World's Largest Cherry Pie Battle
Charlevoix vs. Traverse City, Michigan
Have you ever experienced a psychotic urge for dessert and sprinted to the kitchen for that last piece of luscious pie, only to find it gone -- eaten by someone else? Nothing left but the empty pie tin. When visiting landmarks celebrating great feats of cooking, expect to salivate over culinary wonders long ago digested and learn, as we have, to appreciate the sublime charms of oversized, empty cooking implements.
Case in point: two roadside "World's Largest Cherry Pie" memorials. The plates are only 50 miles apart, on the northeastern shore of Lake Michigan -- cherry farm country.
Charlevoix was the first into the mix. In 1976 a man named Dave Phillips, in a burst of bicentennial fervor, convinced local businesses in Charlevoix to bake the World's Largest Cherry Pie as part of the town's annual cherry festival. A giant pan was built, along with an equally titanic oven. Local farmers supplied the ingredients. The result: a cherry pie weighing 17,420 pounds. It was a world record.
Further south, the town of Traverse City had its own cherry festival. It had perhaps heard one too many boasts from Charlevoix, and in 1987 it decided to do something about it. Even though it already had the World Champion Cow of the Insane Grave -- a sure-fire tourist draw -- it was apparently not enough.
The Chef Pierre Bakeries went to work, and on July 25 it baked a cherry pie that put Charlevoix to shame: 28,350 pounds; 17 feet, 6 inches in diameter. As an added snub, the town had Guinness Book of World's Records certify its pie as the largest ever. Charlevoix's days in the spotlight were ended after only 11 years.
But time has a way of humbling the proud. The Chef Pierre Bakeries were bought out by Sara Lee. The cherry farms around Traverse City were turned into golf courses. Yuppies from downstate began invading the town, as they were invading Charlevoix. And in 1992, after only five years, Traverse City's cherry pie crown was knocked clear into Canada when the tiny town of Oliver, British Columbia, baked a cherry pie for the ages -- 39,683 pounds.
Inexplicably, Oliver failed to preserve its pie pan. Perhaps it chose not to do so after seeing what had happened to Charlevoix and Traverse City. For those two towns had saved their pie pans and had put them on public display -- evidence of civic fame harshly won.
The Traverse City pan stands unadorned, propped among bushes, in front of the former Chef Pierre Bakeries plant. Next to it, in a brick memorial, is an oversized certificate from the Guinness Book of World's Records, fraying at the bottom, that gives the pie's particulars. It's a big pan, but its presentation is curiously sterile.
In contrast, Charlevoix's pan, though it held what is now merely the world's third largest cherry pie, has a rough we're-making-this-up-as-we-go-along charm that makes it a much better photo opportunity. In front, in skinny, hand-made letters, are the defiant words, "Worlds Largest Cherry Pie." The plate is tipped upward atop a circular brick pedestal (a "Medusa Made Oven" where it was baked), sheltered beneath an ungainly metal roof. To the side, a hand-lettered sign lists the pie's ingredients. And inside the pan sits a giant concrete replica pie slice, now faded with age but still a definite advantage over the bigger, empty plate in Traverse City.
Charlevoix may have lost the pie fight, but it has won the war.