Norma Carroll of Athens, Tenn., was 81 when she entered her first baking contest last month. The Bowater retiree won first place and took home $100 in cash for her Hundred Dollar Cake recipe.
The success of that venture prompted her to enter a new pumpkin pie recipe contest being held as part of the Pumpkintown festival in Athens, Tenn., on Oct. 8.
The rookie faced stiff competition from Ruth Holt of Athens, a bake-off veteran who has entered contests for six years. Holt said her winnings have included "about $2,500 in cash prizes, two savings bonds and several grocery gift cards."
But again Carroll came away with the blue ribbon -- two-for-two in entries in two consecutive months.
"I like to cook, but I wouldn't consider myself a real good cook. This is something new; I'm still pinching myself," she said of her win.
Carroll said she looked through her own collection of recipes and read others before coming up with her recipe. Then she made a test pie for her family to sample, deciding to enter after they gave it a thumbs-up.
"I always like to try new things. I have a bad habit of trying new recipes when I'm having company over," she said, laughing.
Holt said she sampled Carroll's pie and liked it. "I think it was the cream cheese that made the difference," Holt said of the winning entry.
Holt came in second with a pie that featured eggnog as its secret ingredient.
"I chose it because of the eggnog. I actually made homemade eggnog because you can't buy it this time of year," Holt said.
Holt recalled with a laugh that she wasn't always invincible in the kitchen. She said she didn't start cooking until her late 20s.
"When I got married, I didn't know how to cook anything. The first time I made biscuits, you could have put a hole in the wall with them. I cried because my husband wouldn't eat them," she said.
"Then I got in my head that I wanted to learn. I started experimenting, and now my friends tell me I'm an awesome cook. I entertain a lot," she said.
Meredith Willson, Pumpkintown chairwoman, said just over 100 recipes were submitted for this first pie contest. Judges from Tennessee Wesleyan College's food-services department narrowed those to five finalists. Those five women made their pies and brought them to Pumpkintown for judging.
If you're entertaining your family for one of the holidays' big meals, consider serving one of these prize-winning recipes shared by Carroll and Holt.
Pumpkin Pie With Pecan Crunch Topping
Cream cheese layer:
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 (9-inch) pie crust, unbaked
1 1/4 cup pumpkin, canned or cooked
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ginger
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup evaporated milk
Pecan Crunch Topping:
3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans
3/4 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter or oleo
For cream cheese layer: Combine softened cream cheese, 1/4 cup sugar and vanilla. Beat until fluffy; then add the egg and beat again. Pour into unbaked 9-inch pastry shell.
For pumpkin layer: Combine pumpkin, 1/2 cup sugar, ginger, salt, the 2 slightly beaten eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg and milk. Mix well. Carefully pour over the cream cheese mixture in the pie shell.
Bake at 350 degrees for 65-70 minutes, or until knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool until set.
For Pecan Crunch Topping: Combine pecans, brown sugar and butter. Mix well. Spread gently over pie. Be certain all custard is covered. Place under broiler, 5 inches below heat, for 2 minutes or until mixture begins to bubble. If overcooked, top will burn and become syrupy,
Cool. Serve plain or with whipped cream.
Note: For best results, let the pie bake 15 minutes, then cover the exposed crust with tin foil for the remainder of the baking time to prevent the crust from turning too brown and drying out.
-- Norma Carroll
Eggnog Pumpkin Pie
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons shortening
3 tablespoons cold cubed butter
3-4 tablespoons cold water
1 can solid packed pumpkin
1 cup eggnog
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup chopped pecans
For crust: In food processor, combine flour and salt, cover and pulse to blend. Add shortening and butter; cover and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
While processing, gradually add water until dough forms a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Roll out pastry to fit a 9-inch pan. Transfer pastry to pie plate. Trim pastry to 1/2 inch beyond pie plate; flute edges.
For filling: In a large bowl, whisk eggs, pumpkin, eggnog, sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger, nutmeg and cloves until blended. Pour into the crust.
For topping: In a small bowl, beat brown sugar and butter until crumbly, about 2 minutes. Stir in pecans. Sprinkle mixture over the filling.
Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes or until a knife comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Refrigerate leftovers if there are any.
Note: To keep moist, pie may be baked in a water bath.
-- Ruth Holt