I've written about all of this before in stories about my personal issues with being competitive: http://www.notesfromvalskitchen.com/2008/07/andrea-norris-aka-sarah-vallely-or-whos.html and how I have passed these tendencies onto my own children: http://www.notesfromvalskitchen.com/2017/07/best-in-show.html
For a while, I was able to let most of it go, to mainly support my children in their efforts. I matted and framed various pieces of their artwork, helped them come up with recipes and even assisted pulling hot baked goods out of the oven when the timer went off if the cook was a little too scared to handle it. But this year, I could not quell the urge. I needed to enter something in the Barnstable County Fair and I really wanted to win a blue ribbon.
I have been craving and working on various pie projects throughout the year. Pinterest, other cooking blogs and instagram have stoked the flame of trying to attain perfection or at the very least, some very tasty treats. In February, when I am at my most bored, I entered a pie contest thrown by Providence Performing Arts Center in honor of their production of "Waitress", a musical about love and pie. Although the person in charge of entries emailed back with a very positive response, I heard nothing else about my sweet/tart "Pucker Up Pie" made with a raspberry Nilla Wafer crust, a tart lemon filling and raspberry whipped cream on top. I am still wondering what the winning recipe was. I have been tinkering with savory pies topped with roasted red peppers and caramelized onions, sweet hand pies with peaches and raspberries and even brought out some old stand by's like strawberry rhubarb and apple. So, it should come as no surprise that I thought I would be up to the task of taking home a blue ribbon from the Barnstable County Fair with a pie creation this year.
Inspired by so many pretty pie photos on the internet, decorative tops of pie crust cut out leaves and flowers and dusted with sugar, cooked until golden brown, I decided that this creative touch could mean the difference when it comes to winning. Also, I wouldn't make a traditional American pie, instead, I went with a more "European" style tarte but still using regular pie crust. My test tarte looked beautiful as it went into the oven, pretty cut out flowers adorned the top of it, filled with blueberries and strawberries. And when it came out, bubbling fruit juices and crispy, flaky crust, it looked good, too, except for those pesky purply colored blueberry drips that ran down the sides. I decided I could perfect this and felt confident that all would be well with another tarte I would actually deliver for judging.
An interesting story must have some sort of conflict. The second tarte that was supposed be absolutely gorgeous, showing ultimate pie baking skills and without any fruit juice drips, was not what I expected. Sure, it was pretty and looked scrumptious but those darn blueberry stains dripping down the sides of the crust, sent me stomping out of the kitchen. There was no way I had time to recover before the baked entries were due on Monday morning at 8:00am.
That night, in bed, I tossed and turned and kept myself up way past midnight trying to think of a recipe that was creative and delicious enough to grab me a top prize. I finally came up with one: scones made with white and dark chocolate and studded with dehydrated strawberries. I called them, "Strawberries Love Chocolate Scones" because I believe that a good name can help my cause.
When I woke up at 5:00am on Monday morning, I got to work right away and popped the scones in the oven, typed up the recipe, drizzled the scones with chocolate and decorated them with strawberries. I was ready just in time with my scones and the kids' entries: S'Mores Cake made by Ava and Declan's "Breakfast Candy": caramels made with maple syrup and bacon. As Ava and I gently loaded up the car as not to jostle any of our delicate work, Ava asked my where my tarte was.
"Oh, I don't think I am going to enter it. It doesn't look perfect." I said, trying not to sound as deflated as I felt.
"Mom, it's not supposed to. The contest is for amateurs, not professionals.", she said.
So true. And I was acting a little like a prima donna, not at all setting a good example for the kids, especially when I nearly had a tantrum the night before over the whole thing. I begrudgingly went in the house and quickly wrapped up my "Summertime Berry Tarte". "At least, I should win something for my scones.", I thought to myself.
The ladies who take in all the baked items before judging fawned over the tarte and were equally upbeat about the scones but their excitement is no indication of winning. They are just happy to be allowed to taste some of the entries once the judges are through. As I walked out the door, I knew I needed to release my mental hold on winning. So, I did my best to put it out of my mind until Thursday, when we would be back to enjoy the fair: the junk food, the rides, the petting zoo and perhaps, the prizes.
This story ends with me beating myself up for being my own worst critic. Clearly the judges felt differently about my scones and my tarte. Those what-I -thought-would-be blue ribbon winning scones, only won a red, second place ribbon, beaten out by some fancy red and green sprinkled cookies. But the tarte was the real break out surprise. They awarded highest scores for flavor, texture, uniform shape, degree of difficulty and even neatness/appearance. I guess there is something to be said about an amateur attempt at making something delicious even if it is not absolutely perfect in every way. My being ridiculously overly competitive with myself to the point of almost self sabotage is not my best showing through. So, let me please remember this as I gaze upon the fancy red, white and blue ribbon bestowed upon my work. And let me come up with something even better for next year's competition.
Feel free to substitute other berries or even use chopped peaches and plums. Just be aware, those fruit juices tend to drip down the sides during baking, no matter what you do to try and stop it from happening.
Summertime Berry Tarte
(makes one tarte)
1 cup All Purpose flour, plus more for rolling out
1/3 cup Crisco
2 tablespoons cold butter
pinch of salt
¼ cup water
1 cup fresh or frozen strawberries
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1/3 cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
pinch of salt
3 tablespoons milk or cream
¼ cup turbinado sugar
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Using a large mixing bowl, combine
1 cup flour, Crisco, butter and salt with a pastry cutter until small, pea
size pieces form. Slowly add water and combine until mixture comes
together and cleans sides of bowl. (You may not need all of the water.)
Form dough into a round and wrap with plastic. Place in refrigerator.
In another bowl, combine berries, sugar, cornstarch, nutmeg and salt.
Remove dough from refrigerator. Roll out on a floured board to
approximately 12” in diameter. Gently place rolled out dough over an
8” tarte shell, laying the dough inside and touching the bottom of the
tarte pan. Using a rolling pin, roll over the top of the tarte pan to cut
the dough. Set the tarte pan on top of a rimmed baking sheet lined with
parchment. Pour the fruit filling inside the tarte shell. Using very small
cutters such as the type for cake decorating, cut out flowers and leaves
with the leftover rolled out dough. Brush each cut out with milk and
place in a decorative pattern over the fruit in the tarte shell. Continue
until the tarte is completely decorated. Sprinkle turbinado sugar over
the top of the decorations and fruit. Bake in the oven for 40-45 minutes
until the edges of the dough are golden and fruit is bubbling. Remove
from oven and allow to cool for at least 2 hours before serving.