Bite, Chew, Swallow, Repeat
Copyright 2021 by John C. Hollinger
John and Heike. Photo by the author.
you think of Maine, cookies and cream might not be your first thoughts.
But after an unexpected challenge for the ages, John now knows that
Maine is all about makin’ Whoopie… Pies.
Heike riding shotgun, Boo asleep in the back, and Tino sunning
himself on the dash, John navigated the backroads of Maine. In
addition to being transportation across exciting new lands, our
little red Kia Rio hatchback had also been acting as our home away
from home the past two months. During the day, we explored. At night,
our quartet - husband, wife, paraplegic dog, and temperamental cat -
snuggled together atop foldaway seats while parked at roadside rest
stops and Walmart parking lots. We had put on both miles and pounds
as we traveled North America in search of adventure and
deliciousness. Canada’s Maritime provinces provided amazing
vistas and wonderful seafood the past couple of weeks. But we had
crossed back into the States that morning and now happened through
the conjoined towns of
declining John's suggested stop at a local bakery on the outskirts,
Heike attested that, in light of our past several meals conspicuously
lacking the color green (excepting the occasional sprig of parsley as
token garnish), today she would like to just have salad, perhaps
accompanied by something small and savory. As she was stating this,
we noticed a sudden influx of cars and pedestrians.
approached the heart of the community where our road curved right,
but to the left was some sort of crowded street party. Not expecting
such revelry, we initially zoomed right by and had to double back to
check it out. What 'it' was
turned out to be both adventure and deliciousness: the Maine Whoopie
Pie Festival. There would be no salad today.
traditional whoopie pie is a northeastern treat composed of two large
chocolate 'cookies' (actually, more like round slabs of thick dense
cake), sandwiching a layer of creamy white frosting. Imagine a
double-stuffed Oreo injected with copious amounts of steroids and
growth hormones to become the size of a Burger King Whopper. They are
sweet and rich and heavy… and they were being celebrated.
festival had all the usuals: rides and games for the kids, live
music, food stands, a merchandise table (where John hummed and hawed
over a $20 dayglow orange festival
which he decided to come back to later), and dozens of booths selling
crafts, jewelry, and other eye catching junk that nobody really
needs. What makes the whoopie pie festival different is the long row
of stands where restaurants, stores, and bakeries from across the
state offer up their best versions of the whoopie pie in hopes of
being crowned the Maine Whoopie Pie Festival Winner. Our $3 entrance
fee got us four wooden tokens, each good for a whoopie pie sample,
plus a golden token to cast a vote for our favorite vendor. There
were scores of versions of the whoopie pie to sample, each with with
uniquely delectable combinations of cookie and icing flavors.
Heike's golden token went to D & G Bakery's 'Blueberry
which, with blueberry-vanilla cookies and maple frosting - tasted
just like its name. John's vote went to the Frisky Whisk Bakery for
the 'Fat Elvis':
banana cookies and peanut butter filling loaded with chunks of real
toured the festivities over an entertaining and edible hour, we were
beyond pleased with our serendipitous discovery and ready to travel
on. But as we were making our way towards the festival exit, a crowd
within the crowd was forming at
the food court area. The cause of the commotion? Festival volunteers
were gathering participants for the annual whoopie
in spite of our glowing review, John is not actually much of a cake
person. And, on the rare occasion he does eat cake, he definitely
does not eat the frosting.
worry, it doesn’t go to waste. Heike
scrapes all that
goodness off John’s portion so she gets double.) In fact, the
samples he had earlier were the first time either of us could recall
him consuming frosting in a long time. (But, when in Rome, right?)
That means John,
usually up for a challenge, had little interest in a whoopie pie
eating contest. Heike, however, was excited for him to participate.
just the day before, he had rebuffed her pushes to sing O Canada to a
Molson Canadian beer fridge
for the chance to be in a television commercial (yep, those crazy
Canucks). That in mind, stuffing himself with a food he didn’t
particularly care for, in front of a
in the 90 degree heat, was a duty John felt he simply had to
undertake that day - both for Heike's amusement and the true Maine
experience. Diabetes be damned.
was the final entrant of four contestants. He slid his unremarkably
average-sized frame into the remaining open space at the large picnic
table in the center of the spectacle. The other three contestants
were already seated, eager, and ready.
but baby-faced local kid who looked 13, was actually 17, and probably
weighed more than John and Heike combined. David
wiry twenty-something with the hair and garb of a typical rock band
roadie, originally from Michigan but currently living in Bangor.
clearly the odds-on favorite, was
strapping 34-year old military man from Texas, now posted in North
Carolina, where (based on musculature and girth) the base doles out
equally massive amounts of pull ups and pulled pork.
emcee belted out
her rules with exuberance that would make Michael Buffer blush. They
were simple: Eat as many whoopie pies as possible. No time limit;
just go until you can stomach no more. Drink as much milk or water as
you need. That's it.
sized up the competition as the crowd counted down with the emcee...
he was in tough... “3,
was free food... “Begin!!!”
crowd cheered! Jordan, David, and Grant were off to furious starts,
stuffing the first whoopie pies into their gaping maws. Meanwhile,
John methodically opened the clear plastic clamshell containing his
first pie and began eating. Before John was half done, Grant was
already on his second pie. At John’s three quarter point, David
was working on
pie two as well. Poor Jordan, who started as
as the others,
to already be hitting a
he finished pie one the same time as John.
sip of milk, then John started his second whoopie pie. Meanwhile,
Grant was cracking open number three. John figured the lost ground
made him a long shot, but he just maintained a steady rhythm: bite,
chew, swallow, repeat.
now the crowd had
picked their winner - obvious to many from the start. Grant was well
ahead and the chant erupted: "Grant! Grant! Grant!"
the dense desserts added up, the laments
mouth is coated! I can't swallow!”
a hamburger waiting for me when I'm done.”
finished pie two at nearly the same time as David, who had now also
slowed considerably. Grant's third was already digesting, but, as his
stomach filled, his cockiness was waning.
ill - holding his head in his hands as he woefully chewed.
managed to finish pie two, but he was clearly laboring. Sitting
directly across from him, John was worried Jordan was going to lose
it and a whole Stand By Me-style ‘Barf-o-Rama’ was about
off pie three. David was still working his third. Grant was nursing
his forth. And nearly delirious Jordan was falling in and out of
“I shouldn't have had those samples!”
gnawing on pie three, became coherent again just long enough to
concede. When told he could keep the partially
eaten pie for later, he nearly retched. And then there were three.
managed to put away pie three and was on to four. Grant was barely
nibbling any more, essentially stalled halfway through his fourth.
angled to face his faltering foes, then started into pie five while
staring them down.
are you putting all those?”
his competitors wallowed, now both floundering at three and a half
pies, John knew he had it. Some
simple psychology would
guys are doing good.
one more entire whoopie pie to catch up, plus however much more I eat
John smiled and kept on.
pair watched John mechanically continue consuming cake and frosting.
David looked down, examining the heavy treat in his hands. Then he
glumly glanced up to Grant, placed the whoopie
carcass on the table in front of him, and slowly nodded. It was over!
The runner-up accord had been ratified! And John was still going. Was
a new contest record in sight? Not even close. Heike inquired with
the emcee and was informed that last year's winner ate nine - and in
good measure, John finished his fifth whoopie pie (knowing he could
have ate more, but to what end?) and then accepted his prize as the
2016 Maine Whoopie Pie Festival Whoopie Pie Eating Champion. The
winnings? Another whoopie pie, of course,
$20 certificate for the merchandise stand - exactly enough to
purchase the bright orange T-shirt he didn't commit to earlier.
and her sugar-stuffed hero made their way back to the car, T-shirt
and whoopie pie in hand. As
somewhere between a waddle and a limp, John could have sworn he heard
from over his shoulder the band on the festival stage start into
their best Freddy Mercury tribute: "We are the champions..."
C. Hollinger is a ‘master-of-none’ who has worked in many
industries throughout his life. Ophthalmology, the postal service,
hotels, radio, television, and bars - to name a handful. John works
to live but he lives to eat and travel. He loves experiencing new
places and new dishes, and then documenting them for his family and
friends. John, his wife Heike, their physically handicapped dog Boo,
and their mercurial cat Tino, have visited every Canadian province,
49 states (only Alaska remains), and several regions of Mexico and
the Caribbean. The Canuck family is perpetually on the move, having
lived in nearly two dozen homes this millennium - not counting the
motor home and hatchback which have carried them across North
America. Food challenges, for spice and for size, are a hobby John
doesn’t seek out but undertakes when accidentally discovered.
And he has the collection of T-shirts to prove it.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
Another story by John
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