Buyers had more than 40 pies to choose from Sunday at the fair’s annual pie auction. Pastries ranged from key lime to Reese’s flavored to lemon meringue.
Raising roughly $5,800 for the Champaign County Pork Council, the auction saw its best seller bring in a whopping $600. That pie, of the Cookies ‘n Cream variety, was made by Lori Purk of St. Paris. The pastry earned her the Overall Grand Champion award and was purchased by Donay Chiropractic Life and Wellness of Urbana.
“I love to cook, but nothing in particular,” Purk said of her hobby.
Purk is a member of the Pork Council, volunteering her time each year to help set up the pie contest and auction. She said her son influenced her decision on which variety of pie to bake.
“He wanted me to do the Cookies ‘n Cream pie because he really likes it,” she added.
Doug Dunham of Urbana was named Grand Champion of the Men’s Division for his cream and peanut butter pie. It sold to Perpetual Federal of Urbana for $100. Caden Strader of Urbana was named Grand Champion of the Youth Division for his cream and peanut butter pie. It sold to Amy Evans for $150.
Spearheaded by Pork Council Women, the pie contest and auction supports the organization and its members in many ways. The event helps fund participants’ plaques, prize belt buckles, scholarships and supplies including the concrete flooring, fencing, water hoses and other essentials for the swine show arena.
A panel of three judges – Sue Littlejohn, Amy Gentis and Sharon Stevens – evaluated each of the 42 pies based on appearance, crust, texture, flavor and filling. Pie entries started pouring in at 11 a.m. and the judging began an hour later. The auction kicked off soon after the Pee Wee Showmanship event.
The contest consists of 8 categories in both lard and non-lard divisions ranging from apple, cherry, peach and mixed fruit. First place ribbons went to Natalie Pendleton, Rick Bailey, Ethan Hess, Nate Herringshaw, Greg Barger, Penny Underwood, Mary Thomas, Lanette Johnson, Alyssa Dunham, Elisha Volp, Karen Bailey and April Rose.
“We’ve had as much as 60 (pies) and, one year, as low as 25 or 30,” said Mindy Lensman, president of the Pork Council Women. “But our buyers always come through to support the swine industry.”
Lensman said this year’s numbers are steady, adding the contest has a loyal core of participants she can count on.
“I think some of it comes down to the involvement of people with grandkids in the fair, whether they (can make time around youth competitions),” she said. “For others, they’ve been doing this for years and they wouldn’t miss this for anything.”
Lensman, a 4-H advisor for the last 34 years and Pork Council Women’s president for roughly the last 20, said her group is proud to work behind the scenes to support the swine industry. Among local youth, the group’s impact is perhaps most widely recognized through the champion livestock belt buckles that winners proudly wear. The buckles are made possible by the Pork Council Women.
“The kids are really proud of them,” Lensman said. “It’s something they can wear and take with them.”
Lensman has fought to create and maintain a sense of tradition among the 4-H swine show community, and this mission has guided her decisions. In addition to spearheading the pie auction, she has a hand in providing engraved prize canes, plaques, a swine T-shirt design contest, feed scholarships and swine-themed household items available for sale at the fair.
Her many fundraising efforts helped earn her the Pork Council Hall of Fame award a few years ago, but the pie auction is her marquee event.
“I do this for the kids and to help out the swine industry,” she said.
Lensman also had high praise for Winnie Brelsford, who donated a quilt to be auctioned Sunday. The swine-themed quilt, handmade by Brelsford, sold to Lensmans’ Show Pigs for $250.
Craig Shirk is a regular contributor to this newspaper.