Fair cheesecake competition is yummy fun
‘Pie lady’ proves she’s not a one-dessert wonder
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
When her neighbor realized his wife was better at using a needle and thread than she was at using mixing bowls and making pie crusts, the man started paying Melva Carlson to bake pies.
Soon the trend expanded and Carlson was baking pies for other neighbors, family and friends, and she became affectionately known as the “pie lady.”
That distinction led to an almost disastrous gooseberry pie in 1985 that fell victim to an upside-down oven rack, sending half of the pie out of the crust and onto the rack.
But luckily the sticky gooseberries held together and Carlson scooped the pie back into the crust and entered it in the Clark County Fair Pie Baking Contest.
“That was my first pie, and when you get a blue ribbon with the very first time you enter, well, you’re hooked,” Carlson said. “You have to keep entering.”
Carlson still enters a pie in the fair competition, but now the “pie lady” also tries her hand at cheesecake.
For the fourth year, Carlson, 64, entered the Clark County Fair Cheesecake Competition in a quest for the elusive first-place title. This year both her pie and cheesecake had a Floridian theme: a fluffy key lime pie that took a blue ribbon and a key lime cheesecake that took a blue ribbon in the official judging.
On judging day, Carlson likes to be front and center to see every bite, every expression, and every comment the judges make.
“I really like to watch the expressions on their faces, because sometimes they’re pretty funny,” said Carlson, of Hockinson.
Soaking up every clue the judges offer is how she likes to prepare for the next year’s competition.
“I’m mainly waiting to hear how I did, but it’s really instructive to hear the comments because I’m not a cheesecake expert,” Carlson said during Friday’s judging.
Finding the perfect cheesecake recipe is a lesson in research for Carlson. She looks through cookbooks, newspapers and online to find the perfect cake for competition.
“It’s got to be something flashy, impressive, and not terribly difficult, because I’m not an expert,” Carlson said. “But you want to make a good impression.”
In the 2000 pie competition, Carlson’s Tipsy Blueberry Pie won the Judge’s Choice Award, a distinction she would love to receive with cheesecake, too.
“The pie was on a special display and I got the blue ribbon, plus a special green ribbon,” Carlson said. “I was so excited I think I jumped up and down.”
But so far Carlson’s cheesecake repertoire has been plagued with problems, although her efforts haven’t been completely without merit.
Her first entry four years ago, a blueberry refrigerated cheesecake, took a blue ribbon after momentarily being stuck to the baking pan. For her second entry, Carlson entered a pineapple cheesecake that the judges called a “high red ribbon contender,” but not worthy of a blue; and last year’s entry, a pumpkin cheesecake, had a gingersnap cookie crust that turned to glue.
This year, Carlson’s oven was broken, forcing her to cook the key lime cheesecake in a toaster oven. The process was less than ideal for a perfect cheesecake.
The winning cakes in this year’s competition as picked by the celebrity judges to win cash prizes were: a first place blueberry swirl by Emily Stubt; a plain cheesecake with a fresh blueberry topping by Deb Dougal took second; and a chocolate silk cheesecake by Janet Prentice placed third.
Despite all of that, and that her cheesecake this year didn’t place with the celebrity judges to win a cash prize, Carlson said she’ll be back again next year to try again.
“I really don’t need the hassle and the problems, but still I like to win,” Carlson said. “You know the story; if you don’t enter, you don’t win.”