The countdown to the 17th Annual Olde-Tyme Peach Festival began weeks ago for members of the M.O.T. Jean Birch Senior Center, who have been hard at work since Aug. 3 preparing to bake hundreds of peach pies for the event.

    The countdown to the 17th Annual Olde-Tyme Peach Festival has begun for members of the M.O.T. Jean Birch Senior Center, who have been hard at work since Aug. 3 preparing to bake hundreds of peach pies for the event.
    Each year around this time, senior center volunteers can be found rolling the dough, molding the piecrust and peeling the peaches for the pies they plan to sell Saturday, Aug. 21 in Middletown.
    Pat McDowell, administrative assistant at the center, said the process gets underway early in the month so everything will be ready for pick-up and sale the day of the festival.
    “The girls have worked together for so many years that they have it down to a science,” she said. “Everybody has their own little niche. It just works.”
    McDowell said a total of 700 pies will be sold this year, including 375 9-inch pies, 100 6- by 6-inch cobblers and 225 mini pies. Some of the pies will be sugar-free, which are $2 more because of the high price of Splenda product used as a sugar replacement.
    Dough in the shape of a leaf is located on the top of the sugar-free pies to set them apart.
    Pies can be purchased at the center starting at 9 a.m., and pre-order pick-ups will begin at 8 a.m. All pre-orders must be made by Wednesday, Aug. 18.
    McDowell said the senior center will also have a bake table at the Annex, located on Main Street next to the Everett Theatre, with baked peach goods like jellies and jams.
    She said the pie sale is one of the center’s largest fundraisers of the year. All proceeds go right back to the senior center. She warns not to wait too long, though, because the pies often sell out by noon.
    Dottie Lucina, who has been in charge of the pie making for six years, said it’s always a challenge baking so many pies, but she continues to lead the pack of at least 30 volunteers year after year.
    “They’re good at it,” she said, “and they don’t get mad when I tell them they’re doing it wrong.”
    McDowell said the piecrust remains frozen until the day before the festival. All the materials are transferred to Appoquinimink High School, where all the pies get baked. The center does not have the cooking space to bake the pies in their kitchen.
    “It’s been fantastic [using the school’s culinary classroom],” she said.
    McDowell said although the pie baking usually means organized chaos, she and the rest of the volunteers are happy to do it.
    “It’s a good feeling to see all those pies go out the door,” she said. “It’s well worth the effort.”

Do you have the best pie?
    The annual Peach Pie Contest will return to the senior center this year, and all are invited to participate.
    McDowell, the coordinator of the contest, said she encourages community members, young and old, male and female, to showcase their creations.
    “It’s definitely not just for seniors,” she said.
    McDowell said she loves continuing the tradition that the late Jean Birch started years ago.
    “I don’t think we’ve had one bad pie in all these years,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
    McDowell said there were 22 entrees last year, and she hopes to see just as many again this year.
    The contest will kick off during the Peach Festival, Aug. 21, at 11 a.m.
    Judging this year are Mayor Kenny Branner Jr.; longtime Middletown resident Bill O’Neil; Donna Cavender, public relations person for Associated Community Talents, Inc.; Dawn McDowell, community involvement coordinator at the Middletown Walmart Supercenter; Middletown Police Chief Hank Tobin; and Crime Prevention Specialist Christine Brenner.
    McDowell said each contestant can enter one pie. Judges will score on texture, taste and appearance of the crust.
    She said judges are first shown the pie as a whole, then a slice of each pie. They then are given a bite of each slice for the taste and texture portion of the contest.
    Prizes are awarded to first-, second- and third-place bakers.
    If a tie occurs, the judges will go back and re-taste the pies.
    “We’ve had to go back four or five times before to break a tie,” McDowell said. “There’s a lot of peach pie getting tasted that day.”
    After the auction, what is left of the pies gets auctioned off to the highest bidders. Funds earned go straight to the senior center.
    McDowell said she hopes to see a lot of new faces at this year’s contest and hopes they make it difficult for the judges.
    “The judges are great,” she said. “It’s always fun to put them on the spot.”