This Sunday, the Riverview Farmers Market will host its (now fifth) annual Perfect Peach Pie Contest at the Riverview-Fisk Park in the Heights neighborhood of Jersey City. Any reader of this blog will recognize that I’m a proponent of localism, and it doesn’t get more local than a neighborhood baking contest. Unsurprisingly, I’m also a supporter and booster of farmers markets. Lastly, I live in the Heights.
Pie contests and all cooking contests are simple, wholesome social gatherings and entertainments. They evoke images of small town America and traditional, tight communities with strong family, civic, religious, and social ties. In cities, such events occur at the neighborhood or even at the block level and may include a more diverse cast of characters. Whether set in a village green or an urban park, a pie contest allows participants and onlookers to feel that they indeed belong to a pleasant, inviting, and vibrant community, if only for an afternoon.
Just as importantly, such contests can potentially engage every member of a given community. Children, families, and the elderly all can partake in the event, from entering a pie to sampling the sweets after the judges announce the winner. At the very least, they can enjoy a pleasant day in the park in the company of other people.
What is the allure of baking and cooking contests? The obvious answer is recognition. A winner is applauded by a community for his or her culinary refinement and taste. Cooking is also a creative act. Raw ingredients–which by themselves might be inedible–are prepared and transformed into a scrumptious dish or dessert.
However, I would attest that cooking (and baking) tap into a far deeper and more profound emotional current. One cooks at home in the kitchen, a very intimate and private atmosphere. When one hosts friends or family for a meal or even afternoon coffee and cake, one is inviting people into his or her home. This is an act of kindness and sharing. It might also be a stressful experience for the cook and the host. He or she might worry: what if they don’t like the meal, or what if it turns out poorly? Inviting people into one’s home, especially for good home-cooking may leave one exposed and vulnerable. Yet, aren’t such moments when the most joy appears?
Most ambitious domestic chefs strive to recreate recipes or master techniques passed down in their families. They first might have learned their way around the kitchen from a parent, grandparent, close relative, or old family friend. Cooking allows them to honor their family’s heritage and traditions and share them with close friends or complete strangers.
Although it might be too late to dust off your grandmother’s favorite recipe or to scrape together your own, why not visit Riverview-Fisk Park this Sunday and enjoy a slice of Americana and peach pie? If you don’t live in Jersey City, see if you can find a similar event in your own neighborhood or town. You might be surprised by how much fun you find.
Sunday August 21, 2016, 5th Annual Perfect Peach Pie Contest, Riverview-Fisk Park, Jersey City, NJ 07307. Judging begins at 12 noon.