Lard of the land: John Hinman wins cherry pie fight

It started off so innocently: Elizabeth Thomas, pastry chef forWaterCourse Foods and City O' City, was visiting her sister, who works at Marczyk Fine Foods, and got a taste of the pie that John "Haji" Hinman had been making for the market. "She said it was lame," Hinman remembers, "and challenged me to a pie-off."

And so the great Cherry Pie Throwdown was on. Last Wednesday, several august judges -- including the owners of Sweet Action ice Cream, where the event was held; Dan Landes, owner of WaterCourse and City; and John Lendorff, former Rocky Mountain News critic and longtime pie fan -- gathered to test the cherry pies made by Thomas, who's renowned for her vegan baking, and Hinman, who's not.

So he brought a secret weapon to the contest: lard.

The cherry pie that Hinman had been making at Marczyk had an all-butter crust, but for the contest, he used lard. "I've been experimenting with lard lately, from Niman Ranch," he explains. "That's the kindest ranch there is, and I render it myself. I love the lard."

And the crowds loved his pie. "It was a crushing defeat," Hinman proclaims.

Well, perhaps not crushing. "Kate's was very good," says Barbara Macfarlane, co-owner of Marczyk and another judge, along with her eight-year-old son. But Hinman's "was absolutely the most perfect cherry pie."

The market generally has Hinman's cherry pies -- made with sour Michigan cherries, and still boasting a butter crust -- on hand for $18.99 each; he'll soon be adding blueberry and coconut cream options.

And he's making them all using the rolling pin that was his late grandmother's. "It's a lot of labor, making it all from scratch," he says. "A labor of love."

For more love, read Lehndorff's account on his Nibbles blog; see a slide show of the action here.

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