Anne, enters the Davis County Fair’s cake-baking contest, and one year the couple was especially gratified when their items brought in over $400 for the fair.
While many people have trouble making good pie crusts, Long says that part has been easy for him.
“Mary Anne bought me a pie recipe book, a whole book about award-winning pies — any kind of pie you’d want,” he said.
“My crust is very simple,” he said. “I use flour, water, a little vinegar, and a little salt. The secret is to be sure and use ice water, and the humidity affects the amount of water used. The vinegar slows down the process. If I’m baking for competition, I use lard; otherwise I use Crisco.”
Long says the crust is flakier with less kneading.
For fruit pies, Long uses a clear gel or instant tapioca as thickening agents.
“The first think I do when I bake a pie is mix the filling and let it set for 30 minutes, then I make the crust.”
Contrary to many recipes, Long prefers to bake most of his pies at 375º versus using a starting temperature of 450º.
Long said he now gets many requests to bake pies for such events as prom auctions, Look to the Stars Cancer Foundation auctions, or even for his wife’s rummage sales.
“I enjoy doing this,” he said. “It is a pleasure to see someone buying your pies.”
Both Long and Rysdam say they have been inspired by other pie-bakers in the community, and one community member rises above the others as an example — Eileen Bolin. “She has won so many contests and done so much over the years,” Rysdam said.
See the ad on page ????? of this issue of the Bloomfield Democrat for information on Saturday’s LuEtta White Memorial Pie & Cake Baking Contest and the auction to follow.