Practice makes perfect for pie-baking contestant

October 16, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Rebekah Gruel's entry in this year's pie-baking contest at the 30th Mountain State Apple Harvest Festival had a better chance of being the grand champion on arrival than did her entry last year.

"On the way, somebody stuck their finger in it," Gruel said of last year's pie, subtly nodding toward her young daughter, Mary, who on Friday brought to the Berkeley County Youth Fairgrounds what would be her mother's first winning entry in four tries.

This year, the light golden-brown crust on Gruel's pie was unscathed and her entry narrowly beat that of Musselman High School student Chelsey Shade, the junior division winner from Gerrardstown.

Judge Damian Heath, chef/owner of Lot 12 Public House restaurant in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., said Gruel's grand champion pie appeared more full than Shade's.


"This is my fourth time, and this is probably the best field that I've come across. A few stood above the rest just like I thought," said Heath, who judged the senior division entries for texture, flavor, fullness, consistency, appearance and color.

Gruel, who twice had finished second, said she used 10 to 12 apples for this year's entry, sliced them more thinly and didn't bake the pie as long to keep the filling from getting mushy.

"I always use Golden Delicious and I always get them from Butler's Farm Market," Gruel said.

Butler's was the contest sponsor and awarded various prizes, including $125 to the grand champion.

Among the 48 pies submitted by students from the five public high schools in Berkeley and Jefferson County, Musselman High swept the junior division, according to contest organizers. Finishing second and third were Taylor Oates of Bunker Hill, W.Va., and Alexis Smallwood of Inwood, W.Va.

Matthew Ritenour and Jeanie Hamilton of MidAtlantic Farm Credit, who judged the student entries, said Shade's entry was excellent.

"Good flavor, nice crust ... just needed to be a little bit fuller," Ritenour said.

There were 18 pies submitted in the senior (adult) division. Lisa Tedrick of Hedgesville, W.Va., took first place, followed by Kay Freyman of Bunker Hill and Faith Kilmer-Hall of Hedgesville.

The top seven pies will be auctioned at 1 p.m. Sunday as part of the festival's arts and crafts fair. Pies that didn't place will be sold for $10, pie-baking chairperson Jan Chancey said.

Contest results

Grand Champion: Rebekah Gruel of Martinsburg

Results of the pie-baking contest at the 30th Mountain State Apple Harvest Festival:

Senior division (18 adults)

1st: Lisa Tedrick, Hedgesville

2nd: Kay Freyman, Bunker Hill

3rd: Faith Kilmer-Hall, Hedgesville

Junior Division (48 high school students)

1st: Chelsey Shade, Gerrardstown

2nd: Taylor Oates, Bunker Hill

3rd: Alexis Smallwood, Inwood

Forecast: Apple harvest up by 5 million pounds

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- West Virginia's apple harvest is forecast to be about 5 million pounds higher than last year, an increase that would return production to a level last reached in 2006, according to the state's field office for the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

In an October 2009 forecast, the U.S. Department of Agriculture agency predicted about 90 million pounds of apples would be harvested this year from about 5,000 acres of trees by growers, according to apple statistician Donnie Fike.

More than 95 percent of the state's growers operate in West Virginia's four easternmost counties -- Jefferson, Berkeley, Morgan and Hampshire.

"We're kind of holding steady," Fike said of current production and acreage numbers.

West Virginia's apple crop last year was good enough to be ranked 10th nationally, but still far below what orchards produced years ago in the state, according to statistics compiled by NASS.

In 1979, about 260 million pounds of apples was harvested from about 15,700 acres of trees in West Virginia. In 1919, the first year that a census of apples was completed in the state, Fike said officials counted 163,400 acres of trees.

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