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What goes in my pie is very personal

November 13, 2008

There I sat in the corner of The Herald-Mail lunchroom, my jaw working, not on pie, but out of anger and injustice.

This was the Lifestyle Department's annual MVP (Most Valuable Pie) competition, but I had been determined to be too prejudicial to be a judge - the reason being my distaste for coconut.

I felt like a perspective juror.

"Are you familiar with coconut?"

"Yes ma'am."

"Have you formed any opinions about coconut?"

"Yes ma'am."

"Could you put these decisions aside and render a fair decision?"

"Not on your life."

So any potential coconut pies would not be treated equally, and therefore, I was unfit as a judge, the reasoning went.

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My reasoning went like this: I don't like rotted eggplant and anchovies either, so what if someone comes in with a rotted eggplant and anchovy pie? Coconuts have their places - as monkey food and in Monty Python movies. If they know their place, I have no quarrel with them. Just don't get it in my pie.

In truth, my hard line against coconut is softening. I don't mind the taste so much now. I just don't like the shredded stuff, which is like chewing on grass clippings.

I attended the pie contest anyway because Beth was a judge in my place. And as it turned out, it was a good thing I was not a judge because I have a lot of prejudices. Marshmallows, for example, should never touch a pie.

I'm too basic. My pie chart is essentially apple, blueberry, raspberry, peach, pumpkin, cherry and pecan, and I'm a little suspicious of pecan. Apple is the default. If the pie is not apple, there ought to be a pretty doggone good reason.

This is not to say chocolate or butterscotch cannot be good when formed into a pielike shape, it's just a different dessert, is all. A cake in pie's clothing, so to speak. The best thing I tasted this week was a brie and almond pie, but I would argue (and no one would listen, no one ever does) that cheese does not a traditional pie make.

I might like a prime rib pie, too, but where does one draw the line?

The best flavors have stood the test of time, and I'm not sure there is a need to improve on them. Chocolate chip cookies, for example, have been found in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs. The Greeks used them in trade with the Phoenicians. The Man in the Iron Mask survived by crumbling up chocolate chip cookies and stuffing them through his grate. With a history like that, why all this need to improve on the best by stirring up dough and pantry sweepings and giving them made-up names like "doodersnoodles"?

One of the criteria for the pie recipes was "originality." Look, I am all for creativity. I appreciate an occasional change. But there is no need to aggressively encourage someone to make anything other than an apple or, if it is Thanksgiving, pumpkin pie.

From a technical standpoint, I might have been all right as a judge. There were no overtly coconut pies in the contest. But there was a lot of subversive coconut - coconut showing up underneath pecan and chocolate surfaces, just trying to get its hairy nose under the tent.

But as it turns out, I was not needed. The winner, to be announced on next Wednesday's Food page, is quite good. Whether it fits my archaic pie definitions is irrelevant.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com.

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