ERLIN — When he announced the winners of the Little Miss. and Little Mr. Berlin Peach contest Friday, Mayor Gee Williams assured attendees at that time that peaches taste just as good in the rain. He was acknowledging the fact that the forecast wasn’t friendly for Sunday’s Berlin Peach Festival and encouraging the 2nd Friday crowd to come out regardless.
The came for the most part, and those who didn’t stay through the rain that only broke for the 20-or-so minutes it took to hold the peach pie-eating contest, sought shelter in town which was just fine by the shop and restaurant owners.
After a promising start wherein an early cloudburst gave way to a slower trickle emcee Patricia Duffendach, whether by craft or optimism, began assuring the crowd the rain would pass which kept some people out a little longer, but by the time Frank and Frankie Nanna were done performing it was clear the rain was in for the long haul.
While many of the vendors were unable to stick out the driving rain because their wares or equipment were water-soluble others stayed on through most of the afternoon, selling their soggy wares to those who made their way back into the rain for the part of the afternoon they had come to see.
Since the event was broken down by time blocked events and participating in those events was more important than staying dry, crowds would begin to build at the foot of the Taylor House Museum porch as the time for each event neared.
In fact, the best way to know when the next event was scheduled was when people in slickers and holding umbrellas began to make their way from their sheltered positions under the trees out into the open in anticipation of whichever event was imminent.
Linda Busick, who placed second in the first two peach pie baking contests felt certain that this was her year and as she made her way out onto the porch as the Nanna’s finished their set the eight other hopefuls and their families also began to crowd the stage.
Inside the Taylor House, pie-baking contest judges Phil Cropper, Rita Curry of Desserts by Rita and Mark Mayers, executive chef for the Harrison Group passed the time introducing themselves or catching up with one another as the case required and talking about the restaurant business in general terms. Cropper was still on duty in a way, having just run up from The Palette, his successful Snow Hill restaurant.
As the judges tasted and inspected the pies, Smith Island storyteller Janice Marshall, struggled with technical and logistical difficulties. The accompaniment and several of the stories she’d intended on sharing weren’t in her possession but she soldiered through, singing some of her songs a cappella and sharing stories of faith and the waterman’s constant struggle against regulation while the eager bakers responded politely as they watched their pies dished out for the judges.
For the first time in the history of the peach festival Busick didn’t place, a fact she attributed to the infiltration of the peaches into the crust. The winning pies were baked by Lisa Dennis of Berlin, Nancy Britton of Berlin, and Maria Lawrence of Ocean City, respectively all of whom hurried out into what was the storm before the calm with some haste.
The commotion at the end of the pie-baking contest was heightened by the fact that the children, many of whom has been lurking in and around the Taylor House Museum property or sought shelter in Stevenson United Methodist Church began to crowd in for the pie-eating contest.
At least three of the seven competitors had returned from the previous year, each with their eyes on the prize, which was, nominally a $25 gift card. The real prize, though, was victory itself. Earlier in the afternoon Acacia Nichols the eventual winner had some heated but still friendly words with defending champion Frankie Nanna.
After the children’s cupcake walk, which was held in the museum’s administrative area, Nichols accused him of having claimed victory in last year’s contest with the bulk of the pie still unswallowed. This turned out to be a salient point because as she was named winner Nanna ejected the well-chewed but still unswallowed pie he’d consumed back on to the plate to the horror of onlookers.
As the kids filed off the stage, those adults with the fortitude to have stayed on in the rain much of the day filed on. Of the seven who had originally registered, only three were available at post time but since the weather had turned a respectable crowd formed and the four empty seats were filled easily.
Melissa Russo, an 18-year-old from Delmar made shore work of the competition.
“I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to win but then I heard everyone yelling,” she said. “I just thought about the pie, I didn’t want to look around.”
By the time the adults were washing the pie from their face an even more significant crowed had gathered to see Jeff Auxer and Greg David face off against one another in the celebrity portion of the pie-eating event.
Fresh from an interview with a local nature show, the two took their seats making the most of the attention. They were joined by Jaime McDonald, representing Johns Premium Cigars and Joe Wink representing Coconut Bay Trading Company.
To call Wink a ringer might be going too far but he made quick work both of the pie and the competition. Afterwards he said he was one of the local shop’s regulars and was asked to represent them during a conversation about the contest.
As the contest ended so too did nature’s reprieve but there was some satisfaction from attendees and participants alike as they made their way back into the shelter of the restaurants and shops.