Nothing says love like good home cooking and that’s especially true for the state’s best pie bakers.
Although the recipe and ingredients are important, the 2015 winners from the State Fair of West Virginia know that it takes more than culinary skills to be named a top baker.
It takes love, and their family members are an important part of the recipe.
McDowell County resident Joann Estep has competed and won at the fair—including first place for coconut balls.
She also won second place last year for her derby pie, a heavenly confection that is a favorite with her family members.
“You put chocolate chips in it, and they stay on the bottom where the crust is. But it’s like a custard pie on top, and you can also put coconut and pecans in it. It tasted pretty good,” she said.
Baking—pies as well as cookies—runs in the family because her daughter Teresa Louise Estep took first place in the pie competition in 2014.
“My daughter actually started us entering stuff at the fair, and it’s just gotten to be a tradition with me and her. We were just out to prove something, I guess,” she said.
“We set out to prove that McDowell County has some pretty good cooks. Mission accomplished,” she said.
Her daughter’s winning entry was a sawdust pie, and the recipe is closely guarded right down to the pie crust, she said with a laugh.
“I hate to brag but it was the best thing. It was the No. 1 pie,” she said.
“But I’ll tell you that when they called her name that she had won, time stood still. This has truly been a mother’s dream come true,” she said.
Soon another generation of Estep bakers will be heading off to Lewisburg with their goodies.
“My little granddaughter, Madeline Grace, is just nine years old, and she is already excited about when she can bake with the big girls. It’s just tickled her to death when she’s gone up on the stage with us,” she said.
Kanawha County resident Shelly Gattlieb also had some help from her family in taking third place for her special pecan pie featuring West Virginia maple syrup.
“That was the first competition that I have entered, so it was really pretty exciting. It was a recipe that I started making several years ago, and the judges liked it too,” she said.
Since this dessert was a staple at each of the family’s Thanksgiving celebrations, Gattlieb began honing the recipe by making small changes to see what everyone liked and thought tasted best.
“Then it got to the point where it was exactly what we wanted,” she said.
One thing remained constant—real maple syrup from the Mountain State.
“I’m big on using West Virginia ingredients, and that was just really important to me. Plus I wanted people to try it, and see if they liked it as much as we did,” she said.
“And with the West Virginia, I thought the state fair would be the perfect place to share it.”
Part of her inspiration also came from the more than four years she’s spent volunteering to help feed people at Trinity’s Table, which is sponsored by the Trinity Lutheran Church in Charleston.
This experience has touched her heart – and soul.
“I’ve been cooking all my life for family and friends, but that is totally different than cooking on average about 500 meals a night. I’ve learned how to cook in bulk, but I have also learned about how much need there is in our own communities,” she said.
Volunteers support each other personally, and rallied when she decided to enter the fair’s pie baking contest.
They served as taste testers,and chose the version of her pie that had become a family favorite, she said.
“So that’s the one I entered. And when I won third place, I donated the $50 to this feeding program to continue helping people. So it really kind of came around full circle. All in all, it was pretty exciting,” she said.
Estep still gets a little choked up when she talks about all the summers that her family’s vacations were spent at the state fair.
Sentimentality will be especially important this August, because like so many of us, Estep is grief stricken about Greenbrier County and the residents who lost their homes and even lives to flooding.
“I just can’t even hardly bear to think about them all, much less talk about it. I’ve been through floods and know it is like having your life ripped apart. I am praying for them all every day,” she said.
Partly because the fair is so important to so many, Estep and her daughter are going to support it by doing what they do best – baking.
All of their recipes will include plenty of love, and memories of good times at past fairs.
Some of her favorite memories are camping at the fair with her children, and the four-hour trip traveling from their home in Jolo to Lewisburg.
“My husband Philip always saved his vacation so we could go to the fair. And we’d always tell family not to come visit then because we wanted to go to the fair, but a couple of times they came anyway and that really upset me. The fair still means a lot to us, because now that’s where our adult children take their kids,” she said.
“Back when my daughter was just little, we would go around to look at the cases and when I saw the decorated cakes I knew it would mean the world to me to bake for the fair,” she said.
WeHeart West Virginia is a proud partner of the State Fair of West Virginia