If you like your spring weekends hot, flaky and creative, the revival of the Charlottesville Pie Festival will be serving up fun over at the Stage at WTJU.
Marijean Oldham coordinated the festival from 2010 to 2016 with Brian Geiger after Oldham challenged Geiger to the Pie Down, a culinary throwdown to determine whose pies were better. The good-natured competition soon inspired a festival.
Saturday’s festival, the first since 2016, will bring sweet and savory pies together in the name of having fun and raising some funds for WTJU 91.1. FM.
While fresh fruits are at their best this time of year, “a lot of fruit pies are popular,” including strawberry rhubarb and blueberry, Oldham said. “I’ve been consistently impressed by the baking talent I’ve seen over the years.”
If you’d still like to enter the competition, you’ll need to register by Thursday. Be prepared to bring two pies to WTJU 91.1 FM on Saturday morning; one will be used for judging, and the other will be auctioned off to benefit WTJU.
If you’re rifling through your recipes in a hurry to sign up in time, keep in mind that this event cannot accept entries that need refrigeration, such as cream, chiffon, ice cream and frozen pies. On the bright side, you don’t need to alienate your relatives by revealing a closely guarded secret family recipe. It’s fine to submit a pie based on a recipe from a cookbook or a favorite restaurant or bakery. This competition isn’t for recipe development, but for luscious execution.
The judges will include Jamelle Bouie of the New York Times, chef Antwon Brinson of Culinary Concepts, Rachel De Jong of Cou Cou Rachou, Richard DiCiccio of C-Ville Weekly, Patrick Evans of MarieBette Café and Bakery, Gerry Newman of Albemarle Baking Co., Rachel Pennington of the now-closed Pie Chest and Gretchen Stenger of CBS19.
They’ll be judging each entry for presentation, crust quality and successful execution of a traditional or original pie.
“The crust is critical,” Oldham said. “Not a lot of people know how to do that well.” And if it’s what’s inside that counts, what will judges be looking for?
“A filling that surprises us and has complex flavors to it,” she said.
Need some inspiration? Among past winners are Adrianna Gallo’s Pear-Cranberry Pie with Gingersnap Crumb Topping from 2010; Angie’s Cherrie Almond Pie by Angela Zarling in 2011; a goat cheese, pear and rosemary hand pie made by the Mudhouse Coffee staff in 2012; Justin Vesser’s savory Fig & Pig from 2014; and Sweet Potato Speculoos Pie by Jenée Libby in 2016.
The Fig & Pig entry won over the judges with its complementary fruit and pork components and duck fat-infused crust, Oldham said.
“I still think about that pie and its good balance of flavors,” she said.
The festival founder’s advice to entrants is to focus on skillful execution. “Make lots of practice pies and send them around to your neighbors,” Oldham said. “They’ll love you.”
Nathan Moore, WTJU’s general manager, said that recipes such as bubble tea pie reflect the different approaches home bakers are taking.
“Charlottesville has a lot of people who are creative, and that extends to good food and baking,” Moore said. “We were going to bring [the festival] back in 2020, and for obvious reasons, we had to wait.”
He said festival visitors can expect plenty of variety.
“There are definitely a lot of fruit pies,” Moore said “I was kind of surprised by the number of savory pies.”
Moore said that Cassidy Snider & The Wranglers will be arriving from Richmond to play a mix of blues, roots and soul starting at 3 p.m., “so let’s get together for great music and pie.” He added that part of WTJU’s mission is to “make connections between people who call this place home.”
Admission to the event is free. If you’d like to try the pies, you’ll pay $5 for three samples. For rules and details, head to CvillePieFest.com.