Joan Morrison, who ultimately took runner up with a spiced crostata. She said it was her first time baking. Abiba Biao Photos.
Joan Morrison fought her arthritis pain with a spiced crostata with fresh pluots. Caryn Crite came with years of apple pie baking knowledge in her back pocket. Sabrina Lombardi weighed the merits of plum tart pie and gelato while her kids played in the grass nearby.
All of them were in for a sweet summer treat.
The three were among dozens who came out last week for the Westville Hi-Fi Pie Contest and Beecher Park Summer Concert Series, held each Monday night beside the Mitchell Branch Library on Whalley Avenue and Philip Street. Kids and adults alike packed the park to listen to music, play in the heat, and most importantly savor delicious pies.
The Beecher Park Summer Concert Series is an annual month-long music event featuring New Haven artists. During the concert is the Hi-Fi-Pie contest, where concert-goers can purchase, sample, and judge homemade pies that fellow attendees submit. A local guest judge awards a prize to the winning baker and runner up. So far, they've included gift cards, t-shirts, and certificates.
Participants aren’t limited to just one submission overall and can enter every week. At the end of the five-week fest, a “People’s Choice” prize will be awarded to the baker who has gotten the most votes over the fest’s duration. The contest ends Aug. 15 with Carlos y Su Movimiento Musical and a celebration of apple, pear and quince pies.
People gathered at Beecher Park behind Mitchell Library. Abiba Biao Photos.
As musical guests David Shapiro and Kath Bloom serenaded the park last week, bakers came with their best stone fruit pies. A professor of nursing at Gateway Community College, Morrison made a spiced crostata—a type of Italian tart—with fresh pluots. As she described the dish, she admitted that she isn’t an avid baker at all—her submission to the Hi-Fi-Pie contest was in fact the first time she baked. She chose the spiced crostata by chance.
“I got it online. It was roughly in the pie category,” she said.
Her motivation to bake for this week's fest came from the baking shows she’s watched. “I watch a lot of baking shows and I love them! But I don’t know anything about it,” she said. So she turned to the internet for a recipe and followed it as closely as she could.
Her biggest challenge while baking wasn’t her ingredients or technique, she said, but her arthritis.
“So I have a lot of pain now and this is God telling me, ‘Why you don’t make pies and you don’t try to do that,’” she said jokingly.
Despite the pain Morrison said it was worth it stepping out of her comfort zone and was happy to share the fruits of her labor with everyone.
“I’m proud of myself,” she said with a big smile.
Pie connoisseur and baker Caryn Crite. Abiba Biao Photos.
Caryn Crite was excited for this week's sweet fruit pie theme, which interested her more than the savory pies dished out last week. Crite is a baker herself, frequently making apple pies and white cake. Her favorite pie is peach pie; she declared it simply“the best one."
Lombardi had a differing opinion; her favorite pie of the night was a plum tart pie. Lombardi has been to the Hi-Fi-Pie fest before, and used this time to lay on the grass and enjoy some pie and gelato while her daughters ran around the field.
Her favorite thing about the event is “getting to see friends and getting out of the house," she said.
Attendee JoAnne Wilcox didn't need a piece of pie to enjoy the festivities. She opted instead to vibe to the music while laid back in her lawn chair. She pushed anyone considering attending to “get your butts out here!”
Special guest judges Arlene Cardenas and daughter Ryannie Cardenas alongside Naomi Senzer. Abiba Biao Photos.
Hi-Fi-Pie fest director Naomi Senzer introduced the contest's guest judges Arlene Cardenas, owner of Marjolaine Pastry Shop on State Street, and her daughter Ryannie. After taking a chance on her crostata, Morrison won runner up.
The winner Ravit Avni-Singer—who had whipped up a cherry chocolate almond concoction—wasn’t there to claim their prize but won $60 gift card to Marjolaine Pastry Shop.
Senzer said that the sweet tradition is now ripening into its tenth year. In 2012, she founded the contest with Chris Heitmann, the previous director of the Westville Village Renaissance Alliance (WVRA). Heitmann first thought about bringing pies to the Beecher Park concerts and Senzer was immediately receptive to the idea.
“Together it started with him and me and we invited a couple people to brainstorm with us,” she said. Senzer’s personal pie baking journey started almost 30 years ago, when her husband asked her to make a pie on their first date out.
Senzer doesn’t have a favorite pie, but said her kids are fond of her sour cherry pies that they make from their own cherry trees.
Senzer’s son Sam Risky and nephew Toby Haxhi. Abiba Biao Photos.
“We like eating pie, we like baking pie; Everything pie,” Senzer’s son Sam Risky added. Risky, along with his cousin Toby Haxhi and other family members, were working behind the scenes slicing, packaging and distributing pies to hungry concert goers.
“It has become a little bit of a family affair. The baking pies, the eating pies, the serving pies,” Senzer said. With pie being at the center of her family they found a way to bring that enthusiasm to the Westville community.
“Whether you like pie or music you might find you like the other one as well,” she said.
The Beecher Park Summer Concert Series continues Monday, Aug. 8 and Aug. 15. This piece comes to the Arts Paper through the summer extension of the fifth annual Youth Arts Journalism Initiative (YAJI), a program of theArts Council of Greater New Haven. Read more about the program here or by checking out the "YAJI" tag. Abiba Biao is a newly-minted graduate of Achievement First Amistad High School and will begin her freshman year at Southern Connecticut State University in the fall.