Traditionally, I’m not a pie guy. I’ll walk over a blazing pile of jagged coals barefoot to get to cake, but pie is a meal capper that’s certainly worthy of appreciation, but rarely desired beyond a slight this-is-dessert-so-live-with-it interest. The Great American Pie Festival shimmies over to Celebration, Florida every year to champion the boldest architects of the sweet treat, turning a lakeside corner of the small Rockwellian town into a makeshift street fair with shopping, games, and pie gorging available for all. It’s a chance for pie to stand up and show the masses it can walk the walk and talk the talk just as proudly as those sycophantic goofballs cake and cookies. Today, pie is at last king.
An event masterminded by the American Pie Council (no, I didn’t just make that up), the Pie Festival is divided into two sections: marketing and gluttony. Stuffed with foody sponsors and booths peddling the latest in baking innovation and sleeveless Floridian style, the Fest resembles any other faceless, yet agreeable small town carnival. Throw in a few midway games for the kids and the requisite merchant pimping Larry the Cable Guy t-shirts to those who doesn’t quite “get” the cultural thrust of Celebration, and it’s a charming afternoon at the faux fair. It only gets miraculous when pie muscles its way into the equation.
The real pull of this event is the “Never Ending Pie Buffet,” where hapless souls can down slice after slice of the crusted goodness for the low price of $10. And we’re not talking small slivers of pie here, like I was assuming. Allow me to loosely quote the late, great comic Mitch Hedberg here: “I went to a pizzeria, I ordered a slice of pizza, the guy gave me the smallest slice possible. If the pizza was a pie chart for what people would do if they found a million dollars, the guy gave me the ‘donate it to charity’ slice. I would like to exchange this for the ‘keep it!’”
One walks into a community-minded pie fiesta with a certain expectation of microscopic bites hastily arranged on a tattered lunch tray, left to puddle in the generous afternoon sun. However, that’s not how the lightly floured faces at the Pie Council roll. Instead of merciless corner cutting, the buffet was filled with liberal pie servings that cater to all tastes and temperaments. Ice cream was even offered at one of the booths, encouraging further caloric terrorism that, for me, involved a tasting of Magic Shell’s new flavor, “Cupcake.” As known worldwide and perhaps beyond this humble galaxy, Magic Shell is the finest food stuff ever invented that nobody is allowed to eat openly after 8 years of age. Thaddeus J. Magicshellifutz (1789-1856) was a genius.
Not to take away from the splendor of unbridled pie eating, but the Festival was limited to only a handful of tasting booths. Big names such as Kroger and Village Inn were represented, and dare I say the best pie of the day was found (reluctantly) at the Publix grocery chain booth. Their cherry pie was insanely accomplished, resulting in an impromptu marriage proposal from me to the succulent, oozy filling.
The larger area is a tightly monitored cul-de-sac populated with pie merchants, a jazz band, and hundreds of sweaty, large-breasted people (the godless ones bring strollers along) looking to double-fist pie containers and hunt for shade. The street clutter is overwhelming at times, but the mood is always jovial, encouraged by pleasant staffers who, let’s be real here, would have every right to snap at the grabby, endlessly questioning crowds. Those who worked the California Raisin stand seemed to be trapped in a special speed of hell, trying to explain to the rubes that “them black dots” in the pie weren’t actually chocolate chips but those healthful bastards, the raisins.
The major discomfort of the Pie Festival is the waste. Dear lord, the waste. There’s no way to avoid it: give the people a chance to overeat, and they suddenly become modest with their bites. Garbage cans were overflowing with discarded pie remnants, housed in unrecyclable plastic containers. Al Gore would be in tears if he saw this middle-finger to Mother Nature. Frankly, I don’t know how the Pie Council could deliver the indulgence to the masses while remaining sanitary and reasonably organized, but watching and, sadly, contributing to the wasteful behavior (the weirdo Pie Police wouldn’t let anyone take the containers outside of the Fest) was the only dalliance with the dark side of the day.
Downing bites of pie with the cross-eyed spiritual pace of a Mentat chugging Sapho Juice can wear down the body with startling speed. It doesn’t take long before pie becomes about as welcome as December 26th. However, I found the Festival to be a rousing success with a unique subject to celebrate. Pie might be an unlikely hero, but it makes for an appetizing best friend...for about 30 minutes. And then your best friend becomes gallons of water and a nap.
More pictures from the event (click to enlarge):
Heeeeeyyyy! You're not pie!
"Stay out of the light"