Blackberry Lemon Chess Pie w/ Honey Jumbleberry Sauce. How I won the SF Food Wars – Pie or Die Competition!

by Irvin on July 28, 2010 · 32 comments

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Lemon Blackberry Chess Pie by Irvin Lin of Eat the Love.

Oh man. I’m on a HIGH! And no, it’s not a sugar high – though that would totally be a good guess. It’s more because for the past two or three weeks I’ve been stressed and freaked out about entering the SF Food Wars Pie or Die competition. They put out a call for entries about a month ago, and as I had mentioned in the past, I’m pretty bad at trying to “figure out” what I’m going to bake in advance. But I rallied, pulled out my new favorite not a cookbook cookbook The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dorenburg, cross referenced a few ingredients and came up with this description of my entry: Check(mate) Please! Blackberry Lemon Chess PieBackyard home-grown lemons and local blackberries update this Southern classic chess pie with a California twist. Almond scented crust adds a contemporary touch, while a drizzle of berry sauce made with a touch of San Francisco honey adds homey complexity. And they accepted it to compete! Of course, I didn’t have all the logistics figured out on how I was going to pull it off, but I figured it out as I went along, AND on top of that I won – oh did I win! But more on that later…

Let’s back up. The SF Food Wars is an awesome competition that is held once a month (or every other month) for the past year. There have been seven of them so far, and the next one is in September, with salsa as the theme! It’s relatively new and all the proceeds go to the San Francisco Food Bank. It’s free to compete, but (apparently) it’s hard to get chosen. 20 people are chosen to compete and it’s a combination of how unique your entry is, how fast you reply to the call for entries and the vague “enthusiasm factor” for your dish description. According to one of the organizers, apparently they had 50 entries for the 20 slots. Whew! I had no idea it was going to be that competitive to just get picked! Thank goodness I used a lot of exclamation points when I write emails.

So this month’s theme was Pie or Die hosted at the Stable Café in the Mission and organized by the amazing Jeannie Choe. The competition isn’t a bake off (you don’t actually make the pie there in front of people like Top Chef or Iron Chef). Instead you have to prepare pie for about 200+ people to be served up. There are professional judges for the contest, as well as an audience choice award and an award for the photographer’s pick. So basically you have to please the general masses, the food professionals and make sure your presentation is great as well.

Lemon Blackberry Chess Pie by Irvin Lin of Eat the Love.

I sent out a mass email to friends and they all rallied to try to buy tickets the minute they went on sale. BUT the tickets sold out in 30 seconds flat! THIRTY SECONDS! Insane. My friends are awesome though. A few of them were able to get through and bought tickets – even buying extra tickets knowing that not everyone would get through. I even got an amazing surprise, my friend Miranda, living in Palo Alto who I hadn’t seen since 7th grade and who had recently tracked me down via Facebook totally showed up as well! Unbelievable! All in all, I knew I had a few friends going there who claimed that they would be voting for me, so I wouldn’t be all alone by myself at the bottom of the heap.

That said, I had GRANDIOSE plans to go all out and decorate my space with amazing props (giant Chess pieces! Giant Chess boards! Big signs with chess motif artwork on them!) but that didn’t happen. I sent AJ to go pick up a few things and got a big sign printed but that’s about it. However people seemed impressed with the display, to the point that some competitors asked me if I was a professional or had done this before. Nope. But I want to be! Someone hire me please!

This time ’round I decided to make a few pies in anticipation of the contest – to test them out. I brought them to my friend Anjana’s house the week before for a party they were having and overall the people there seemed to like the pies. But the truth is, you almost never get a REAL honest opinion from your friends. I mean, sure they rave about your baked goods, but they are your friends for a reason! Luckily, my friend Stella is never shy about telling me the truth about my baked goods. “The crust isn’t done. The lemon part needs to be more tart.” Good to know. Good. To. Know.

I adjusted the recipe from the feedback and baked the pies on the day before the contest. I picked a recipe loosely based on my award winning pie from the Urban Eats contest (no, not the blue ribbon one that I blogged about, but the other one that actually won first place in the contest, that I strangely didn’t blog about. Maybe one of these days I will). I tweaked it a bit and went with a blackberry curd instead of a rhubarb strawberry curd. Basically I wanted to make a pie that was custard based and didn’t require double crust. That way I didn’t have to make twice the pie dough, and I didn’t have fuss with weaving a double crust top. As much as I love to weave a top, doing it for 20 pies didn’t sound very fun.

That said, I totally made it more complicated  by deciding to put a decorative checkerboard pattern on top of the pie itself with blackberry curd. How did I do that you ask? Well I built a grid out of balsa wood placed the grid on the pie gently and then individually filled every other square and lifted the grid straight up from the pie so I could make even squares on top of the curd. Yes I am that insanely crazy. Talk about tedious. I probably would have been better off making a double crust pie. But oh well.

And what’s was that I was saying about 20 pies? YES, I decided to bake 20 pies. I wanted to make sure that EVERYONE had a chance to taste the pies at the competition. The organizers said the minimum amount you should make for the contest is 70 servings, but the more servings you make, the more people will taste your pie and potentially vote for you. I didn’t want to miss out on any potential vote. I figure 12 serving per pie=240 servings. More than enough. I hoped.

The problem, of course, was after I baked 20 pies I had to figure out how to transport them to the competition! Luckily a Facebook friend totally suggested UPS boxes. GENIUS! I was able to doctor up a few to fit two per box. I love thinking outside the box (or within the box, as it happened to be). Yeah, that’s me about half an hour before we were suppose to show up frantically trying to assemble and doctor boxes.

Turns out I was fine with the number of pies I brought (I was kinda concerned I hadn’t made enough, which is always the case for me – fear that I will run out). People commented on both how generous I was with my servings (I guess 1/12 of a pie is pretty large considering they recommend one or two bites because there are 20 different pies to taste at the competition). They also commented on the fact that I was actually serving a traditional round pie wedge. There were many competitors serving up non-traditional pies shaped pies. Some individual pies, some cut from small mini pie tins, one baked in a giant sheet pan, one empanada style (or em-pie-nada style I guess) and a couple that my loyal friends indignantly proclaimed to clearly be a tart NOT a pie. I love my friends! They are the best!

When I showed up, I was at first a little upset that my table was all the way in the back of the competitors quarters, away from everyone else. But in the end it turned out to be the best place! Not only was it more mellow back there, but everyone at the table was SUPER awesome. We definitely had the best table, both in terms of decoration and in terms of tastiest pies. Though I might be biased because I really didn’t have a chance to sample anyone else’s pies at the contest, I was so busy serving up my own. But whatever. I was next to the Ooh La La Ladies with their awesome Ooh La La Olallieberry Pie. I ADORE olallieberries and totally grilled them on where they were able to find them in late July as Olallieberry season was over (it’s a fleeting three or four weeks long). They had apparently gone and picked the Olallieberries themselves down in Watsonville and froze them. Total planning. I’m so not a planner (did I mention that?). I told them I went down to the Farmer’s Market the day before and totally hand picked the baskets of berries directly from the farmer. They seemed less impressed by my effort but still smiled sweetly.

When they opened up the gate for the attendants it became a bit of a mad dash for everyone to grab some pie. I didn’t really have a chance to talk to anyone or visit any other booth, I was too busy serving up the pie and drizzling some honey berry sauce on top (fancy!). But as the contest progressed, I started to hear a little bit of buzz from friends and from the attendants. A few random attendants were pointing in my directions, sending their friends my way, and others were outright coming up to me and telling me that they voted for me and they thought mine was the best.

A photographer (I think it was the organizer’s photographer, I’m not sure) specifically came up to me and said that he was struggling between choosing my booth and another booth as the best booth in the competition. I tried to persuade him of the merits of my booth by showing how my chess motif was completely consistent. Checkerboard tablecloth. Checkerboard pattern on the pie itself. I even had chess pieces that were purple and yellow like my pies – COMPLETELY ON PURPOSE! I looked ALL OVER for the exact right chess pieces!*

*Not really. They were all AJ could find at Target for cheap.

The photographer walked away with a smirk, and then later dragged a friend of his over and told him “You have to at least try this pie. I voted for it!” So whether or not I was going to pick me as the photographer’s choice, I know I had his vote!

My friend Felisa (who I had instructed to go and hype me up to the masses) reported back that she had casually turned to a complete stranger and asked him what his favorite pie was. Without hesitating, he said “Oh, number 10. The Blackberry Lemon Chess Pie with the berry sauce.” Score! Strangers love me too!

And then they announced the winners. The judges had an impressive resume, ranging from to people who made pies for a living like Natalie Galatzer from Bike Basket Pies to Krystin Rubin of Mission Pie to food writer for SF Weekly’s SFoodie section Tamara Palmer (who wrote a lovely blurb about the contest and name checked me! Holla!) and Rachel Cole of Hodo Soy Beanery and formerly of 18 Reasons. Oh man, talk about a bunch of serious food people! I was nervous.

Turns out AJ wasn’t though. He was totally cocky for me. He claimed that he heard enough random strangers talking about my pie that he was pretty sure that I was going to win. And it turns out he was right.

The judges’ third place winner was Team #18. Pie Love Baking with their Summer Love Peach PieSweet, organic summer peaches in a rosemary, all-butter crust served with creme fraiche goodness. Oh man. I wish I had a taste of it. I LOVE LOVE LOVE peaches. And a rosemary crust sounds like such a great and unusual use of a flavoring in a crust (I would never have though to use rosemary in a sweet pie! So creative!). Sadness that I didn’t have a taste! Their pie looked totally delicious and perfect though with an amazing double crust with flecks of rosemary. You can actually read an account of their pie making experience (which sounds way more organized than mine!) on their blog. Reading it reminded me of EXACTLY why I went with a lemon/berry pie. WAY too lazy to peel peaches for 20 pies.

The judges’ second place winner was Team #1 Peace O’ Pie with their Sour Cherry Sweet Berry PieIndulge in the fruits of summer with this tart and sweet ruby red berry pie with a flaky, crispy crust. Team #1 actually showed up when AJ and I showed up to set up, so I totally saw her carrying in large sheet pans of pie and was lucky to actually taste a bit of the flakey goodness. Oh man, it was like puff pastry flakiness it was insane. SO GOOD. I wanted to ask her where she got her sour cherries, but I never had a chance to talk to her it was so crazy.

So that left the judges’ first place winner. Which, if you haven’t guessed, was my Check(mate) Please Blackberry Lemon Chess Pie! Whoo hoo! The description (as I stated WAY in the front of this post) was ridiculously long. Backyard home-grown lemons and local blackberries update this Southern classic chess pie with a California twist. Almond scented crust adds a contemporary touch, while a drizzle of berry sauce made with a touch of San Francisco honey adds homey complexity. I hesitated and labored over the description actually, trying to figure out if it was too long, too fancy, too pretentious. In the end, AJ said that as long as it was something that I actually would say, then it was OK to use. Apparently I talk in a long fancy pretentious way, because I could totally see myself explaining the pie in those terms. So I decided to leave it as is.

The most amazing thing happened when the organizer of the event Jeannie Choe announced my team number. Loud riotous thundering applause and general cheering was coming from all around me! My first thought was “Wow. My friends can be really loud…” and then I looked around and saw it wasn’t just them but EVERYONE in the audience applauding me. Genuinely applauding, not just politely clapping. They all seemed really really REALLY pleased that the judges had picked me!

AJ and I stumbled up to the front amidst people slapping us on the back and congratulating us and Jeannie put medals around our neck and a trophy in my hand and stuck a microphone in my face. Speech was yelled out by a few friends of mine (suddenly my friends weren’t looking as nice to me) and this is what I SHOULD have said, something witty, funny, slightly too long, slightly too fancy and a little bit pretentious:

“Thank you! Thank you! First and foremost, I want to thank the Academy… I mean the judges. [pause for awkward obligatory pity laughter at my lame tired joke] This means the world to me and totally helps validate all that I have wanted to do with my life. You guys totally are amazing and the fact that these professional judges voted on me is so flattering.

Please remember that even though I used four types of fat in my pie (leaf lard in the crust, butter in the crust and the filling, heavy cream in the filling and egg yolk in the filling) it has absolutely NO CALORIES and if you weigh more tomorrow, it because of the other pies you ate, not mine. Please everyone visit my blog where you can read the long epic journey of how I came to stand at this very spot, after suffering through trials and tribulations!

I want to dedicated this award to my mom for starting me on this path in elementary school when she forced me to go to summer school which included a cooking class! Mom you rock!”

But I didn’t. I didn’t give the Academy Award winning speech. Instead I mumbled. “Ummmm…thank you. I have a blog. Please go read it. I’ll write about this event. It’s eat the”

Yes. Very elegant of me. Somehow instead of pretentious, I ended up sounding like a self promoting jackass. *sigh* What are you going to do? I clearly do not think very well on my feet.

Next up was the Photographer’s Choice award and the winner was… NOT me! Oh well. You can’t win them all, but after the photographer had totally come up to me to confide in me that he was trying to decided between me and another booth AND he had voted for my pie AND he dragged his friend to taste my pie, I thought he was going to be swayed by my tasty wares and my pattern coordinated checkerboard pies and tablecloth. Damnit I had even scoured the globe to source the EXACT same colored chess pieces to match my pie**. Clearly he was not impressed.

**Again. Not really. Target, remember?

That said, the winner was Team #15, Gleeks with their awesomely named Rachel Berry Pie – Bite-sized almond custard pies loaded with mixed berries, topped with honey sweetened whipped cream and shaved almonds. The ridiculous thing is, I totally saw them prepping their station and the team was actually assembling the little pie cups with a dollop of custard, a couple of mixed berries and then whipped cream on top in a mad frantic manner. I was all “Now that’s ballsy! Making your pies an hour before the event!” But it worked for them, and the pies looked gorgeous. I couldn’t be too bitter for losing out to them, they deserved it.

The final awards were the People’s Choice awards. First up was the Honorable Mention award, and as we all crossed our fingers… Team #18 Pie Love Baking’s Summer Love Peach Pie was announced. Again! They had won the judges 3rd place so apparently the Judges were in sync with the audience… and my friends agreed they had a fantastic pie so the nodded their heads in approval.

But would the judges decisions and the audience decision line up with the top People’s Choice award? Turns out it did, because I won again! YES!!! I won both the Judges’s 1st Place award and the People’s Choice! Total alignment and SF FOOD WAR domination!!!! Double Rainbow! I was gobsmacked***!

***I’ve always wanted to use the word gobsmacked.

I was totally stunned and again the audience had to suffer through me stumbling through a ridiculous speech. The one that I SHOULD have said was something like:

“You like me. You really, really like me! [pause for awkward obligatory pity laughter at my lame tired joke] I want you all to know that when I walked in and saw the competition I was totally amazed at how awesome all the pies were and I didn’t think I had a chance at winning at all. I am totally gobsmacked and honored by this and you guys are the best!  Please lets give a round of applause for all the competitors here at the event, I think they are ALL winners! [pause of obligatory but heartfelt applause].

I want to thank my partner AJ who totally ran around to Target and the Farmer’s Market and a million errands for me, and totally supported me and put up with our mess kitchen and the insanity of my stress for the last couple of weeks. I love you AJ! And I want to thank all of you for voting for me! I love you all for loving my pie! And If you didn’t have a chance to taste my pie, please come back to my station and take a slice as I totally have some more pies back there.

Also if you are fellow competitor and have extra pie, please let put a piece aside for me because I only had a chance to taste one or two pies and the ones I did taste were amazing and I want to try every one of them! I dedicate this award to all of you fellow competitors because I know and understand how hard each and every one of us worked on this to compete! Thank you so much!!!!”

But that wasn’t what I said. What I said was something like “Ummm. I’m glad I won again, because there are cleaning supplies in the award, and I could really use them because our kitchen is a huge mess…”

Yes. That is what I said. I don’t know what I was thinking. I was COMPLETELY stunned I guess. *sigh*

How embarrassing. EMBARRASSING. So sad.

But what are you going to do? As we were cleaning up our station, the Stable Café, which is where the food wars was held, TOTALLY cleared out fast. Jeannie Chou asked me if I was floating on air right now. I think I was just plain stunned at the turn of events. I joked that I wish I had won the photographer’s award. But it was a joke Jeannie. Really. I’m not that greedy!

In the end I think it might have been my fancy drizzle of San Francisco honey infused berry sauce over the pie slice that pushed me over the edge to winning (I went back and forth on whether I could call it a berry compote which AJ said he thought sounded fancier and thus, better. I decided it was more sauce-like and not thick enough with chunks of fruit to be compote). Whenever you drizzle something on top, it just looks fancier and who isn’t persuaded by fancy? And to think, I actually thought to skip the sauce (I confess, I sort of winged it with the sauce about an hour before we left for the competition. Throw some berries in a pan, add a little orange zest, some honey and you have yourself a berry sauce).

The sauce almost didn’t happen as we had some technical difficulties with the berry sauce (you’d think I would have tried actually squeezing the sauce out of the bottle first to see if it worked but then, you’d also think I had things planned out in advance and you would be wrong. I had just made the sauce an hour before). Seeds from the berries seemed to be getting stuck in the neck of the bottle tip, but then a brilliant attendant suggested we cut the tip off (I believe he phrased it as “Give that bottle tip a bris!”) and that solved that problem (though the mental image of comparing it to a circumcision wasn’t the most appetizing, as the berry sauce was bright red). Thank goodness we had the forethought to bring scissors.

Either way it didn’t really dawn on me the fact that I won both the Judges’ 1st Place and the People’s Choice award until the next morning, when I woke up two hours before my alarm was set, and I sat up and thought to myself “OMG. I competed against 20 people in San Francisco – one of the biggest foodcentric cities in the US – and my pies won both top prizes.” It was then, I realized I really was floating on air. Those are examples of some of the awesome pies I had to compete against below.

The prizes I got were pretty amazing. The cash I received pretty much covered the cost of the ingredients, decorations and other various equipment I had to buy (20 pie tins? Condiment bottles?) so I ended up pretty much even in terms of money spent and money earned. But the other prizes were amazing. Chef and paring knives from Wustof. Professional cookware from Anolon (they’re the prettiest cookware I’ve ever owned…and in fact, I think they are the first cookware that I own that isn’t from Marshall’s or isn’t nonstick!). Books from Chronicle Books and UC Press, gift certificates to Omnivore Books and Humphrey Slocombe, cleaning supplies from Method, 10 lbs of pie dough from Mission Pie (what the heck am I going to do with 10 lbs? I dunno, but I’ll figure something out!), cookies from a previous SF Food War alumn Sweet Constructions, a case of Honest Tea along with a baseball cap and tshirt from them, and my favorite award, a 2 Day workshop at the SF Baking Institute! Whoo hoo! I’m too cheap to actually pay for a baking class, but I am ALL over that one! SO EXCITING!

I’m still riding pretty high on my winnings if you can’t tell. Going to work was hard that Monday (what no one is cheering me as I walk in? No one is handing me a trophy or hanging a medal around my neck? What’s wrong with this place?!?!). But I’m adjusting to normal civilian life. July, which was suppose to be a more calm month compared to June (but clearly was NOT) is almost over. Give me August. Maybe I’ll get some rest then. Maybe. Probably not.

You can see more pictures the making of the pie and of the SF Food Wars Pie or Die contest at AJ’s flickr album page. You can read view the SF Food War’s flickr album for even more photos.

Whilst baking 20 pies, I did not listen to any one album, but a mix of Kylie Minogue’s Aphrodite (when I was feeling especially eurogay), Scissor Sisters’ Night Work (when I was feeling especially 70’s disco gay) and The National’s High Violet (when I was feeling emo-gay). Apparently baking 20 pies makes me feel uber-gay.

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Miranda July 28, 2010 at 6:56 pm

>Irvin, I am so happy for you! It was absolutely great to see you again after all of these years. We must get together soon! Congratulations on your double win– you totally deserve it! You and your chess pie rocked!


Pat July 28, 2010 at 7:08 pm

>So happy to be able to see it all as it happened: most excellent! And huzzah — the UPS boxes worked!! (Feel like I had a little to do with it!)


Sara July 28, 2010 at 7:08 pm

>Yay! It's amazing how those trophies are the spitting image of you;)I want to see you in a tall chef hat next time!

Your pie sounds delicious and hearing about all the thought and work that went into it, you totally deserved to win. Twice! I'm super happy for you! You are a Suuuuup-er Gen-i-ous!


Susan July 28, 2010 at 8:31 pm

This is wonderful! I'm not actually a pie fan but I absolutely loved your pie and will be testing the recipe out! Thanks for the shout out to Team Gleeks (Rachel Berry Pie), we appreciate it. 🙂


Allison July 28, 2010 at 8:46 pm

Congrats!!! That is so exciting! SF Food Wars events are so fun and completely crazy if you are competitor. I can only hope they do another baking themed compeition soon so I can enter again. I don't really have any salsa making skills 🙂


phuong July 28, 2010 at 8:58 pm

Thanks for the shout out for Team Gleeks! As Susan said, your pie was fantastic and they had a great look to them too. Great to read that we weren't the only ones with logistical horrors that weekend. 🙂


Jun Belen July 28, 2010 at 9:47 pm

I love the balsa grid! GENIUS!! Congratulations!!


matt July 28, 2010 at 11:51 pm

YAY!!!! CONGRATS! You are both adorable and now I'm craving pie. Well earned and deserved.


Tara Barker July 29, 2010 at 2:30 am

Okay, so you go all humble and tell me how lazy and halfway you do things, and then you post THIS???? If only I could be half as lazy as you! 🙂

You absolutely deserved those wins! BIG congrats! I made so many mental comments to you as I read this, but now can't remember half of them. Except that it totally rocks that you built a balsa wood grid! Love it! (And again, lazy?? I think not.)

Gosh, I need to make some pie . . .


Felisa July 29, 2010 at 3:36 am

I might have been one of the people yelling "speech!" but please don't hold that against me. Or you can hold it against me as long as you keep making me your lemon Italian wedding cake. Swoon.


Mr. Jackhonky July 29, 2010 at 6:24 am

@Miranda. It was SO amazing to see you again! We MUST hang out and get together again! I totally want to catch up. I should have thought to ask you to hang out with us post-contest, but I was a little overwhelmed with everything….

@Pat. YES! You totally inspired me to use the UPS boxes! Thank you! Total lifesaver.

@Sara. Hmm. I don't think I look too much like the trophies. I am not shiny gold. Well, most of the time I'm not shiny gold. I do, on occasion, paint myself in gold leaf and walk to the tourist district and stand really still until someone put a coin in my metal tin, wherein I "wake up" and do a little jig.

@Susan & Phuong First off Susan, HOW could you NOT be a fan of pie and still compete? That's ABSURD! Secondly, of COURSE I would do a shout out to you guys! You're pie looked great (I'm actually bummed I didn't have a taste of it) and you guys get mad props for making it on the fly like that!

@Allison. I KNOW! I was so excited to compete (coupled with slightly hysterical)! I would love to compete again, but I'm afraid any competition I enter now would just be a disappointment (what? I only won the judge's first place and People's choice honorable mention? That's so disappointing!!!!). Better quit while I'm ahead.

@Jun Belen. Thanks! I felt utterly ridiculous making the balsa grid but it turned out pretty decent in the end. I loathed to throw it away, but it was looking pretty nasty after the 20 pies, so in the compost bin it went….

@matt. Thanks! You and your hubby are quite the adorable couple too. Come up and visit and I'll bake you two a pie!

@Tara. Heh. Well I ACTUALLY do think of myself as lazy, but I guess it's all relative. I mean I didn't sit there and peel 20 lbs of peaches or apples and I didn't weave double crust tops for 20 pies. So it's a relative laziness I guess.

And yeah. see the note above to Jun Belen about the balsa grid. I still feel a little ridiculous making it, but now I know what I'm doing if I ever do it again. Which I probably won't.

@Felisa. You! Yelling SPEECH and making me look ridiculous. I shake my fist at you!


Michael C. July 29, 2010 at 11:00 am

Congratulations, Irvin! What a meteoric rise to SF food domination! I hope you're still flying high. So why didn't you cook for me when I visited instead of going out to dinner?


Calenhíril July 29, 2010 at 4:41 pm

That pie looks AMAZING. Thanks for the recipe! I can't wait to try it out 🙂 Congrats on your win!


Karen July 29, 2010 at 7:09 pm

Oooh… I am so glad you explained how you made the chess grid pattern in your pies, 'cause I was wondering about that (but forgot to ask you in all the excitement of your double win). Congratulations again – it was SO exciting to hear your name announced TWICE! Before the judges' prize was announced, I had a very good anticipatory feeling that you were a lock for first place. YAY!!!


Pam August 1, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Congratulations on winning! Way to go! Thanks for the great recipe, it's a must try! I'm new here and really like your great blog!


Mr. Jackhonky August 1, 2010 at 7:00 pm

@Michael. Thanks! I never said I could cook, just bake! But come back out here this way and I'll make you a meal…complete with a pie or cake!

@Calenhíril Thank you! I hope you like it. The recipe makes it sounds like it's more complicated than it is. It's really a basic custard lemon pie with a twist.

@Karen. Ha! I still stand my original statement that the grid pattern is ridiculous, but I had it in my head that I needed to do it. I'm just pleased with the balsa wood idea! And double win. Ridiculous again! I'm actually still riding high on it!

@Pam. Thanks for stopping by! I hope come back! Let me know what you think of the pie if you make it!


Rita August 3, 2010 at 9:18 pm

Oh my Gosh. Even swamped as I was this past week, Damon told me I needed to come read this post first chance. He was cracking up (as we were brushing our teeth one night) telling me you built a grid out of balsa wood, and I started busting up, too. Then I said (b/c I'm fierce like this), "So did you comment? Did you tell him you loved that??" And he was like, "Buh? Ptooey!"

So this comment is from both me and D. We heart you. And the writing of this post is excellent, by the way. I got super giddy throughout. You made me feel just how it feels.


Erin November 15, 2010 at 8:15 pm

I love (in no particular order):
– The long pie description. Sometimes more is better. This is one of those times. This pie tells a complex story. I like complex stories.
– Gobsmacked.
– AJ's photos.
– The grid pattern. In what *world* is this at all ridiculous? It's inspired. The just-right capper to a tiptop pie.
– Your awkward acceptance. Go dorks!
– Your unbridled enthusiasm. TWENTY PIES, IRVIN?!? 🙂
– That you are going to make this and bring it to me.



Anonymous November 20, 2010 at 7:05 pm

Congrats on your win…the pie looks amazing and sounds amazing too. Thank you for sharing your info regarding the Flavor Bible and the leaf lard.
I have a question regarding the leaf lard…(this might sound like a stupid question) but is there such a thing as beef lard? As a family we don't eat pork so I was wondering if you could suggest an alternative for pork.
Thank you again…and thanks for sharing your recipe.


Mr. Jackhonky November 21, 2010 at 1:01 am

@Rita. Thank you! Trust me I felt super giddy throughout the entire event, and weeks afterwards!

@Erin. I'll happily make this for you! Just invite us over for BRUNCH sometime and I'll bake it for you guys! Though, I'll probably have to find some frozen blackberries, or you'll have to wait until they come back into season next summer.

@Anonymous. Thank you! If you have a chance, definitely go and get the Flavor Bible. It's TOTALLY invaluable for me when I'm developing recipes!

As for beef lard. The closest thing I know of is beef suet, which is traditionally used for making English steamed pudding (I did a variant of an English steamed pudding in my April Baker's Dozen challenge, but I didn't use suet as I could source it in the right time frame).

I've actually never used beef suet in baking for a pie crust, and it might actually taste a little too meaty for a sweet pie (though it would probably be great for a savory pie), but it might work. However if your family doesn't eat pork, I would probably suggest using a transfat free shortening in it's place.


Diane {Created by Diane} November 21, 2010 at 8:37 pm

Great looking pies!
Nice to see in on PW's website, my pie is on there too 🙂 Have a great week!


Megan Gordon November 23, 2010 at 2:05 am

Another epic post…I'm a big fan of chess pies, and yours look fabulous. Wish I could've made it to the event!


judy May 26, 2011 at 11:56 am

How many pies did you bring to the contest last year?


Irvin May 26, 2011 at 12:08 pm

I baked 20 pies. I did have some leftover though. I served 10 pieces per pie. If I were to compete again, I’d probably bake 16 pies and serve 12 pieces per pie. 10 pieces ended up being pretty large servings. That said, I believe Pie or Die 2 is going to be in a larger space, so they will probably have more people eating. You want to make sure everyone has taste of your pie to vote for it!


judy May 26, 2011 at 3:31 pm

Thank you so much Irvin
Yes its at the Ferry Building
So you brought all your pies there that morning in boxes and brought displays or stands for the pies?
Anything else you can provide regarding what I have to do (besides bake the pies)

from Judy


Irvin May 26, 2011 at 4:02 pm

Hi Judy. I brought pies in the morning, with display stands and other decorations for my station. Definitely make sure you have enough servings for all 300 people. Definitely decorate your area. And most importantly, definitely serve up a delicious pie.

And don’t forget to have fun!

You can check out my post on the Insider’s Guide to The SF Food Wars on more tips and hints on what to do if you are attending the event or competing it in.


LovEat January 22, 2013 at 4:41 pm

I really really love your blog and your pictures! 🙂


peggy May 6, 2013 at 3:50 pm

Hello. i am attempting in your pie and in the ingredients for the curd it says 3 eggyolks but in the directions it says add 6 yolks. which please? or did i misunderstand. thanks


Irvin May 6, 2013 at 6:49 pm

Whoops! Sorry Peggy. That was a typo. Three egg yolks not, six. I’ve gone ahead and change the recipe. My apologizes!


Thistle November 30, 2013 at 1:17 pm

My husband came home raving about a blueberry chess pie that his classmate’s wife made, & he asked our resident pie baker to make one for T’giving. She bowed out, said she couldn’t find a good recipe, so I started looking around, & came across your post. I’m going to make him one from your recipe next weekend & I’m already certain it’s going to blow the other pie out of the water. Thanks for sharing all the details & congratulations again on your victory!


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