Louise, Lana, and Dianna

There are three of them. They are pie bakers. These beautiful ladies do not share the same year of birth—maybe not even the same decade of birth. They certainly haven’t been trained in their craft by professionals. But can they ever make great pies! Grand championship pies nonetheless!

Dear Readers, let me introduce you to three of my friends, Louise, Lana, and Dianna. We were not childhood friends. Nor as adults, have we ever met over coffee.

It was through the kinship of competitive baking that our spirits melded into harmonious conversation which blossomed into membership in what Miss NiNi calls the open-to-all “sorority” of Iowa State Fair bakers. Oh, how we enthusiastically love to talk about baking—and compete!

Rolling out a thin pie crust that is deliciously flaky yet sturdy enough to hold freshly picked fruit filling is what these ladies do—time after time. Their talent is a gift born of repetition and of love.

A Rich History

Miss NiNi had the opportunity during our Iowa State Fair to catch timeless snippets of each one’s personal baking history.

As our state fair is in full swing, I felt it appropriate to serve a slice of their extraordinary baking pasts.

Patience, quality ingredients, and glass pie plates are three key components to successful pie baking voiced the ladies.

In one accord, they all mentioned the a-number-one reason for baking pies is that it is an expression of love from their giving hearts and talented hands to those friends and family who share in the tasting arena.

“I love to bring people together over pie,” shared Lana! She went on to exude, “Never underestimate the power of sharing.”

Along that same note, Louise, who holds the honor of being one of our state fair’s most seasoned senior competitors agrees. “All pies still seem to disappear in a hurry—even when they turn out as failures.”

Ribbons Upon Ribbons

Dear Readers, I could laud the praises of white, red, blue, and purple ribbons that each of them amassed over the decades of state fair competition. However, in the following paragraphs, you will learn about some of their “Oh No!” pie experiences.

After an extended tenure of competing, Dianna now serves as a state fair food judge.

She bakes pies for sale out of her home in our neighboring Iowa town. Pies for one such client had been baked the evening before she was to deliver them. As the golden two crust fruit-filled pies were cooling on her countertop, Dianna turned in for a comfortable night’s rest. However, the nocturnal farm cats had their own agenda. Upon entering the kitchen in the morning, my friend discovered that the cats had torn through the screen door and had eaten the pies. “I was nauseated to see this,” she retorted!

Once a baker has read the rules of each class (very important to do) and the photogenic entry, entry tag, and accompanying recipe are ready to leave home, she or he is all set for a momentous day! But wait Dear Readers, the trip in the automobile can determine what finally gets entered for the day. Read on for some glad-turned-to-sad experiences.

Louise not only drives a long distance to enter pies at our state fair, but she also enters pies in northwest Iowa’s renown Clay County Fair. She stated that her chocolate meringue pie was picture perfect as she drove away on the long trek to Spencer. But when she opened the trunk, she saw a different picture. “I had chocolate soup,” she unbelievably exclaimed! As you can imagine, that is one entry that unfortunately did not make its way to the entry table.

The Joy of Competition

As a former competitor, Miss NiNi was always so thankful that Dearly Beloved accompanied me on my multiple journeys to enter desserts at our state fair. We competitors often live hundreds of miles apart from each other. But “the acorn doesn’t fall from the tree,” so to speak. It is not uncommon for each of us to stretch ourselves “to the max” as we pull all-nighters with our home ovens. Driving 100 miles and more to have entries meet the judges becomes a Herculean effort! With the aid of a well-rested driver, there’s nothing like a wink of a nap in the car to revitalize the energy of a competitive baker!

During the day of preparation, family members might walk around the kitchen “on eggshells,” avoiding any interruption of a baker’s concentration. But, oh, rejoice, when loving family members reach out to type recipes, complete entry tags, drive the vehicle, or lend any other support!

For Dianna, reinforcement came from a family member who accompanied her to state fair. “The best laid plans of mice and men” went askew. When the lid accidentally came off the top of a pie that was reposing on the floor of the back seat, a mishap occurred. A footprint was made in the pie! Talk about having a sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach!

Who will carry on the pie baking tradition in their families once they no longer are able to do so, Dear Readers?

Louise, Lana, and Diana all agreed that sons, grandchildren, and nieces have learned to “bake a pie like you can’t believe” by having watched their mentors.

If you have a wee bit of desire to enter the food competition next year, don’t hesitate to ask an accomplished exhibitor. Lana gives encouragement this way, “All beginners make mistakes. All are fixable. I had never seen a food competition before I entered, so I highly suggest observing a few contests to learn how it works. And, talk to other contestants. Most of us are in this together and we want others to do their best, especially new participants. I learned to ask lots of questions.” 

Dear Readers, are you journeying to our great Iowa State Fair this year? You’ll find enjoyment and education by the plate full when visiting the food exhibits and open-to-all judging in the air conditioned Elwell Family Food Building on the west end of the fairgrounds.

And just in case you want to meet my pie-baking friends, Dear Readers, they will all be there! Contestants often refer to Louise Piper as the sweetheart of the food department. Her entries will be in competition in various divisions. Lana Shope, and Dianna Sheehy will both serve as judges for multiple classes at which thousands of entries will be judged.

Enjoy the pride of our state—the Iowa State Fair!

Miss NiNi