By Kristine Sherred
With the holidays officially upon us, both home bakers and pros are perfecting their pie crusts and selecting their fillings, turning back to time-tested favorites or updating the classics with unexpected spices. In its fifth year, the South Side Pie Challenge affords those dexterous kneaders the opportunity to bake for a cause (and a crown).
Home baker Kate Agarwal started this friendly pie competition in 2012 to “celebrate the diversity and awesomeness” of the city’s South Side and quickly gained the support of nearby restaurants, journalists and the community. Though timed to honor fall flavors, Agarwal and co-planner Julie Vassilatos welcome all pies to the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club this Saturday.
“We’ve had soupy pies, burnt pies, too-salty pies, weird flavor combos,” says Agarwal, but of course many pies please the judges panel, which has included Hyde Parkers like Kirsten Esterly of Medici and Fabiana Carter of Fabiana’s Bakery, plus pie gurus Paula Haney of Hoosier Mama and Art Jackson of Pleasant House. (I was also a judge in 2014, where a beet cream pie, for one, did not turn out well.)
Recurring pie-maker Katie Maher Lipinski was smitten when her first entry, a Dulce de Leche Banana Cream Pie, received an honorable mention in 2012, and she has returned every year with a new creation, in part to hone her baking skills but also to support a fundraiser with an “immediate impact” in the neighborhood.
Agarwal and Vassilatos want the event to be first and foremost a community gathering. All proceeds benefit the Hyde Park & Kenwood Hunger Programs, and every pie is sliced for sale at $3 a pop. (Each contestant bakes two pies, one for judging and one for slicing.) With over 60 varieties of fruit, nut, pumpkin/sweet potato, and cream pies, judged within those categories, each pie yields about 15 pieces — that’s some 900 slices!
The bake sale portion of the event is free to enter, but pie-buying is highly encouraged.