PROVINCETOWN — Barb Fortier and her partner, Karen Edlund, bought a chicken pot pie for $725 a couple of weeks ago.
The pie wasn’t made with a rare breed of chicken. It was a simple homage to the nostalgic classic — at least that’s what Claire Adams said. And she knows from classics: Adams and her husband, Ellery Althaus, who own Bagel Hound, are the people who brought real bagels to the Outer Cape.
Adams claimed she spent years perfecting her pie crust recipe. She took home first prize on Nov. 5 at the Commons Pie Fest, the second-ever pie baking contest and auction benefiting the Provincetown Commons. Post-victory, she hoisted her ribbon high and said, “I love it for the Commons, and I love it for me.”
Sean Gardner placed second for the second year in a row. His tomato-pimento pie was a new version of a summer pie he typically makes with green tomatoes and cheddar. The new take earned rave reviews at a dinner party with friends.
The Cape Cod forager’s pie, created by Mark Boucher, placed third. Boucher picked the beach plums, cranberries, and silver berries for the filling for his first attempt at pie baking.
Before the winners were announced, people milled about the lawn, sipping wine and emanating a leisurely off-season vibe. They also dipped in and out of the Commons to sample the twin versions of the pies baked for judging, which sold out within 15 minutes for $5 per slice.
The crowd was stilled — some no doubt worried they were in the wrong place — when Saltine mounted the steps and announced, “Welcome to the gluten- and dairy-free convention of 2023!”
The four celebrity judges — Bob Keary, Kelly Fields, Naya Bricher, and Lesley Marchessault — took their seats, and the contest commenced in earnest.
Saltine recounted how the Commons’ initiative to support its studio members with financial need had helped her find affordable studio space in the winter of 2019, shortly after she arrived in Provincetown. The proceeds from the pie auction would help keep the Commons accessible in this way, she said.
Besides, she said, pies are “communal, giggly, serious, silly, crusty goodness.”
Comedian Kristen Becker waxed poetic about the virtues of various ingredients from apple to sweet potato to chocolate. More than the pies themselves, she sold the idea that dropping several hundred dollars on a homemade pie was a good one in the name of supporting art. And it worked.
“The tragedy of the commons” is a theory in economics that people acting in their own self-interest will inevitably deplete our resources. The success of the Commons pie contest counters that, slice by slice. Besides Fortier and Edlund’s bid, at least 10 other auction participants bought the other pies for an average of $220 each.
For even more common good, here are the winning pie recipes.
1ST PLACE: CLAIRE ADAMS’S XL CHICKEN POT PIE
Makes a 12-inch pie
For the crust:
3¾ cups flour
12 oz. (3 sticks) butter, chilled
1 tsp. salt
¾ cup ice water
- Whisk salt and flour together in a large bowl. Cut the butter into a quarter-inch dice, drop it into the flour and salt, and break it up into crumbly shards in the flour.
- Dump the mixture out onto a clean countertop and make an oval well in the center. Add the ice water, a quarter cup at a time, and mix gently with your hands or using a bench scraper until the flour is hydrated enough to come together as a dough without falling apart into a pile of crumbs.
- Divide dough into two disks, wrap each tightly with plastic, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes before pie assembly.
For the filling:
8 chicken thighs
3 large carrots, peeled
1 lb. potatoes
1 fennel bulb
1 large yellow onion
3 ribs celery
3-4 cloves garlic
5 Tbsp. butter
½ cup flour
3 cups chicken stock
½ cup cream
A few Tbsp. olive oil
1-2 tsp. chopped thyme plus a few sprigs
Salt and pepper
Juice of ½ lemon
- Season the chicken with salt and pepper and roast, covered, at 300° F for 2 hours. Let cool then remove skin and shred. (If you are making your own stock, put the bones and the cooking juices in a large pot with a whole peeled carrot, a whole celery rib, one halved onion, a few garlic cloves, a few peppercorns, a bay leaf, a few cups of water and simmer those bad boys for 3 hours.)
- Dice the carrots, potatoes, fennel, and onion; toss with some sloshes of olive oil, salt and pepper, and a few sprigs of thyme; then arrange in one layer on a sheet pan and roast about 30 minutes at 425° F until tender and starting to caramelize.
- Dice the celery and sauté it in a tablespoon of butter in a large pot over medium high heat for 5 minutes. Mince the garlic, add it to the pot, and sauté 2 more minutes. Add the rest of the butter and, when melted, sprinkle in the flour and whisk constantly for about 2 minutes until it is a little golden and smells slightly toasty. Add stock one cup at a time, whisking the mixture into a smooth gravy and allowing it to thicken.
- Carefully add the cooked chicken, veggies, and chopped thyme to the gravy and stir to combine. It is really going to need some salt: about 2 to 3 teaspoons — it’s a matter of taste. Likewise, add at least one teaspoon of pepper, maybe more. Finally, off the heat, add the heavy cream and juice of half a lemon. Let filling chill completely before pie assembly.
Assemble the pie:
- Roll out one disk of dough on a clean floured surface to about a quarter inch thick. Gently place into a 10-to-12-inch cast-iron pan or pie plate, leaving about a half inch extra over the side.
- Add the chilled filling and smooth out. Chill the whole thing in the fridge while you roll out the other dough disk.
- If you are doing a lattice, try to roll out a rectangle and cut thick strips with a pizza cutter (award-winning pies must look gorgeous!). Or just roll out a round to be placed on top of the pie. Either way, run a wet finger over the edge of the bottom dough and gently press the top dough or dough strips down onto the edge of the bottom dough to seal it. Trim any excess. If pie is fully sealed, poke with a sharp knife to make a few small vents or make sure the lattice has some space between the strips for steam to escape.
- If you can, chill that whole pie another 30 minutes in the fridge. Whisk one egg and brush it over the entire top of the pie.
- Bake at 425° F for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Let pie rest for at least 30 minutes and enjoy with friends.
2ND PLACE: SEAN GARDNER’S TOMATO-PIMENTO PIE
Makes a 9-inch pie
One pie crust (homemade or not)
Cheddar cheese (most of one of those small grocery store blocks)
2 or 3 tomatoes
1 yellow onion
Pimentos or roasted red peppers (a small jar)
Mayo, a little more than you think, but use a good one (I use Duke’s)
1 sleeve Ritz crackers
Tabasco (or another hot sauce)
A pinch cayenne
A pinch onion powder
A pinch garlic powder
A pinch Tony Chachere’s Creole seasoning
2 eggs (one for the cheese mixture, one for an egg wash for the crust)
2 Tbsp. or so unsalted butter (room temp it)
- I make my pie crust from scratch, and that’s a bit of a secret. So, you know, roll out whatever your pie dough is (I don’t care if you use store bought and most people won’t notice anyway, do you, baby?) and pop into your pie dish. Crimp the edges and chill that sucker down for a bit while you work on your filling.
2. Make your pimento cheese. Shred cheddar, mix with mayo, diced pimentos, or roasted red peppers, a splash of Tabasco, a pinch of cayenne. Then when it resembles pimento cheese, double that mayo and get it real sloppy. Add an egg and mix it all up.
3. Sauté a yellow onion in some butter and add a few pinches of kosher salt.
4. Slice your tomatoes. Make those puppies a bit thick and once they’re sliced up and ready, lay them out and season each slice with some kosher salt and fresh pepper.
5. Get that crust out of the icebox, poke a few fork-holes in the bottom, and let’s assemble! First, lay those tomatoes down. Then top those babes with the sauteed onion. After they’re covered, you’re gonna want to smother that whole beauty in the pimento cheese mixture. Fill to the top, but not too high: you still gotta dress this beauty up with your Ritz topping. Brush that egg wash on the crust so it won’t look dull.
- Bake the pie, without the Ritz topping, for about 20 minutes. The cheese mixture will start to brown up, so pull it on outta there and give it the final classy adornment that only smushed-up Ritz crackers can bring.
- About that topping. Take a sleeve of Ritz crackers and smush them up to bits with about a tablespoon or two of room temp unsalted butter. Sprinkle a bit of onion powder, some garlic powder, maybe some Tony Chachere’s in there, do you, baby? Make it taste good and not too salty.
- Hit that browned cheesy top with the Ritz crumble and throw that pie back in the oven until it’s ready for the show, about 35-ish more minutes. You can check it — it’s not a cake or a loaf of bread; calm down. When it looks done (and when the bottom seems to not be pale and gross (why I use a glass dish), take it on outta there, sweetie, and let it cool.
3RD PLACE: MARK BOUCHER’S CAPE COD FORAGER’S PIE
Makes a 9-inch pie
For the crust:
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
2/3 cup vegetable shortening, chilled
½ cup ice water
- Add the flour and salt to a food processor and pulse a few times to combine. Add chilled butter and pulse mixture until its texture resembles small peas. With the food processor running, add ½ cup ice water and blend until the dough just comes together, taking care not to process too long.
- Form dough into 2 one-inch-thick disks, wrap each tightly in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
For the filling:
7 cups foraged berries: pitted beach plums, cranberries, and silver berries (the fruit of the autumn olive)
1 cup granulated sugar (plus a little extra to sprinkle on top of the pie)
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
5 Tbsp. cornstarch
2 Tbsp. butter
¼ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 large egg, beaten
- Place berries, sugar, and lemon juice in a saucepan and simmer over medium heat until juicy, about 10 minutes. Spoon out about one cup of the juices into a bowl and whisk in cornstarch until smooth. Add cornstarch mixture back to berries and simmer until thickened, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in butter and grated nutmeg; cool.
- Roll out one disk of the chilled dough into a 12-inch circle on a lightly floured counter or parchment paper and transfer to a 9-inch pie plate. Add prepared berry mixture. Roll out the second disk of dough and cut into several one-inch strips, weave strips over berries in a lattice pattern, and pinch and trim edges. Brush top with a thin layer of beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 400° F for 45 to 50 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for several hours before serving.