Friday, September 9, 2011/lk
Pam Regentin's life was changed by an apple pie.
Or, more to the point, a winning apple pie she baked for a contest.
It was the Shortt Supply 12th Street Pie Baking Contest nine years ago. Mt. Hood resident Regentin spent weeks prior to the contest meticulously testing apples and baking practice pies before rising early on that fateful Saturday in October 2002 to bake The Pie, which beat out 59 other entries and won over 12 judges.
She took home the $1,000 prize put up by Brian and Karen Shortt, and earned the honor of baking several more pies to be auctioned off as a benefit for Helping Hands Against Violence, a local women's shelter.
But that turned out to be not the end of the story, but just the beginning.
"I was very surprised and taken aback by how big a deal it was to win that contest," Regentin said. Other organizations began asking her to bake pies. Orchard owners began asking her to taste test apple varieties.
"I really feel that the apple pie contest was a watershed moment for me," she said. "I'd just been a home baker before that, perfecting my pie skills but only serving my family.
"After the contest, my reputation grew as a baker," she added.
She started her own company, Fleur Cakes, by baking wedding cakes for friends. But her reputation quickly grew, and for the last several years, she's been making cakes for the Columbia Gorge Hotel, and bed-and-breakfast inns throughout the valley. She's in demand by brides for her artistic and scrumptious creations - many featuring local fruit.
But her love for - and skill at - pie baking remained. She began following a food blog run by a then-little known woman named Ree Drummond. Drummond eventually became a cookbook author and, most recently, a rising star on the Food Network.
But long before that, Regentin was corresponding regularly with her about various food topics, especially baking. Drummond's blog, thepioneerwoman.com, chronicles her life - including her love of cooking - on an Oklahoma ranch. It attracts more than 20 million page views per month.
"Ree started hosting cooking weekends at her ranch," said Regentin, who read about them on the blog. "I e-mailed her and suggested a pie-making weekend. She thought it was a great idea."
It took several months to work out scheduling details - especially since Drummond has been preparing for the launch of her cooking show, "The Pioneer Woman," on the Food Network, which debuted Aug. 27. But late last month, Ree Drummond flew Pam Regentin and two of her daughters to her Oklahoma ranch to lead a pie workshop.
On her blog, Drummond held a contest where six winners would be invited to attend the workshop. Each could invite a friend. Drummond also invited a few other guests to attend.
Regentin said in all there were about 25 people there for the day-long workshop, which covered all things pie - from taste-testing crusts made with different types of fats to rolling crusts to pan-less pie doughs. Eventually, each "student" made their own two-crust pie.
"It was very gratifying to me to have all these beginning pie makers who've never baked a pie before come out with a beautiful pie," Regentin said. "It was really a success."
Along with leading the workshop, Regentin and her daughters rode horses on the ranch, ate meals with Drummond and her family and were just generally treated as honored guests.
"It was really kind of surreal," Regentin said. Drummond has also asked Regentin to write a post for her website about pie-making.
And, just as that original pie contest boosted Regentin's reputation, the Pioneer Woman's pie workshop has had a similar effect.
"I've been getting a lot of inquiries from all over Oregon and Washington about having pie classes and workshops here in the Northwest," Regentin said. So she's putting together plans for both a pie-making class and a longer pie crust workshop.
"And it all started with a little apple pie in Hood River," Regentin said. "To have all these things happen that sprang out of that watershed moment is really interesting."