SOUTHINGTON — Alex Thomas was skeptical that Jake Gorham could eat all that apple pie.
Sophomores at Southington High School who've been friends their whole lives, Thomas had it on good knowledge that Gorham could be moderate in his culinary habits.
“As far as I’m aware, he makes an entire box of mac and cheese for a snack and he usually doesn't finish it,” Thomas said.
He’d clearly forgotten Gorham's past victories at the apple pie eating competition, held every year at the Southington Apple Harvest Festival. “I eat when I’m hungry, but when I get a challenge like this, I eat,” Gorham said.
There were two heats in this year’s pie eating contest, held Saturday, one for ages 11 through 17, and the other for 18 and up. The rules are simple. One pie is placed on the table per person and the first person who finishes wins. One catch. “No hands. All face. It’s a mess,” said Julie Berardinelli, assistant festival coordinator.
Berardinelli said the pie eating contest continues to be a highlight among the crafts, food, and carnival rides. Perhaps a little bit of nostalgia has something to do with it, she said.
“Makes my stomach hurt just to think about eating an entire pie in that amount of time,” said Maddie Derynioski, a Southington High School senior and one of the festival hostesses.
A little before 12:30, the nine competitors took their places in front of the main stage near the Town Green. The crowd began to gather and by the time faces were plunged into pies, there were almost 100 people watching with a mix of incredulity and admiration. They might not want to do it themselves, but viewing other people do it is an entirely different matter.
“I’d rather bob for apples,” said Fran DeSimone, a Washington Depot resident who heard about the festival on television news and decided to check it out.
There was a brief pause while proper pie eating music was procured. Seventies- game show sounding music chimed in the air as the kids settled around the red-sheeted folding table.
Rosemary Paul, DeSimone’s friend from Roxbury, was asked if she would ever enter a competitive eating contest.
“Oh no. No,” Paul said.
“We are not good sports,” said DeSimone.
“Even when we were younger, I wouldn’t have done it,” Paul said.
For his part, Gorham had a clear technique. He attacked the pie, standing up and leaning forward, hands clasped behind him, chomping for all he was worth. The others were a little more tentative, perhaps daunted by the enormity of what they had agreed to do.
“He has to eat the crust and all?” DeSimone said.
“He’s a pro, that one. Now he’s eating off the table. Look at him,” Paul said. “He’s almost done.”
‘In it to win it’
But steadily, without the histrionics, another competitor was coming into play. Alexandra Carabetta, a junior at Southington High, was making good progress. As Gorham hoovered up the crust, Carabetta looked up, a little under duress.
With a glazed look in her eye, she turned away from the table and barfed behind her chair. She took a moment, caught her breath, and dove back in. Victory beckoned.
“Normally I like to savor my food, but at that moment I was in it to win it,” said Carabetta after the contest.
At this point, the theme from the old film “Chariots of Fire” was playing over the loudspeakers. With a steady burst, Carabetta finished her pie in about six minutes or so, but no one was keeping count. To the untrained observer, Gorham’s pie aggression spread the filling on the table, ultimately slowing him down. Despite her unfortunate projection, Carabetta ate a more controlled pie.
Carabetta won. Gorham ended up finishing third.
Gorham took a deep breath. Carabetta wiped her face and had a laugh. “I thought I was going to finish last,” she said later. As of last night, no one had signed up. “I saw it in the info tent and I said, you know what? Who cares? I’m doing it,” she said.
The crowd disbanded after the kids’ contest. The adults were up next, but not as many people were interested.
“After all this, would you eat another apple pie?” DeSimone said.
Not for a while, an observer responded.
“Maybe for a year,” she said.
After prizes were given and photos taken, Berardinelli cleaned up the pie tins and checked her list for the upcoming 18 and over competition. “That was the grossest part of my job,” she said.
Saturday’s schedule also featured a performance by the Spin Doctors on the festival’s main stage.