In Fridley, competitors put their best pies forward in '49er Days contest

  • Article by: ANNA PRATT , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 1, 2014 - 1:41 PM

Competitors put their best pies forward for a contest at Fridley’scity festival.


A slice of Pamela Phelan first attempt at a carmel machiatto ice cream pie in her kitchen in Fridley Wednesday night. She thought she'd maybe add some more pecans. ] JEFF WHEELER • Fridley 49er Days will feature a pie-baking contest for the second year. At the urging of a neighbor, Pamela Phelan decided to enter, even though she's never baked a pie before. She settled on an ice cream pie. She made a test pie this week and Wednesday night, June 25, 2014 she made another attempt at refining the graham cracker crust.

Photo: Photos by JEFF WHEELER •,

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Pamela Phelan isn’t a big pie-eater; nor had she ever made a pie from scratch. But that didn’t keep her from entering the pie-baking contest that was part of Fridley ’49er Days over the weekend.

Phelan’s husband, Ross, on the other hand, is hooked on strawberry-rhubarb pies from Bob’s Produce Ranch. “There’s always a half-eaten pie in the refrigerator,” Pamela said.

As the Fridley couple brainstormed pie possibilities, Ross decided to sign up himself, though not in the same category as Pamela. That was “strictly forbidden,” he said.

It made for an interesting time in the kitchen, as they tested their creations in separate shifts and “tried to stay out of each other’s way,” Ross said.

The festival’s second annual pie-baking contest took place Saturday at Medtronic’s Rice Creek Campus. At stake was a grand prize of $1,000, along with $100 awards for top scorers in each of three categories — “original/creative,” “cream” and “fruit.”

“Original/creative” was Pamela Phelan’s target. To come up with her concept, “I went to the Internet, like I do for everything,” she said. She gravitated to pies involving ice cream, chocolate, coffee and dulce de leche, a type of caramelized milk, and set out to combine them.

She found that “the logistics of keeping the ice cream solid is the hardest part.” The trick was to get it to melt enough so that it was malleable, but not so much that it wouldn’t hold its shape, she said.

Her final product was a caramel macchiato ice cream creation, flavored with an instant coffee blend from Tanzania. Phelan dubbed it “A Mid-Summer Daydream.”

“I was driving into work and thought, ‘Who doesn’t want ice cream in the middle of the day during the summer,’ ” and then the Shakespeare reference came to her.

As for Ross, he settled on a cream pie that borrows ingredients from his favorite childhood dessert — which in his house was called, “Just Plain Yummy.” It’s sort of like a smoothie or a shake, with vanilla ice cream, banana, milk, amaretto and chocolate blended together. His dad used to serve it in a tiny port glass.

To re-create it in pie form, Ross tried to find similar recipes, but his search was fruitless, so he improvised.

Looking for originality

Event chair Mandy Meisner said the contest reinforces the small-town feel of Fridley. “When I think of county fairs, church functions and other similar events, nothing says all-American wholesome more than pie,” and the prize money is a big draw, she said.

Last year, the contest was open to anyone across the state, but it was too overwhelming, with 55 entries. This year, Meisner narrowed the pool to people who live or work in Blaine, Columbia Heights, Coon Rapids, Fridley and Spring Lake Park. She also created the categories and capped participation at 15 for each.

Fridley City Councilwoman Ann Bolkcom, state Sen. Barb Goodwin and Anoka County Attorney Tony Palumbo served as community judges, while several Bakers Square representatives led the process. Bakers Square has a scoring system for pie-baking contests. Presentation, originality and taste are some of the criteria. Meisner said. She noted that one judge dieted for several days to prepare for the contest.

Blaine resident Holly Larkin, a judge from Bakers Square, said originality gets weighted the most. “We look for something creative, that’s out-of-the-box — something you don’t see frequently,” she said. “It’s about putting your own special unique twist on it.”

Last year the winner was Tammy Kane-Nyene from St. Paul with a tiramisu pie, something that Larkin had never seen anyone do. “It was a great idea. It stood out,” she said.

Taste buddies

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  • Easy as pie:  Fridley 49er Days will feature a pie-baking contest for the second year. Pamela Phelan, above, decided to enter, even though she’s never baked a pie before.

  • Ingredients for Pamela Phelan’s caramel macchiato ice cream pie, which she’s calling the “Mid-Summer Daydream.”

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