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An award-winning pie maker

By Staff | Aug 27, 2010

Liza Ludwig works in her kitchen in her home near Curlew. Ludwig learned pie making from her mother and grandmother and exhibited pies at multiple county fairs and at the Iowa State Fair before traveling to Orlando, Fla., to compete in the National Pie Championships in 2009 and 2010.

CURLEW – From age three standing on a stool to cook with her mother and grandmother to 4-H baking projects in grade school to the American Pie Council National Pie Championship Liza Ludwig has always believed in starting from the beginning.

“It’s was just the way it always was,” Ludwig said of growing up in a strong cooking tradition. “If you were making goodies or entertaining you put in the love and time to do it from scratch.”

Goodies is what Ludwig’s mother and grandmother called the treats they worked so meticulously to create; and goodies are still a permanent menu item in Ludwig’s home. Four to five times a week, whenever she can find a spare moment from her career as a full-time nursing student, Ludwig said she follows in the traditions of baking, canning, jelly making and her claim to fame, pie making.

“When my husband or anyone else hears me say ‘goodies’ they know there is something baked somewhere in the house,” Ludwig says.

Most creations start with produce from Ludwig’s own garden and eggs from the hens she keeps at her home near Curlew. The raw ingredients become round masterpieces from cherry, apple and blackberry to lemon cream, white chocolate and French silk. Each pie is a marvel of culinary intuition.

“I learned to bake by feel and by sight,” Ludwig said. “I can follow a recipe, but I’ve also learned to change it and work with it until it’s what I want.”

Ludwig’s talent for zeroing-in on just the right taste has earned her acclaim well beyond her own dining room. She has earned dozens of awards and recognitions in county fairs as well as the Iowa State Fair for pies, preserves and numerous other baked goods. Her enjoyment for the art and challenge of competition is shared by a small but close-knit community of passionate cooks.

“Of course my family and friends are the first people I am always baking for,” she said. “But there is also a group of people, from fairs and competitions, which I can work with when I am trying something new. If something doesn’t taste right I want to know it and I want to know how to improve it.”

All of Ludwig’s intuition and friendly advice received their greatest recognition this spring when she was awarded second and third place honors for two of her eight submissions at the National Pie Championships in Orlando, Fla.

Out of fields of dozens of competitors her Old World Sour Cream Raisin Pie captured second place in the competition’s raisin category, while her Citrus Summer’s Breeze pie came third in the Splenda artificial sweetener category.

Ludwig was first invited to the national event in 2009 after judges from the Clay County Fair nominated her to participate. Her success in just her second year of completion came from a lifetime enjoyment of baking and a handful of lessons learned from her previous experience.

“We made a vacation of it and I got to spend each mealtime getting to know the range in our own kitchen,” Ludwig said. “I’d learned a lot about what the judges were looking for and was just very pleased to do so well.”

Whether baking for family, friends or competition Ludwig said her greatest advantage has always been in taking real pride and joy from the creation as well as the enjoyment of her creations.

“If it’s just a task you will never look forward to it,” she said. “If you think of it as a pleasure you’ll continue loving to do it.”

Old World Sour Cream

Raisin Pie

1 1/2 cups sour cream

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons cinnamon

Combine and set aside for later

2 cups california raisins

1 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

Combine and cook over medium heat till softened then let cool.

Take the cooled cooked raisins, pour into sour cream mixture, fold together. Pour into 9-inch pie shell, smooth out evenly. Place 9-inch top crust on pie, seal edges, sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar, bake for 50 to 60 minutes at 375 degrees. Top crust should be a nice light brown color. Let cool before cutting.

Pie crust

1 1/2 cup flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons milk

1/2 cup lard

Combine with pastries cutter, roll out and chill until needed.

Heavenly Lemon Cream Pie

1 1/2 cup lemon juice

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

4 tablespoons corn starch

1 pinch of salt

8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature

1 1/2 cup whipped topping

1 teaspoon vanilla

(Crust: See above recipe)

1/2 cup butter-flavored Crisco

Combine first four ingredients in medium-sized saucepan. Bring to a low boil, allowing mixture to thicken then let cool. Bake 9-inch pie shell for 10 to 15 minutes at 375 degrees until done and let cool.

Whip cream cheese, gently fold in lemon filling and place into pie shell. Combine the whipped topping and vanilla. Gently dollop on top of pie. Garnish with lemon zest just before serving.

Citrus Summer Breeze Pie

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup lime juice

7 tablespoons Splenda

9 tablespoons corn starch

1/4 cup pink grapefruit juice

1 Pinch of salt (each step)

12 ounces cream cheese at room temperature

1/5 cup whipped cream

2 teaspoons lemon zest (Set aside)


1 cup flour

1/2 cup lemon cookie crumbs

1 tablespoon Splenda

Combine salt, 1/2 cup water, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons Splenda, 3 tablespoons corn starch in medium saucepan. Bring to low boil allowing mixture to thicken. Let cool.

Repeat this step for lime juice and grapefruit layers.

Bake 9-inch pie shell 10 to 15 minutes at 375 degrees until done and let cool.

Whip cream cheese and divide into thirds. Gently fold into each citric filling and pipe into the pie shell one layer at a time. Let set up in refrigerator for minimum of two hours.

Combine 1 teaspoon of Splenda with the whip cream, whip until it forms stiff peaks. Gently dollop the whip cream on top of pie. Garnish with lemon and lime zest just before serving.

Contact Kevin Stillman at stillman.kw@gmail.com.

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