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Spice of Life: Sugar high all in the name of competition

Last Modified: Tuesday, November 06, 2012 6:25 PM

By Eric Cormier / American Press

GRAND COTEAU — If I never see a sweet dough pie again for the rest of my life, then at least I got my fill of them.

Let’s get straight to the point.

This past weekend, I judged a food competition at the first Sweet Dough Pie Festival.

It is no secret among those who know me that baking and pastries are not my favorite aspect of the culinary universe.

But when my sister in ink, Patrice Melnick, a writer and owner of a gift shop in Grand Coteau, asked if I would be interested in participating, I jumped at the opportunity.

The biggest reason is that the little enclave in St. Landry Parish is one of the most peaceful settings in Louisiana. Festival organizers planned the event to take place on the grounds of St. Charles College. Vendors displayed their goods only a few feet from an oak-lined road that runs through the property.

If you have never been to Grand Coteau, I recommend driving there — if for no other reason than to enjoy nature’s splendor in a picturesque and serene setting.

OK. Enough of my atmospheric-setting prose.

Let’s consider this sweet dough pie contest.

There were 75 different pie entries. Fillings included sweet potato, custard, lemon cream, pecan, fig, apple and other ingredients that the five-person judging team could neither identify nor even taste. After the first 25 samplings, our taste buds started the process of sugar-overload shutdown.

For those of you who do not know, sweet dough pies are made with sugar, vanilla and nutmeg, along with flour and eggs. Every baker will modify his or her recipe, which most of the time is a second- and possibly third-generation interpretation.

During a brief presentation about the pie, I explained to a crowd that heritage dictates how the pie is made. Especially since “all conversations about this delicacy begin with, ‘Well, my grandma made them this way.’ ”

It took almost three hours to taste all the pies and then pick a winner. Afterward I walked around the festival grounds like a chipmunk on amphetamines because of all the sugar coursing through my veins. Also, I could feel a cavity growing inside my head.

Melnick asked me how everything went when she caught up with me.

“Oh, fine,” I said. “I didn’t believe so many people here take sweet dough pies so seriously.”

“That was a really great turnout. I don’t think anybody thought so many people would enter pies in the contest,” she said.

I seconded that emotion.

A gentleman walked up to me afterward and had an at-ta-boy grin on his face.

“You ate enough pie?” he said.

“Oh, yes,” I told him. “Now it is time for pork. I got to balance out the sugar with some fat.”

Needless to say, I am done with pies for a long time.

•••

Eric Cormier writes about food every Wednesday. Contact him at ecormier@americanpress.com or 494-4090.

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