Pie baking contest continues festival heritage

By Josette Keelor

WINCHESTER — Betty Heishman has been a part of the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival’s Apple Pie Baking Contest every year since it started in 1957, but she has yet to win.

“It’s like you don’t want to quit until you win, you know?” she said. “And these people are so nice.”

Her table neighbor Geneva Campbell was trying again for a fourth year, but she’s not really into pie baking.

“I’m a cake baker,” she said, “but it’s a lot of fun to be in this contest. I do my best.”

On the first day of May, the scent of cinnamon, apples and pastry dough wafted through throngs of pink-and-green-clad bakers at Marker-Miller Orchards Farm Market and Bakery.

Among them were Brooke Fletcher, 15, and her aunt Theresa Vaught, who were baking from the same recipe — a family favorite started by Brooke’s great-grandmother Annie Haymaker.

“Everyone really loves it,” Brooke said. “It’s definitely a holiday treat for everybody.”

Holidays find the two baking for the family, but according to Vaught, a pie can vary depending on who bakes it.

“The hands that go in it,” she said, “that makes a difference.”

This year’s winners were Lauren Masters, 9, and her mother Kelly Masters.

Judges looked for consistency in flavor and flakiness, “just an all-around good pie,” said last year’s senior division winner Austin Henry, who at 17 was the youngest and the first male to win the adult category.

Judge Steven Cox, owner of Mom’s Apple Pie Company in Leesburg, agreed. “It’s really [about] what we like.”

But for Jill James of Winchester, who tried her recipe “Just Jill’s” for the first time Thursday, the contest is less about winning and more about being a part of the festival.

“It’s a heritage,” she said. “It’s a lost art.”

Baking a pie from scratch is “a science,” she said, and “that’s why I love this contest, it celebrates that.”

She didn’t win, but she came away with something even better.

“I’ve found my niche for Apple Blossom,” she said.

“This is a nice, smaller event. That’s what I love about Apple Blossom, because it unifies the town.”

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com