GRAND FORKS – Because of her husband’s longtime interest and skill in growing all types of fruit, Dawn Pearson has become adept at using this abundance in baking pies.
For many years, the Grand Forks couple lived in Mylo (pop. 12), near Rolla, North Dakota, where they spent much of their careers. Pearson’s husband, Kent, an electrical engineer, grew various fruits, mostly apples, but also kiwi, apricots, grapes, pears and “a lot of berries, such as juneberries, red and black currants, chokecherries, raspberries, cherries and a type of berry grown in Siberia called ‘seaberries,’ ” she said.
“He’s a ‘back-to-Earth’ type.”
At their home in north-central North Dakota, “I did a fair amount of entertaining, and pie seemed like the perfect ‘company’ dessert.”
Pearson, who grew up in Grafton, North Dakota, taught Spanish at Rolla High School for nearly 30 years. After retiring, she and her husband moved to Grand Forks four years ago.
Pearson is eager to put her baking skills to the test. She is one of 15 bakers who will be competing in the second-annual Home of Economy-Grand Forks Herald Pie Bake-Off. She is sponsored by the Blue Moose, of East Grand Forks.
The first round of competition begins Aug. 28.
Last year’s winner was Caitlin Olson, of East Grand Forks, with Jill Hanson, of Newfolden, Minnesota, finishing second.
In the tournament-style bake-off, four judges will score the pies in categories – including crust, filing and presentation – to find the best bakers in the region. Most of the judges have professional culinary experience. The winner will choose between a $1,400 pie safe from Home of Economy or a $500 Home of Economy gift card, as well as $500 cash from the Herald, on behalf of the winner’s business sponsor.
For Pearson, this event represents a second chance to try her hand at competitive baking. She thought about entering the contest last year, she said, but “I kind of chickened out.”
But it would seem that her experience more than qualifies her for competition.
While living in Mylo, “the first pie of the summer was rhubarb – the custard type, like my grandma made,” Pearson said. “Our juneberries were ready next, followed by raspberries and then gooseberries for my husband’s July birthday pie.
“If the summer’s weather was right and we had put the netting on, I could make a cherry pie and freeze some cherries for winter. Some of the apple varieties were ripening by then – and what pie-maker doesn’t rely on an apple pie?
“Fall would find me making pumpkin and squash pies,” she said. “The juneberries and apple slices were safely in the freezer for winter pies.”
Looking back even further, Pearson recalled starting to bake pies in her freshman year at Grafton High School. It was probably experience in a home economics class that first sparked her interest, “although we did have a mishap with our lemon meringue pie,” she remembered. “The pie was cooling by a window, but no one noticed the coal pile nearby. Coal dust wasn’t the garnish we were looking for.”
Pearson doesn’t remember her mother making pies, she said. So to increase her knowledge of baking, “I relied on cookbooks, like the Betty Crocker Cookbook. And I like to look at videos.”
“I like to make apple pie, mostly.”
Along with a host of other pies, she also makes juneberry pie by modifying a blueberry pie recipe, she said. “I also bake bread regularly and, once in a while, a pan of brownies.”
About two years ago, after moving to Grand Forks, her husband started “another mini-orchard with apple and plum trees and grape vines,” she said. “I hope to have home-grown fruit again for pies.”
The only pie she doesn’t prefer to make is lemon meringue, because “I don’t like meringue,” she said. “If I do make it, I put whipped cream on it.”