Baking Christmas Bright

Bring these blue-ribbon recipes into your kitchen this holiday season –


What fun it is to wow friends and family at the holiday table! This year you can do just that by adding a new twist on classic pecan and apple pies.

Winners of Farmview Market’s recent “Flavors of Fall” pie competition share their pie prowess in turning locally-sourced ingredients into flavorful desserts to make any spirit bright.

Sarah Ross, of Social Circle, came away with the blue ribbon for best pecan pie with a Caramel Pecan Pie, and Suzy Neal took top honors in the apple pie category with an Apple Cider Pepper Pie, made with her own Unicoi Preserves Apple Cider Pepper spread, available at Farmview.

Winners of the ‘Flavors of Fall’ pie competition, Sarah Ross (above) and Suzy Neal (below), were presented with an engraved pie server by Keith Kelly, owner of Farmview Market in Madison.

For Ross, baking pecan pies is a family affair. Her father owned and operated Ross-Smith Pecan Co., a plant in McRae that sold pecans by the half and pieces, roasted or plain. “We had pecan pies for every holiday,” says Ross. “We even used pecan meal to bread things like chicken. We used pecans every way you could imagine growing up.”

She says her mother had a great recipe that was actually printed on each bag of pecans from her father’s plant. And, while she entered this classic recipe into the Farmview competition, it was actually her second entry – the Caramel Pecan Pie – that won first place.

“I just love anything caramel, so I wanted to try it,” she says.

Ross teaches in Rockdale County, so her fellow teachers became taste-testers in the week leading up to the festival. The result was a prize-winner, worthy of a spot in the 400-page cookbook of heirloom recipes she has compiled over the years and shared with family. Her caramel version will no doubt find a place near her mother’s classic standard in subsequent printings.

Another spin on a classic recipe was Neal’s Apple Cider Pepper Pie, made using her company’s signature pepper spread. Upon moving to Sautee Nacoochee in North Georgia in 2014, Neal saw an opportunity to get into the market by making jellies and spreads using local wines. From there, Unicoi Preserves was born.

“We have amazing wineries in the area, and I saw that no one was making products from local wine,” she says. “We started with our ‘Vineyard Spread’ from Habersham Winery and an Apple Cider Pepper Jelly.” That same year, she says, they entered the statewide “Flavor of Georgia’ competition and was recognized as a finalist.

From there, the pepper spread caught fire, becoming the key ingredient in a winning dish at the Jekyll Island Shrimp & Grits contest in 2015 and later in the Springer Mountain Farms state category in the Taste of America Challenge.

“The product is just so versatile and every time we use it, we seem to come out on top,” says Neal.

This time, the winning combination was the sweet heat of her Apple Cider Pepper Spread mixed with crisp Georgia-grown apples and a hint of sharp cheddar.

Farmview Market carries five varieties of Unicoi Preserves – the Apple Cider Pepper Spread, Vineyard Fire, Salted Caramel Peach, Strawberry Vanilla, and Vineyard Spread.

Neal also touted Unicoi Preserves’ power for easy holiday entertaining by pairing the flavors with local Rock House Creamery’s fromage during the festival. Erin Zwigart, owner and founder of Georgia Crafted which creates Georgia bamboo cutting board and Lake Oconee coasters, worked alongside her at the festival. “She has a second home at Lake Oconee and she and I work together at events and trade shows since our products are the perfect pair,” says Neal.

Both Neal and Ross were presented with engraved pie servers by Farmview Market as an award for their blue-ribbon contributions to the festival. Until next year, both plan to work on tweaking new recipes to share at the next “Flavors of Fall” festival at Farmview Market in Madison.


Caramel Pecan Pie

By Sarah Ross

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup light corn syrup

1/2 cup butter

1 cup heavy whipping cream

1/2 tsp salt

3 extra large eggs

1 tsp vanilla

2 cups pecan halves

1 refrigerated pie crust

Stir together the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a large skillet. Cook over medium-high heat, without stirring, for 8-12 minutes or until mixture turns a deep honey color. Remove from heat. Add butter and stir until melted. Gradually stir in cream. Stir in salt. Pour mixture into a medium bowl and let cool for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk eggs together and stir into cooled caramel mixture.  Stir in vanilla. Stir in pecans. Shape pie crust into 9-inch pie plate. Pour filling into crust.  Place in oven for 50 to 55 minutes.


Apple Cider Pepper Pie

By Suzy Neal (more at

Cheddar cheese pie crust

  • 1 1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces
  • 1/2 cup Cabot Farmhouse Reserve Cheddar
  • 1/4 cup cold water

Add flour and salt to the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add cold butter and pulse until the dough looks like coarse meal. Slowly add the cold water and pulse until mixture just begins to hold together. Add additional cold water by the teaspoon if necessary to get the mixture to the desired consistency. Dough should not be wet or sticky. Add cheese and pulse until combined. Pour dough on to plastic wrap and form a round disk. Wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes or overnight. Do ahead tip: Dough can be frozen up to 1 month, just thaw before using.

Apple Pie Filling

  • 8 cups Georgia Grown golden delicious apples, peeled, cored and sliced.
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp Kosher Salt
  • 2 TBS lemon juice
  • 3 TBS Unicoi Preserves Apple Cider Pepper Spread
  • 1 dash cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour

In a large, microwave-safe bowl, combine the apple slices and all pie filling ingredients except flour. Microwave the filling, uncovered, for 5 minutes. This will help soften the apples and get their juices flowing a bit. Stir lightly to combine. Mix 1/4 cup flour in to the apple and spice mixture.

Streusel topping

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup Unsalted Butter, cold, cut into slices

In a separate bowl, stir together 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup flour. Using a pastry blender, cut 1 stick of cold butter into the flour mixture until it’s crumbly and resembles small pebbles.

To assemble pie:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees with a rack centered in the middle of the oven and the top rack removed to make room for the paper grocery bag. Remove the pie dough from the refrigerator. If the dough has been chilling longer than 30 minutes, let it warm up about 10 minutes and roll into a 12-13-inch circle.

Place the crust in to a 9-inch pie pan and let it settle gently in the pan without stretching it, as this could cause the crust to shrink as it bakes. Crimp the top edges of the dough to make it look pretty.

Spoon the apple filling and juice into the pie crust, then spread the streusel topping over the filling.

Place the apple pie in a brown paper grocery bag, laid on its side and set on a baking sheet. Baking in the bag will prevent any bubbling juice from making a big mess and smoking. Fold the bag and staple it in three or four places to close the bag.

Bake for 50 minutes. Carefully remove the pie from the bag and place it back on the baking sheet. Cover the crust with foil and bake 10-15 more minutes to brown the streusel topping.

When the topping is browned to your liking, remove and cool on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes, longer is better.


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