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By Pam Burke 

Opening my pie hole about reality TV


October 26, 2018

I’m not a fan of reality TV because I can’t stand all the drama, worse, it’s manufactured drama. That is just not my thing.

I know that makes me sound old and stodgy, but I was there and of that age when MTV descended from music video television to reality television. I hated it then, too.

Reality TV programs are like an online comment section come to life, only you can’t easily skip across the nonsense you don’t want getting into your brain. Plus, it’s so much worse to put sound to all that — I don’t know what to call it. Just picture me with the look on my face and the body twitch as if I just took a bite of rotten fish while a dozen spiders were competing in a 50-centimeter dash up my spine.

I get that way when I hear news commentators, too. That’s just manufactured drama in different packaging.

All that said, I recently became hooked on a reality baking show.

What’s not to love.

It’s not one of those garish American productions. It’s produced by PBS in England, so the program is beautiful in a way that’s elegant, but home-y. It’s civilized, but not stuffy.

The series is set in a big white tent in the middle of some immaculately groomed ex-country-estate park. And the cooking scenes are interspersed with scenes of fields of buttercups, bees collecting honey or sheep grazing in a field — once there was a horse cameo. It wasn’t a fancy horse, just a horsey horse.

The program is hosted by two quaintly hilarious and sometimes ribald characters and filled with talented but everyday people earnestly working to win the approval of two highly qualified judges who offer straight-forward critique (note: not criticism; it’s actual constructive opinion).

The contestants talk about what they’re doing, their hopes and their worries about their projects, not trash-talking each other or strategizing how to undermine a fellow competitor. The people are honestly struggling to produce a good product, and they say heartfelt, civilized things about their work, the judges and their fellow contestants, even when they lose. Even on the rare occasion when they are disagreeing.

Which is amazing.

In the end, the three finalists each win a bouquet of flowers and the winner gets a crystal cake serving stand thing, and all the contestants, from clear back at the first episode of the season, and all their families get together on the lawn by the tent for a gigantic picnic-slash-lovefest.

I also need to emphasize that all of this is done so we can watch and learn as these people produce sweet flour-based treats, breads and savory dishes.

So I just have to repeat: What’s not to love?

I’ve sat for hours mesmerized, watching episode after episode, learning about uses for a dozen different pastries, why you whip the butter and sugar together, and how to make things like crème patissiere, which is just custard with a fancy French name; fondant, which can be done with melted and kneaded marshmallows; and savory pies, which are a meal wrapped in pie crust like a miracle food.

Did you know:

• Baking powder wasn’t invented until the mid 1800s? Before that, yeast was put in cakes to make them rise. What?! Truth.

• You can make caramelized sugar into fine threads that can be shaped into things like a bird’s nest – but heat and/or humidity will melt your creation into a mini little sugar puddle.

• The meringue we put on that lemon pie isn’t the only kind of meringue in the world.

• If you heat chocolate to the right temperature and cool it back down to the right temperature it chemically changes its crystal structure so it cools to room temperature looking like chocolate glass.

Also there are hundreds of ways in which a recipe can go sideways, but the brave souls are inventive.

Watching the show gave me the impetus to bake something I dreamed up a few months ago: Key lime pie with jalapeños, garnished with whipped cream and cilantro.

For real.

Ohmigawd, ohmigawd, ohmigawd, that was so delicious it made the 80-plus hours of my life spent binge-watching a baking show worth every minute. I would have won that bouquet and crystal cake stand.

I’m just sayin’, even those civilized judges would’ve been high-fiving me and trash-talking my competitors in a very unsporstman-like American reality TV way after tasting that pie.


Feel free to steal the pie idea at [email protected]


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