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Copyright 2009-2010 by
Mary Brotherton
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Inside my Brain

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Saturday, May 20, 2006

The American Pie Council hosted the Crisco National Pie Championships in Orlando at the Sheraton Safari Hotel on April 21 through April 23, and Cocoa Beach resident Joe Morgan was among the first to arrive. Although he has suggested pie eating contests for various events, and he loves eating pie, this will be his second year as an official at the Pie Cook off. Two years ago, Morgan sent the American Pie Council an email and told them why he felt he would be a good judge, so he was asked to return this year.

He takes his position seriously. “People from all over the country will be here. This is important to them, so it is important to me.”

It’s also important to Willard Scott from NBC’s Today Show, and sponsors like Crisco, Splenda, and Whirlpool. Most of the pies had to include Crisco shortening or Slenda non-sugar sweetener; some contestants chose to cook their pies at the event, in Whirlpool ovens. The commercial pies that win will boast their triumph on their labels; winning amateur bakers walked away with cash and other prizes.

Last year, Morgan judged pies baked by amateurs, even though some of the amateurs have been baking for generations. This year, he judged pies baked by commercial and highly recognizable brand names.

Nearly two dozen flavors are available for visitors and judges, but Morgan only had to deal with six, which for a judge, can be a bit of a challenge. “The Banana Cream Pie can be over four inches tall!” he said. Last year, Morgan judged only cherry pies baked by amateurs and he admitted that it was quite a challenge.

“There has to be a winner,” he said, “But it’s hard if you know the people in the contest. It’s not such a challenge if you don’t know anyone. That is why I wanted to judge in the commercial division this year.”

Morgan explained how a judge has a checklist for guidance, and at least eight different judges will evaluate a single pie on its own merits of appearance, taste, and overall impression. “Just because I like a particular pie, that does not mean it will win. Everybody has to like it the best.”

Morgan was so excited about his job as a Pie Judge and representative of the American Pie Council, that he made light of his role as a member of the International Visitor’s Council where he can play host to Heads of State, Chancellors, Prime Ministers, or college students from other countries.

Mr. Morgan also speaks publicly on health issues. He’s had relatives who have died from complications due to diabetes and once weighed over 300 pounds. Now, at just over 156 pounds, Morgan credits not only the Lap-Band placed around his stomach, but exercise, and healthy eating. Morgan enjoys speaking to other clinically severe obese people, because he understands how limiting his life was before the procedure, and how much freedom he has now. He is a very active member of the local adventurous outing club known as the Trailblazers.

Morgan, a retired banker, is an ordained deacon who officiates at eight to ten weddings a month, most of them by referral. “Most of my weddings are on the beach,” he said, “but I do them other places, too.”

Morgan enjoys remembering weddings where people said or did something out of the ordinary, such as the couple in their 80’s who had hair that looked like “white cotton candy.” He said they were both dressed in white, which made their bright blue eyes appear even bluer.

“I’m so worried,” he remembers her whispering to him.

“Just lean on your hubby with one hand, and put your other hand on your walker. You’ll be fine,” he assured her; and she was.

He recalled the wedding with a young woman dressed in a beautiful kimono that flapped in her face when the sea breeze picked up. Her friends were all on motorcycles, wearing spiked helmets, but they were very respectful, until her former boyfriend showed up on his Harley, spinning round the couple, kicking sand on the newlyweds and their guests. Morgan thought a major fight was going to break out when two guests pulled cue sticks out of their boots, but the interloper left before any more damage could be done.

“But you know what?” Morgan asked. “Even that was not as exciting as the Pie Championship. That is just so much fun. I guess you have to really love pie to understand how I feel.”