Three years ago I lamented to my dear friend Joya Rose that I missed the chance of a lifetime to enter a pie contest in Los Angeles. She said we should create our own in our small town of Santa Barbara, and we did just that.
This was our third year running the #SBPieContest. There were 27 pies to be judged, broken out into seven categories: sweet, savory, special diet, kids, wildcard, traditional, and people's choice. We raised about $2,000 this year, and all proceeds went to Foodbank Santa Barbara County.
We almost canceled it repeatedly, first due to the Thomas Fire (the largest fire in Southern California's recorded history) and then to subsequent mudslides in Montecito. Our community was hurting, but we decided to carry on. These natural disasters were devastating and the effects are still being felt, with heartache and grief all around us, but people rallied together because of one thing: pie!
Pie is an edible hug. It is a beautiful, homemade treat that begs for friends to gather around and share. It's just the thing to unite a group — disaster or no disaster — to behold tender flakes of dough and tenderness for those who worked tirelessly with their ovens running hot.
Want to host your own? There are a couple ins and outs to hosting a pie contest. Here, I offer up a few slices of wisdom (pun intended!).
1. It takes no money — just elbow grease.
Joya and I do the grunt work ourselves each year, setting up an Eventbrite site, coordinating with sponsors, and generally running around at the actual event — but for such a great party and lots of money going to a local charity, we feel good about the work. I'm shocked at how so much fun and funds to a good cause comes from pure work and very little cash.
2. If someone offers to help, give them a specific task.
We had volunteers show up the day of and they were put to good use! Slicing pies neatly, gussying up a table of paper plates and forks, and, of course, cleaning up. Many hands make for a smoother event.
3. Enlist local sponsors.
Our pie contest prizes were donated entirely by local businesses: Ugg, Doen, Shelter Social Club, Fold, Churchill Ceramics, and many more — people are so generous when asked. I am constantly in awe and so grateful to be surrounded by so many makers who give our winners their great gifts (I wanted to win this year!).
4. Get a great location.
We are lucky enough to partner with Potek winery, a huge, gorgeous space with a large patio for folks to spill over and chat over their slices. Get a space that's bigger than you think you might need — if you make it, they will come with pie!
5. Pie is not without its politics.
There may be some conflicting opinions with pie judgement (we run a six-judge system with teams so no one has to taste all the pies — there is such a thing as too much pie). That's OK. Let people disagree, let the crowd get a little anxious while judges do their tasting, build a little tension — it is a competition, after all — and then set the hounds loose and enjoy the banter as you mingle around talking favorites and complete fails. It's pretty hilarious.