The sweet taste of victory at the National Pie Championships

Author: CBS News
Published: Updated:
Pies undergo the taste test. (Photo via CBS NEWS)

ORLANDO, Fla. (CBS) A slice of pie equates to A SLICE OF LIFE at the bake-off Conor Knighton went to witness — fork in hand:

This is where diets go to die: A room where there’s always room for dessert.

The 2017 National Pie Championships, held in Orlando, Fla., is a high-stakes, high-calorie competition, as American as Apple Pie. And this year, the best Apple Pie in America was made by a woman from Belleville, Wisconsin.

Knighton first met Beth Campbell in her kitchen — a shrine to pie — as she was testing out this year’s recipes on her friends and family. Key lime? Butterfinger? Pear? Try ’em all!

Beth Campbell (right) invites Conor Knighton and others to test her creations. (Photo via CBS NEWS)

Campbell entered pies in ten different categories this year. She’s racked up so many ribbons over the decades she’s lost track.

“Last year you got a second and a third; the year before that, you got two firsts and a second,” said her biggest fan, her husband, Charlie. “And the year before that, you got two firsts and a third.”

“I don’t remember,” Beth replied.

And after years of assisting in the kitchen, Charlie has started entering his own pies. The one year he took home a ribbon, the drive home didn’t go so well.

“He won,” Beth recalled.

“Things happen,” Charlie said, helpfully.

“And all the way home, he kept driving along: ‘I don’t know why you didn’t win. I didn’t even try with that pie. And I won. And you didn’t.’ I wanted to push him out in the foothills of the Carolinas!”

That’s right, the Campbells drive the 22 hours to Florida. It’s their only vacation. Each year, they load up the van, meticulously pack up the kitchen, and stuff their coolers with ingredients (like cream) they’re convinced are just better in Wisconsin

They head south, unload it all at a rental house, and spend days baking their way around a new kitchen, which is no cakewalk.

But 30 miles from Orlando, Devin Davis has a bit of a home oven advantage.

“I’ve been cooking since I was five years old, probably,” Davis said. “My mom was a nervous wreck, she hated me being in the kitchen.”

Devin Davis prepares for this year’s competition. (Photo via CBS NEWS)

Davis entered his first National Pie contest when he was 14. He won the Grand Prize. At 21, he now competes against the pros.

“It’s so much fun, because pies are simple in concept,” Davis said, “but there’s so many things you can do with it. You can make them complex.”

Devin’s family is happy to serve as taste testers. But just because something works around the kitchen table, it doesn’t mean it’s going to work at the judging table.

Bite after bite, slice after slice, these palates alone determine the sweet taste of victory.

Knighton asked, “What are you judging for? What are the categories?”

“The taste, the mouthfeel …” said one judge

“Mouthfeel? What is mouthfeel?”

“Is it too mushy? Are the berries overcooked? How’s the crust? If it’s firm or soggy?”

Devin Davis picked up an honorable mention for his Chocolate Mousse Pie. Unless you win “Best in Show,” there’s not a lot of money at stake here. Nobody is entering pie contests for the dough. It’s all about the camaraderie, the silly apron contest, the chance to hang out with people as devoted to dessert as you are.

That’s what brings Beth Campbell back every year.

“You know, it’s just fun to get together with them and see people and see ideas of what other people came up with,” she said. “And if you win, that’s just frosting on the cake.”

Really, Beth? “Or sugar on the pie!”

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