MYRTLE POINT — First, let me thank local television personality David Walker for making this column possible.
You've heard of restaurants in big cities where you have to make reservations days or weeks in advance to get a table.
They've got nothing on the final judging table for the apple pie contest at the Coos County Fair.
This club is that exclusive.
Apple pies line the table for final judging at the Coos County Fair on Friday. The nearly empty pie plate in the center of the photo (No. 56) …
To give you some perspective, sports editor John Gunther was invited to the final judging panel in 1993. He's been judging this contest every year since then, only missing one time in the past 26 years. He and Mr. Walker are the deans of the table.
I've been covering Cuisine here since 2006. I have been invited to be a preliminary round judge for the apple pie contest, but until my phone rang last Monday, I had never been invited to the final table.
"Ron, David Walker can't make it to the apple pie judging on Friday, would you like to take his place?" asked Fran Capehart.
Knowing how rare these invitations are, I accepted immediately. Who knows if I would have ever received another invitation. I wasn't taking that chance.
And Mr. Walker, please don't take this the wrong way, but I'm hoping that this becomes a case of Cal Ripken and Mark Belanger (I know you get the reference).
If so, I see a few more apple pie columns in my future.
The last time I judged, I was a few minutes late, so this time I left in plenty of time, arrived early and actually saw John walking toward the fairgrounds. He waited a few minutes while I parked. When I caught up to him again, he was talking to his sixth-grade Social Studies teacher, Carl Wilson.
I already knew how popular John was — especially in the east part of the county — but try walking with him into the fairgrounds and through one of the buildings. He chatted with his teacher, joked around with the staff in the fair office and found a couple of student-athletes wandering around looking at paintings.
Thank goodness I didn't join him out on the main fairgrounds.
OK, on to the judging.
Some of the tougher work has already been done by the preliminary round judges. In each of the preliminary rounds, they advance a certain number of pies to the "final" judging. This year, there were nine pies to be judged (out of the original 27 entries) when we arrived.
Nine slivers of pie. Nine completely different versions of the perfect apple pie.
Among the luminaries sitting at the final judging table are North Bend City Councilor Timm Slater and Coos County Commissioner Bob Main.
Councilor Slater called the table to order and the first three pies were doled out to each of the judges. We all had our own style/method of sampling the pies.
I like to sample each part of the pie separately first. So I tried the bottom crust (which I think is the most difficult to get correct), then the top crust and then the filling. Then I took another bite with all three parts of the pie together.
We would sample and then discuss each of the pies. How was the crust? The filling? Did it have good taste? Anything unusual?
We only have numbers to go by. From the first three pies we put one (No. 56) on the shelf to test later.
Between each of the pies, there were pickles, cheese or crackers to cleanse the palate.
In the next three pies to be tested, we decided to advance No. 54. About half the judges were intrigued by the "caramely" flavor in this filling. I was one of them.
I've eaten my share of apple pies. Makes sense since we have about 20 apple trees on the property. Most of them are for the bears (this year we have a mom and two cubs wandering around), but we have a couple of trees we like best for pies, apple cakes and applesauce.
In all those pies, I've never had a filling like that. I'm sure it would be very popular at restaurants with a good pie selection.
We all agreed that none of the final three pies met the standards of the first two we had set aside.
The tradition continues. After the judging is complete, all of a judge's samples get put back on one plate, and a large dollop of vanilla ice …
So, we had our final two, No. 56 and No. 54.
The traditionalists on the panel were pretty set that No. 56 would be the winner, but we put them on a plate again and re-tasted them to be sure.
Without too much discussion, the winner emerged as No. 56.
Congratulations to No. 56 — Katlyn Reeves of North Bend.