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Pie Challenge Will Pit Grandma's Recipe Against Upstarts in Hyde Park

By Sam Cholke | October 29, 2013 7:46am
 The South Side Pie Challenge returns to Ray Elementary School on Saturday.
South Side Pie Challenge
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HYDE PARK — Grandma’s old pie recipe will be humbled or immortalized Saturday at the second South Side Pie Challenge.

“I know people who have talked up their pies for 20 years and then when they entered, it just went nowhere,” organizer Julie Vassilatos said. “Last year, one of our oldest entrants won her first 4-H pie contest when she was 9.”

Vassilatos said that 75-year-old entrant came in talking big in the most competitive category, fruit pies, and then got buried by the competition.

“I think those are the hardest pies to make,” Vassilatos said. “The fruit from the filling just makes the bottom crust mushy and wet.”

This year, the panel of judges includes arguably the city’s top pie maker, Paula Haney of Hoosier Mama Pie Co.

With so much competition in the fruit category and such a discerning judge leading the tastes tests at 10 a.m. at Ray Elementary School, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave., the smart money is on the nut, cream or sweet potato and pumpkin pie categories.

Shawn Greene took home second prize last year with a curry pumpkin pie called “Cucurbita Curry in a Hurry.”

“I just really like pumpkin pie,” Greene said, adding that his test pie before last year’s competition was the first he had ever made.

This year he’s got his sights on the nut category with a pie he’s calling “McNutty.”

Greene’s wife, Katrin Asbury, spurned by the judges in the fruit category last year, is aiming for the cream category. She will face cream pie competition, though, from the couple’s 6-year-old daughter, who has a somewhat secretive Oreo pie recipe in the works.

“It’s the kind of thing where every kind of person from our community enters,” Vassilatos said.

Vassilatos said she and some Hyde Park friends thought of the idea after visiting the Bucktown Apple Pie Contest, but longed for something more representative of their neighborhood.

“It was really North Side-y — and I guess I really mean 'white' — and it was all apple,” Vassilatos said.

Judging for the South Side Pie Challenge starts at 10 a.m., and then the public is invited in from 1-4 p.m. for $3 slices of pie and free coffee from Robust Coffee Lounge in Woodlawn.

Challengers can still register to enter their pies at southsidepie.wordpress.com for $25. Entrants must provide two pies to the judges to be graded on appearance and taste.

Vassilatos said the prizes this year include, of course, a ribbon, but also a pie box, $100 gift cards, pie books, mugs and other prizes. She said judges provide feedback to all entrants who are hoping to get a leg up on next year.

All proceeds benefit the Hyde Park Kenwood Hunger Programs, a community food pantry run by the Hyde Park and Kenwood Interfaith Council.