Gilbert pie contest a slice of state centennial fun

Posted on by az100

by Srianthi Perera – Aug. 20, 2011 07:20 AM
The Arizona Republic

Gilbert will showcase a slice of Arizona history early next year.

The Arizona Blue Ribbon Pie Round-up and Bake-off, slated for Jan. 21-22 at Highland High School, is being organized to mark the state’s centennial.

Gilbert residents Pam Jackson and Maralyn Hill say baking pies is an appropriate way to mark Arizona’s 100th birthday as a state because they have been around since the days of pioneers.

“Because pies are so sugary, they keep, and they don’t have to be refrigerated. They are easy to transport, and there were pie-safes,” Jackson said. “They were very revered.”

The state even developed its own varieties, notably the Arizona sunshine pie, which uses citrus, and the prickly pear pie.

Given its history, a celebration involving pie seemed a natural.

The town’s pie celebration has received official sanctioning by the Arizona Centennial Commission, allowing it to use the “Official Centennial Event” designation.

“The Arizona Centennial commemoration promises to be a year of celebration, reflection and newfound discovery of Arizona’s most important cultural and historical treasures,” wrote Karen Churchard, director, in a letter dated July 18. “Arizona Blue Ribbon Pie Round-Up & Bake-Off is a perfect event to have associated with the centennial and we look forward to working with you in the coming months and years.”

On round-up day Jan. 21, pies created in all shapes and sizes by young people, amateurs, professionals and commercial bakers drawn from across the state, will be subject to public tastings. Afterward, the public will choose the winners.

On bake-off day, three pre-qualified contestants from each category will compete in the high school’s Food and Consumer Science Lab. An audience and celebrity judges will determine the winners.

To enhance the celebration, there will be entertainment and activities that highlight Arizona’s history, cooking and local foods. Gilbert Public Schools will benefit from the proceeds.

Tracey and Alex Chaker and their 8-year-old son Tony are already planning to join the fray.

The Chakers, who moved to Gilbert recently from Toronto, are restaurateurs, and have opened their own catering business, Desert Palms Catering. They also run a stall at the Gilbert Farmers Market.

Pie-making is a family pastime.

“I’ve always baked them my whole life,” Tracey Chaker said. “My mom always baked pies when I was little and I’m carrying it on.”

Chaker is practicing for the competition, assisted by Tony, with a pie every week. She plans to make a savory Philly cheesecake pie and a sweet pie with either lemon, apple or pumpkin on the big day.

“I’m very excited about the competition; it should be a lot of fun for families,” she said.

Meanwhile, even though the planning is nearly complete, fundraising remains to be done.

“We’re looking for sponsors; we’re definitely looking for sponsors. But we’re having favorable responses from people wanting to get involved,” Hill said.

The three-member organizing team, which also includes Mari-Lyn Harris from Sedona Pies, is broaching sponsors for funds ranging from $750-$15,000. In-kind donations are welcome, too. They have estimated a budget of $28,000, with a major chunk going for prizes.

Jackson, who runs her own marketing business called Skipping Stars Productions and Hill, a journalist who is the president of the International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association, want the pie event to endure beyond the statehood celebration. One way of ensuring its staying power is to apply for “Legacy Event status,” sanctioned by the Arizona Historical Advisory Commission.

“We’d like to make Gilbert a culinary destination,” Jackson said. “We’ve got Scottsdale that has the food events, we have Glendale that has food events. We’d like to have some in Gilbert.”

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