Ever since my seven-year-old nephew, Little Trickster, learned he would be returning to the Pie Festival in Pie Town, New Mexico, he talked about nothing but winning the children’s pie eating contest. Turns out, last year he lost due to a hand raising technicality. A similar travesty was the fate of Sir Leopold Chestnut, SECOND PLACE winner of the 1903 Summer Olympics prune and custard pie eating contest. Both were sadly unaware that after they finished their pie, they were to raise their hand to be declared the winner. At least this year Little Trickster could learn from his folly. Chestnut, shunned by his peers, never competed again.
Little Trickster had been studying up on how to win this year’s contest. On the two-and-a-half-hour journey from Albuquerque to Pie Town, between singing verses of popular Disney songs, he spoke non-stop about the rules of the contest as well as the best techniques to take the crown. Each contestant was given an appropriately sized fruit pie by age division. All but the youngest contestants had to keep their hands behind their backs during the challenge and could not use them to eat said pie.
The best technique, said Little Trickster, was to move the pie closest to the edge of the table. After the stuffing was inhaled, it was best to use your teeth to flip over the pie tin and drop the pie on the table. It was much easier to eat the rest of the pie this way. He called it the alligator technique. A bit of a misnomer as we all know alligators prefer tarts to pies, unlike their fatter cousin the crocodile.
“You need to listen to me,” said Little Trickster, “so both you and I can be winners in our contests.”
I knew my nephew was entering the pie eating contest, but I had no plans of entering the adult pie eating contest. I envisioned my first time at the festival perusing pie stands and craft tables. I had not planned on entering a pie eating contest. But Little Trickster, being adorable, was insistent. And I, being both a sucker and partaker in pies, was talked into entering the contest.
Upon our arrival to the Pie Festival, I went to the pavilion and paid the $1 fee to sign Little Trickster up for his age group and then paid $5 to sign myself up for the adult division. We were each given ribbons that showed the judges that we were participants.
In hindsight, it would have been a great deal to concede the contest and walk away with a $25 pie for $5.
At 1 p.m., the pie eating contestants gathered around the row of tables in the middle of the Pie Festival open area. The audience surrounded the pies and contestants (outside the “Splash Zone”) to cheer on their friends. Much attention was paid to the Splash Zone in fear of pie in the sky debris.
First up were the kiddos age 0 – 5. I’m not quite sure how a 0-year-old would eat a pie, but hey, there you go. The little kids were given mini-pies and the contest was on. A winner was declared, and two runner-ups. Each were given ribbons. The parents next to me were rather upset and kept talking about cheating from the winner (their kid got second). Seemed a bit silly to me as it was all for fun — it’s not like it was the pie eating Superbowl. [Editor’s note: fun or not, pie eating contest rules regarding hands on the table is a disqualification-level action. It is a safety matter, fingers are libel to be chewed off in the heat of the competition.]
Next up was Little Trickster’s division, ages 7 – 12. There were 19 participants. Their pies were larger than the mini pies, but still not a full-size pie. Little Trickster was down to business. Right off, he asked the judge if he was supposed to raise his hand when he was done. Once he got the affirmative, and the other kids were all lined up, the contest started. Little Trickster face-planted into his pie and tore that pie up! He used his teeth to flip the pie over using the Alligator Technique. There was whipped cream everywhere — on his nose, on his forehead, even in his hair. He mowed through that pie as fast as he could. (In related news, whipped cream is apparently an excellent conditioner.)
Unfortunately, those older kids were way faster. Out of the 19 participants, Little Trickster got 4th place. I was very proud of his placing and he seemed to be in good spirits, which can’t be that surprising as it’s hard to be sad after eating pie.
Then it was my turn. Little Trickster came up to me and helped me tie my plastic apron. “Since, I didn’t win, you’re going to have to win this,” he said.
I was just doing this for fun (and pie) but mostly just to placate the now berry-stained kid. Suddenly there was all this added pressure on me to win? Really, my only goal was to not end up like that kid in “Stand By Me.” (No, not the dead one, the one in the pie eating contest, though I didn’t particularly want to end up like the dead one either. I have to remember to chew.)
“Don’t worry,” said Little Trickster. “I’ll coach you. I already asked the judge if I could stay with you and cheer you on.” There were 24 participants in the adult division, and the trash talking starting early. A man from Portland told the rest of us we were going down. A woman from Arizona giggled and said this was her first time. A woman from California let us know she had won three years ago. Ooh, a seasoned veteran.
We lined up around the tables and placed our hands behind our backs. Little Trickster ran around to eye the competition and shout out instructions. He told me to kneel to be closer to the pie.
“REMEMBER THE ALLIGATOR!” he shouted.
The judges placed the pies in front of us. Unfortunately, these weren’t mini pies, or even medium. These were daunting, huge, full-sized strawberry rhubarb pies. Pies that were covered in whipped cream (much like most of the previous contestants).
And not with a shot, but a splat, the contest was on. I shoved my face into that pie and started chewing. And chewing and chewing. And I stopped and realized I was only through the whipped cream. I went back to chewing. I finally hit the filling. It was delicious. I could hear my friends cheering me on. I could hear Little Trickster yelling out instructions. “Do the alligator! Stick your whole face in that pie!” I got through half the pie and drug the tin over to the edge of the table with my teeth. I flipped it and dumped the pie on the table.
I started working on the crust (which was just as tasty as the pie). I stopped to look up to see where everyone else was at. One girl had given up, and looked rather green. Most of the other contestants had way less pie to get through than I did.
“Put your face back in there!” Little Trickster shouted. I took another bite and looked up again. Little Trickster threatened me with bodily harm if I didn’t win. And I couldn’t help it. I spit out my pie laughing. Poor Portland guy. He was across from me and wasn’t too happy. I tried to chew again but the cheers and coaching was just too much. I just kept giggling. Finally a winner was declared, and then the second and third place winners. My adventure was over. Out of the 24 contestants, I came in 23. Thank goodness for the one green-looking girl.
Little Trickster came over to comfort me. “It’s okay,” he said, “we’ll do better next year.”