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Making a state fair pie

By Staff | Aug 20, 2010

Marianne Carlson, of Jefferson, uses a pastry cloth to roll pie dough, and her rolling pin is silicone. She folds the cloth and stores it in a plastic bag in the freezer, which keeps it fresh and makes it cold for when she rolls pie dough.

JEFFERSON – A rule in the Iowa State Fair foods department may have been established because of Marianne Carlson, of Jefferson.

She said not, but she won the big cinnamon roll contest at the fair two out of three years – and the $3,000 prize that goes with it – and now a person who wins once can no longer compete.

“The money is nice, but I just like to compete to see if I still ‘have it,'” she said, grinning ever so slightly.

She must still have “it” because this year she’s already won the whole wheat bread division, though not one of the three overall prizes. Her bread contained lemon and orange zest.

“I’m driven to some day win the Spam contest,” she said. “I’ve had second and third.”

Pie dough should never be stretched, according to Marianne Carlson, of Jefferson. After gently pushing the dough into the pie dish, she cuts off excess dough, leaving an equal amount to turn under around the pie.

Second place two years ago was for spam eggrolls, and third place last year for a pot pie.

“The Ghirardelli chocolate championship was a fun one,” she said. “I entered a flourless cake I called Divine Chocolate Cake. It looked like a cheesecake, but it didn’t have any cheese in it. It was topped with a chocolate gnache – whipping cream and chocolate.”

That was 2006. She won.

“I’ve lost as much as I’ve won,” Carlson said. “We’ve all done that.”

Her “all” is inclusive – family and people she meets just once a year at the state fair when all are hoping against hope that this time they tweaked the recipe just enough to interest the judges.

When covering cut-up fruit with the sugar mixture, it is important to mix gently, said Marianne Carlson, of Jefferson, who will enter pies in this year’s Iowa State Fair.

Carlson’s love of competition falls in place after her love of family. A plaque on the kitchen wall says it all: “Grandma’s kitchen. Loved served here daily. Open 24 hours.”

And she’s well set to prepare a little food with that love – she has two ovens and two refrigerators in her kitchen and a rolling island where she fixes the food.

“My first year at the state fair was 2003,” she said. “I took cinnamon rolls and a raspberry cheesecake. My cheesecake took second place, and my cinnamon rolls hit the reject table the minute they were judged.”

Peach Pie


Marianne Carlson, of Jefferson, always dots her pies with butter before baking because, she said, it gives the pie a richer taste.

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup cold lard

4 to 5 tablespoons cold water


To make her pies look just a bit fancier, Marianne Carlson uses mini cookie cutters to cut hearts out of dough. She said judges look for something different when judging a “sea of pies.”

4 1/2 cups peaches

1/4 cup flour

3/4 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon



Sparkling sugar

For the crust, mix flour and salt together. Cut in lard with a pastry cutter to pea-size pieces. Add cold water, a tablespoon at a time, and mix with fork until it all comes together but isn’t sticky, just until a ball can be formed.

Divide into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other to use for the bottom crust. Chill in refrigerator 15 to 20 minutes before using. If dough is too cold, it’s too hard to roll out. Roll larger dough ball and place in bottom of pie plate, but do not stretch the dough.

For the filling, any fruit may be used. Mix sugar, flour, salt and cinnamon together and pour over cut-up fruit, stirring carefully just until fruit is coated. Pour fruit into bottom crust, then place several butter dots on the fruit. (This gives the pie a smoother taste.) Roll out top crust and lay it over the fruit.

Edges of the crust should be trimmed about 3/4 of an inch around the pie plate so it’s even all around. Use a pastry brush with water on the edge of the bottom crust to make the top crust stick better, not allowing pie juices to escape. Cut vents in the top crust to allow steam to escape. Brush milk over the crust and sprinkle large-crystal sparkling sugar on the crust.

Miniature cookie cutters can be used to cut out little dough hearts or stars – whatever is wanted – which can be brushed with water and laid on the top crust to add interest to the pie. The water helps them stick in place during baking.

Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake until nicely browned and bubbly, 35 to 40 minutes. Foil laid around the edges of the pie halfway through baking keeps the edges from getting over-browned.

Note: “State fair judges not only look at the taste and the quality of everything, they look at the beauty of it, too,” Carlson said,

Whole wheat citrus bread

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons dry milk

2 tablespoons honey

1 package active dry yeast

1 egg

1 cup warm water

2 teaspoon orange zest

2 teaspoon lemon zest

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead 15 minutes.

Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover and let rise till doubled. Punch dough down, then divide into three pieces. Form into ropes and braid.

Place the braid into a greased 9-by-5-inch bread pan. Cover and let rise until doubled. Bake in a 350-degree oven until browned, about 35 minutes.

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