Apple Pie Contest 2014: There’s No Place Like Home

Welcoming home our show runner and judges, while inviting in our first time winners, and recognizing the courage of persistence.

Going Home Again: They say it can’t be done, and maybe they are right, but this, 2014 is the year that we tried. I love to tie these contests into the heartbeat of the moment, tap into what we are talking about. And right now, I’m dwelling in the past. So time to tune in to the nostalgia. Break out the transistor radio, crank up the old Victrola, listen for the hoof beats of the postman’s pony; lets cozy up to some traditional Americana and this year’s Annual Apple Pie Baking Contest results!


Kelley and Ruth on their way around the corner, first round of judging.

What am I on about? Well, we jumped back in time to a sweeter space this year, with familiar faces all around. So in all honesty, there was a bit of nervousness right off the bat, from judges and contenders alike. Where is Teri? Why isn’t she here? Who is running this? How will they do it?

“Fear not” I told them all, “Dave has it in hand”

“Really?” Incredulously asked many.

“Yes! yes of course,” I continued, ” Dave, well, he is the originator of the pie contest, it is his brainchild”

“That’s right! it’s my baby” Dave chimed in, as he shooed another impatient onlooker/taster  away from the yet to be judged pies.

Dave went on to express his fondness, not for the first and not for the last time I’m sure for his beloved apple pie contest. The same great battle that for years which has  fallen under the helm of his wonderful, and equally beloved sister, up until her current state of blessed maternity. After a decade of them, this  contest is truly a labor of love for the whole Volante family and crew, but Dave has a special fondness for it, and it was good to see him cradle this baby again.

Dave looks on satisfied as Jeff delves into the details of apple pie.

And yes this is one of those years where you are really going to have to read through for the winners, sorry but time is of the essence, specifically a lot of it. Patience is the virtue we saw exhibited today, from the careful handiwork of our participating bakers, to the measured opinions of our fabulous judges, and also our wonderful customers who waited dutifully to be called to the table to partake in the excess.

So first, let me thank our judges. We couldn’t have done this without all of you and your donation of time and talent are graciously appreciated. We had some of Needham’s finest in attendance today, sights for sore eyes in some cases. Our panel of four judges included long-time farm friend, Jeff Kaye, of Fava Restaurant. He was one of the first to put Needham on a dining destination map, and now professor at Le Cordon Bleu College. He strikes an imposing figure in his chef’s whites, but as one of our original judges, we feel confident he grades fairly, and on the curve.

We were also graciously joined by Needham and newly Wellesley, restauranteur Dave Becker, of Sweet Basil and Juniper. Another veteran of our judging circuit, we were so pleased he could join us again this year, especially with the demand of two restaurants on his mind. Always great to have Dave around as he keeps the crowd going as well as any MC, and his general positive attitude for every aspiring home cook really comes across to the contestants.

A new face of our judging panel and one that we were able to snag via a wee bit of nepotism thankfully, is Ruth Armstrong.  A woman with a true pastry sensibility, Needhamites have been fans of hers for years as the woman behind Sweet Rues, another Needham institution whose past isn’t so distant. Her talents are now being put to what sounds like a fair amount of use managing at our other friendly neighborhood Italian restaurant, Spiga, whose chef Robert is also  a veteran judge of our contest. We are happy and thankful that Ruth could join us and lend an added touch of professional pastry knowledge to the panel.


Rounding out the panel, in the honorary throne of pastrydom, Kelley Heyworth, Apple Pie Champ Emeritus. Kelley’s unique apple pie wowed judges last year and set her on this path of peer review. The question is, will her knowing stature make her a judge of compassion or will she cut to the quick? It certainly must be an emotional roller coaster nonetheless, at once relieving the glory of honors once received, and then finding the courage to pass the torch. Will she be able to quietly fade into obscurity again, with only her blog, HappyHealthyKids, and a life only moderately dependent on events at her local farm market to satisfy her? Time will tell.


Cast Irony: a make it work moment



Nicole’s pie, had it not won on flavor a would have taken home the prize for presentation as well. Prepared and presented in a petite cast iron skillet and adorned with spiced whipped cream curls, it practically proclaimed itself as a tasty homemade dessert before fork touched mouth. In our brief interview session afterward, Nicole mentioned that she had entered the contest in the past to no success. Moreover, this year she baked a pie crust and couldn’t stand behind it. There just wasn’t enough to it to deserve her name or the luscious Ruby Macs she was going to fill it with. So she made a last minute run to her recipe stash and found this winner. The risk paid off, and the judges loved it. The crust was a hit, seemingly a classic ice water crust that we’re familiar with, but this pie cranked it up with a streusel topping, the saltiness and nuttiness of which won over more than one judge.

Nicole, for her valiant last minute save and wise decision to take the time to do it right was handsomely rewarded. A $100 Volante Farms gift card, a Sweet Basil Cook Book and gift card complements of Dave Becker, an amazing trophy, and of course the opportunity to stand safely on the judges side of things next year should she desire the limelight a little longer. Her recipe is found below.

Second Place, Rudy Giacomo and his 3rd Try Pie


Rudy has become a cooking contest regular of late, and honestly it is a shock that this is his first win by my records. Always near the top, consistency paid off again. It may just be that he is always smiling win or lose that I never realized he had yet to win. In any case, those days are done and now only first place eludes him.

His perfect pie hewed close to traditional mores. Crust on bottom, crust on top. Golden Delicious Apples in the middle. His trick to tenderness is to precook the apples a bit in boiling water.  A $75 gift card to Volante Farms was his reward for persistence. His recipe below:


Joanne Rampe, the Dark Horse.

First time ever competitor, Joanne, arrived not knowing what to expect and lo-and-behold, she brought with her an outstanding pie. It too had a pedigree attached, one of some tradition. Named Grandma Rampe’s Apple Pie, well it’s certain someone would fight for its honor among the greats. A mix of Granny Smith and Macs lent this pie it’s unique taste, oddly one of the few top placing pies to shoot for the complex blending of apples flavors this year.

Joanne was thrilled enough with the title, but also happy to receive a $35 gift card to Volante Farms for her win. Hopefully we have her and the rest of you hooked on our contests now and ready to show up next time. Grandma Rampe’s Recipe is below:


One last bit of history I have to bring up is Lauren Murphy, our $20 Gift Card winner for Best Presentation for her apple pie with whipped cream and cinnamon sticks on the side. She is a veteran of many of our customer cooking contests, having placed in several. By her own admittance, apple pie is not a strong suit. So for her to turn around last year’s performance of what I will only say was a memorable pie in appearance to win for best presentation this year, is really perhaps the coup of the day. Congratulations Lauren and hopefully you don’t mind being called out on this, having such a rebound in such a short time.

A few overall notes on the year:

  • Crusts tended toward ice water this year. Vodka crusts were the vogue until recently. Is there a shift toward Teetotalism afoot?
  • Apple variety, not as varied as in years past. Lots of monapplic pies. May have to do with the season, some apples have been in shorter supply this year and a bit off schedule. Still a surprising lack of Northern Spy et al. Suncrisp, a perennial favorite just became available this weekend, so that would have been a tight turnaround, but try any of these recipes with that apple and you should be quite happy based on other years’ results.
  • Gimmicks usually only go so far, but then there were some really good ones this year. From bourbon ice cream to candied leaves there were some definite twists on what makes a pie stand out and these certainly did.


All of the contestants in this year’s contest

Don’t forget about our 2nd annual Pumpkin Fest this weekend, we are trying to carve 500 Jack-O-Lanterns to light along the walkways and sidewalks of the farm, $5 Donation gets you a hollowed out pumpkin to do your own artistry with!


Thank you again for all your participation in this and all our events, keeping the community strong! Next up for customer contests is our Chili Contest, date to be announced in late December, and held right in time for your Superbowl Party this winter. If all these pie recipes don’t speak to you, or you aren’t convinced you can replicate the best this coming Holiday season, don’t forget we offer apple and a lot of other types of pies from a variety of local bakeries!

And to close my favorite Pie By the Numbers Charts, first the ever popular Pie Chart, describing which apples were most popular this year, and the second showing changes in apple demographics over time. Thanks for reading through all of this yet again!