In Houston, it is all about the pumpkins

October 12, 2013
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Katie Roupe / Observer-Reporter
Brent Johnson of Washington won the $100 prize for eating a pumpkin pie in 2 minutes, 41 seconds during Saturday’s pumpkin pie eating contest. Order a Print
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Katie Roupe / Observer-Reporter
Tommy Dzura, 3, son of Katie Dzura, left, of Canonsburg takes a bite of the cookie he decorated with marshmallows, frosting and candy corn at the Pumpkin Festival in Houston Saturday. Order a Print

Brent Johnson was almost out of breath Saturday as he ran to where contestants registered for the pumpkin pie eating contest, admitting he was running a little late.

But, late or not, the Washington man was ready to defend his title as the Pumpkin Pie Eating champion at the Houston Pumpkin Festival, which is marking its 30th anniversary. Darlene Taylor, a festival volunteer, said as she helped cut pies into eight slices, the contest is all about the time. Dolly Oliverio, also a festival volunteer, said some enter for the $100 prize. Others just want the pie.

And defend it Johnson did, scarfing down the 8-inch pie in two minutes, 41 seconds to win. Johnson also won the first contest in 2008 as well as 2010 and last year.

“You were slacking,” joked Houston firefighter and event emcee Chad Roberts. Johnson’s time was 15 seconds longer than his winning time last year of two minutes, 26 seconds. “But I think next year, we may make him eat two pies.”

Johnson said this year, he didn’t eat before coming to the competition. He also doesn’t do anything special to prep for the competition.

“And I won’t eat for the rest of the day,” he added.

Pumpkin pie is not even his favorite dessert.

“I love apple cobbler,” Johnson chuckled.

While Johnson ate his pie a slice at a time, Brenda Young of Houston chose to first eat from the center and then smash the pie, alternating bites with drinks of water in her first attempt at the title.

Will she do it again next year?

“Maybe if he isn’t in it,” Young said in reference to Johnson, the four-time champion.

And if eating all that pumpkin pie isn’t appealing, the festival is holding a pumpkin seed spitting contest today, which is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. next to the main pavilion on the grounds of the American Legion Post picnic grounds.

“We took rules from watermelon seed spitting contests and adapted the rules,” Oliverio said. “The winner is whoever’s seed went the farthest. It is not where the seed lands, because it can roll and still count.”

Oliverio sewed several tables cloths together and dyed them purple for the spitting pit, which is about 40-feet long.

“The first year, we had the mayor spitting seeds, but now we have no problems getting contestants,” she added. “We have one division for men and another for women.”

Oliverio said youngsters and teens participated in the In-It-To-Win-It contest Friday based on the television game show “Minute to Win It.” One of the games featured trying to get Mentos mints in a bottle of pop.

“There was no winner for that game but afterwards, the kids got to put a Mento in the pop and watch the pop bubble over,” Oliverio said. “There are also games for the younger kids.”

The Houston Volunteer Fire Department has been involved in the festival since the 11th year, said Charles “Buzz” Meddings, president of the department.

“We start meeting in March to plan it,” Meddings said of the festival held the second full weekend of October. “This is our biggest fund raiser. It brings in 50 to 70 percent of our fund raising revenue.”

Jon Taylor, department recording secretary, said that if it weren’t for help from his wife, Darlene, Oliverio and other firefighters’ wives that the festival would not be such a success.

In addition to the contests, the festival features numerous craft and other booths in addition to food vendors and musical entertainment. The festival continues today from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Kathie O. Warco has covered the police beat and transportation for the Observer-Reporter for more than 25 years. She graduated from Duquesne University with a degree in journalism.

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