Love and a good crust: Bakers compete in first pumpkin pie contest at Plimoth Patuxet

Judge Michelle McGrath, of Scituate, bestselling author of The Creative Table cookbook, samples pumpkin pies at The Great New England Pumpkin Pie Competition at Plimoth~Patuxet in Plymouth, image by Tom Gorman.

PATRIOT LEDGER – New Englanders know their pumpkin pie.

That much was apparent from Saturday’s first “Great New England Pumpkin Pie Contest” at Plimoth Patuxet Museums,  which re-creates the Pilgrims’ 17th-century settlement and the historical homesite of the Wampanoag Indians. 

 Bakers and their supporters gathered for one goal: presenting a pumpkin pie to earn baking bragging rights.

For the museum’s resident baker, what makes a good pumpkin pie is simple: the crust.

“I just love what I do,” baker Carolyn McMorrow said as judges roamed pie-laden tables.

Her friends and coworkers at Patuxet showed up to support her at the contest. Supporter Erin Allard held a bright orange sign that read “Go Carolyn #BestBaker” adorned with glitter.

“Everything that she bakes is baked with love,” Allard said.

Love and a good crust turned out to be the secrets to success. McMorrow won first place in the adult professional baking category.

“I couldn’t feel any better,” McMorrow said after accepting her first-place prize of a gift basket and plush hat resembling a slice of pumpkin pie.

Team Carolyn roots for contestant Carolyn McMorrow of Wareham, center, image by Tom Gorman.

Others were more basic, with pinched crust edges ringing a plain pie.

Professional baker Kathy Goonan said her pie was simple, but that the crust was the key.

Her pumpkin pie secret? Using butternut squash instead of pumpkin.

“I just find the butternut to be a little sweeter, a little creamier,” Goonan said. “I like the consistency that it brings to the filling.”

Goonan bakes out of her home-based business called  Log Cabin Bakers in Plymouth, and she said butternut squash is also easier to work with than pumpkin.

Judges sample pumpkin pies as contestants patiently sit and wait for their decisions during the Great New England Pumpkin Pie Contest at Plimoth~Patuxet in Plymouth, image by Tom Gorman.

Some bakers came from as far away as Merrimack, New Hampshire, organizers said.

Sandra Peck, of Chatham, participated in the contest only because her sister-in-law Nancy Valentino-Weise entered Peck into the contest.

“She tried all different crusts,” Valentino-Weise said with a laugh, describing Peck’s flurry of activity after learning she’d be competing. 

Valentino-Weise said the best part of pumpkin pie comes down to one spice.

“I think the nutmeg,” she said, after considering the question. “I’ve been drawn to  pumpkin pie because I love nutmeg.”

Judges were looking for a good-tasting, good-looking pie, and judge Maria Allen said she was also looking for  a pie that stood out from the rest.

“I think the challenge is having it taste like pumpkin but also having some other creative elements in there,” she said, “and that’s a balance, right?”

Allen is the editor-in-chief of South Shore Home Life & Style. She was one of seven judges to score about two dozen pies based on their taste and presentation.

To make her pie stand out, home baker Sheila Courtney said she adds a bit of orange zest in her filling. 

That combination worked well for her. She took home first place in the adult home baker category.

Eight-year-old Samantha Rich, of Sharon, won first place in the youth baking category.

Christina Coleman, event organizer and director of public programs and hospitality for Plimoth Patuxet, said she hopes the contest becomes a regular fixture at Plimoth.

Samantha Rich, 8, of Sharon, took first place in the youth category of the Great New England Pumpkin Pie Competition at Plimoth~Patuxet, image by Tom Gorman

“We’re just really excited to start this tradition,” she said before the contest. “Pumpkin pie is just a New England staple.”

Read more . . . By Alex Weliever, photos by Tom Gorman