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Posted May 1, 2009 | comments Leave a comment

As American as apple pie

Bakers of all ages compete to create a prize-worthy, mouth-watering treat

By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Sugar and spice and everything nice was in the air Thursday morning at Marker-Miller Orchards Farm Market and Bakery, as participants in the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival's annual Apple Pie Baking Contest gave their best efforts toward making an award-winning pie.

Now in the seventh year since its revival, the pie baking contest has a long history in the area, dating back to the 1950s, and participants this year were representative of Apple Blossom past and present.

Betty Heishman, 65, used to compete when she was in high school.

"I was in eighth grade, and I came down here from West Virginia to James Wood High School," she said, remembering her first year competing. "It was really neat."

The contest used to take place in the home economics department at the old James Wood High, she said, and the winner received an electric iron.

"Can you imagine a young girl now getting an electric iron as a prize? It would not go over well," she said.

This year's winners did not have to worry about being awarded any household appliances -- first place for the adult category was $75, free entrance to the Bloomers' Luncheon, and a ride in the Firefighters' Parade tonight and Grand Feature Parade on Saturday. The first-place youth winner won $50 and her own reserved ride in both parades.

The basis of the contest is to celebrate the apple and its importance to Frederick County's agricultural past, said Heather McKay, whose family owns Marker-Miller Orchards.

"I think they wanted to do something that's based on the apple," she said.

Participants of all ages competed, bringing with them their own family traditions and personal love of baking apple pie.

Beside Heishman stood Geneva Campbell, of Stephens City, who has been competing for only three years. She graduated from Warren County High School in 1949, but left the Northern Shenandoah Valley to see the world, not returning until a few years ago.

"I just love it up here. I don't know why I stayed away so long," she said, as she added final touches to her pie of Golden Delicious apples with a crust inspired by Paula Deen from the Food Network.

"This is my third year, and I hope it's a charm," she said. "I've had a lot of fun; win or lose, it's fun."

Adding their own ingredients to the mix of time-tested recipes were 9-year-olds Madison McMahon and Robert Mullaney, both of Winchester.

"On the way here my heart was pounding, but now I'm better," said Madison, who was all business when by 9:30 she already had her pie together and was carving out designs in the crust.

"I've practiced and we've timed it, and we've done it in about 30 minutes," she said, having taken lessons from her mother, Adele McMahon, a former pie contest winner.

Robert had also learned the tricks of the trade from his mother, who saw the contest listed in the newspaper and asked if he wanted to participate.

"I've been helping her for a very long time to make apple pie," he said. His entry was "a deep dish apple pie with fool-proof crust.

"It's just simple components ... Granny Smith, one Golden Delicious and one McIntosh."

"It's a nice family event for us," said Rachel Michahail, of Clarke County, whose daughters Aviel, 26, and Tamar, 14, were competing side by side, though in different age groups.

"I did it last year, but it's fun to change sides of the table too," Michahail said.

Both sisters worked from their grandmother's recipe, but added their own little changes.

"My mother prefers no cinnamon at all," Michahail said. "She said it takes away from the apple taste. She wants that apple taste to come through."

Whatever changes Tamar made to her family recipe paid off, earning her second place in the youth category. Emily Estep, 14, of Berryville, won first place.

In the adult category, Barbara Leathers, of Elkwood, took first, and Brenda McDonald, of Winchester, was second.

Festival video

The contestants and their apple pies

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