Straight from the Grand Ole Opry, the American Pie

`WHERE are the peaches? Lemme at them peaches,'' shouted Gertrude Stallings as she whipped out a shopping cart and spun a wheelie down the produce aisle at Kroger Super-X supermarket. Dressed for speed rather than fashion in sensible shoes and a black double-knit pantsuit, Mrs. Stallings had 72 years of baking experience behind her.

She was here in Nashville representing the State of Georgia in the American Pie Celebration sponsored by Crisco and Family Circle Magazine. Mrs. Stallings, like the 49 others she left in the dust at Kroger's, had won her state's award for the best, most representational state pie. All winners were flown here by Crisco for a night on the town and a day in the kitchen. Ten judges from around the country had the enviable job of choosing the American Pie from the 50 offerings.

Roger Wiedmeyer was here. A private detective back in Wisconsin, he still finds time to put aside his spyglass and pick up a rolling pin. Not as a weapon, mind you - Roger knocks 'em dead with his cherry pie and has stolen many a show at various fairs with recipes for bread, tangy sauerkraut, and delightful dilly beans.

This busload of contestants had been dropped off to do a little last-minute shopping. It didn't matter that Kroger's didn't carry boiled and ground antelope loin - Debra Kay Noel had brought enough along for her very special Wyoming Mince Pie. Indeed, all contestants packed along those hard-to-find ingredients in their suitcases right next to their wooden spoons.

Jone Schumacher from Illinois packed her own apple peeler - one of those antique copies that you crank. ``I need it,'' she explained. ``There's 6 pounds of apples in my pie. I have five children, and I always make a large pie to share with neighbors and the folks down at the nursing home.''

The bakeoff was to be held early the next morning, with judging backstage at the Grand Ole Opry. Loretta Lynn, country Western legend, coal miner's daughter, and spokeswoman for Crisco, was on hand to sign autographs, chit-chat, and present a cash award and diamond ring to the fortunate winner.

Miss Lynn told how she snared her husband, Mooney, with a homemade pie. ``I baked what I thought was a real fine pie for a local pie auction,'' she recalled. ``Mooney outbid everyone and offered five dollars. He sat down, took a big bite, and his eyes just about popped out of his head. It turns out I used salt in my pie instead of sugar.'' The story has a happy ending, as Mooney evidently glimpsed something beyond the salt. They married shortly thereafter, and Lynn insists her baking has improved.

At 5:30 on the morning of the bakeoff, contestants were off and baking. Each had to produce two pies, one a clone of the other. One was for display, the other to be sampled by the judges.

And what a parade of pies: From New Mexico, a Green Chile Quiche; Pennsylvania was represented by a Shoo-Fly Pie; Glen Johnston (who beat out his wife at the Idaho State Fair) offered his Potato Main-Dish Pie; Pink Polar Cream Pie was the winner from Alaska; and of course a Macadamia Nut creation was Hawaii's offering. There were squash pies, pecan, peanut, and berry pies, and on, and on.

Oh yes, Marilyn Anderson's rhubarb finally arrived. In fact, she had enough left over to happily share with another contestant who didn't quite have enough.

Pies were judged in five catagories: apple, nut and savory, berry and cherry, peach and rhubarb, and citrus and miscellaneous. They were judged on overall appearance, by each individual slice, on the flakiness and taste of crust, on suitability as a state and all-American pie, and of course on filling texture and flavor.

The winners of each category were then judged collectively by all the judges. I helped judge the apple pie category. Until that day my mother had me convinced that she - like your own mother, I'm sure - baked the best apple pie in the country. (Sorry mother, but you still make the best meatloaf.)

Overall winner of THE American Pie went to a tart and exquisitely presented lemon meringue creation baked by Cecelia Rubio from Los Angeles.

Mrs. Rubio's dark brown eyes welled with tears as a dozen long-stem American Beauty roses were thrust in her arms and a diamond ring slipped on her finger.

Although the winner was Rubio's lemon meringue, she admitted that her apple pie was the favorite of her family of husband and five children. ``But they love the lemon meringue, too,'' she quickly added.

Rubio and the pie were flown up next morning for a day in New York and an appearance on the Good Morning America show.

Meanwhile, backstage, all the contestants got a chance to pick up their pie plates and sample any pie they chose.

``I'm so glad you chose a real American pie like lemon meringue,'' one contestant said modestly.

``I love my huckleberry, but you can only get huckleberries for a month in Montana, even in Glacier Park. You can always get lemons, anywhere.'' THE AWARD-WINNER Cecelia Rubio's California Lemon Meringue Pie Crust for 9-inch glass pie plate 2 cups all-purpose flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 2/3 cup Butter Flavor Crisco shortening 1 egg yolk 4 to 5 tablespoons cold milk Lemon Filling 11/2 cups sugar 4 tablespoons cornstarch 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour 1/4 teaspoon salt 11/2 cups hot water 3 egg yolks, beaten 2 tablespoons salted butter 11/2 teaspoons grated lemon peel 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice Meringue 8 tablespoons sugar 1 tablespoon cornstarch 1/2 cup cold water 4 egg whites 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

For crust, combine flour and salt in mixing bowl. Cut in Crisco with pastry blender or two knives until mixture is uniform in texture. Stir in egg yolk and milk and mix well. Work dough into firm ball.

Wrap in wax paper and chill for 30 minutes.

On lightly floured surface, roll dough into circle 1 inch larger that inverted 9-inch pie plate. Trim 1/2 inch beyond edge of pie plate.

Fold under to make double thickness around rim. Flute edge. Bake crust in oven for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 degrees F. and bake an additional 13 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove from oven and let cool.

For lemon filling, combine sugar, cornstarch, flour, and salt in saucepan. Gradually add hot water, stirring constantly.

Bring mixture to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to low heat and stir constantly for 8 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in beaten egg yolks.

Bring mixture to second boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to low heat and cook 4 additional minutes, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat and stir in butter and lemon peel. Slowly add lemon juice, mixing well. Pour filling into cooled pie crust.

For meringue, combine 2 tablespoons sugar, cornstarch, and cold water in saucepan.

Cook mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly. Remove from heat when mixture is clear. Let cool.

In separate bowl, beat egg whites and vanilla extract into soft peaks. Gradually add remaining 6 tablespoons of sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. Beat mixture well after each tablespoon.

Combine meringue with egg white mixture and continue beating until stiff peaks form.

Spread 1/2-inch layer of meringue evenly over filling. With a pastry bag, pipe remaining meringue in waves over top of pie for decoration. Bake in 350-degree F. oven for 12 to 15 minutes or until meringue begins to turn golden brown.

Let cool before serving.

Mrs. Rubio decorated her meringue with tiny lemon leaves and pressed a flower out of lemon gum drops.

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