Home of Economy-Herald pie contestant Caitlin Olson hopes to raise level of vegan recipes – Grand Forks Herald

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EAST GRAND FORKS — Caitlin Olson describes her baking background as self-taught – but with help from a grandmother. Her work resume shows that she’s learned a few things about baking while on the clock, too.

Olson fine-tuned her kitchen skills while working at Amazing Grains and, later, at Paola’s in downtown Grand Forks.

“In both capacities, baking was an experiment in problem-solving. At home, we had to make do with what was on hand. And at the bakeries, we often had a similar problem to popular cooking shows, like: What are we going to do with the huge box of lemons, bunches of thyme, and leftover steel-cut oats that need to be used soon?” Olson said in a bio she sent to the Herald. “Additionally, I have been vegan for years, so that brought another level of problem solving, like how to recreate the classics using novel ingredients.”

Olson has been chosen as one of 16 contestants in the first-ever Home of Economy-Grand Forks Herald Pie Bake-off, an event that intends to showcase some of the best pie-bakers – and their pies – in the Greater Grand Forks region. Olson said she plans to use vegan recipes throughout the course of the contest, which begins Aug. 22 and runs through September.

Olson, who is sponsored by Hope Church of Grand Forks, is confident that a vegan pie can stand up in a competition that will feature traditional pies baked by a slew of experienced bakers – including a few with professional experience.

“Usually, if you don’t tell someone, they don’t know,” she said in an interview with the Herald. “There has been a lot of innovation in the vegan baking-sphere. There is a community you can go to to check out (recipe and ingredient ideas) and see other people’s experiments and build off of them. There is still a lot of room out there for innovation. It’s fun, but it’s also a gamble, so I’ll stick with what I know.

“I’m pretty confident nobody can tell,” she said.

She has entered food competitions in the past, including a hotdish contest in East Grand Forks. She didn’t win, but placed among the Top 3 with a vegan hotdish of summer vegetables, fried polenta and plantain, with an herbed/spiced tomato sauce. She entered the competition without high expectations, considering her “weird entry” – her words – was going up against traditional Minnesota hotdishes.

“I think that demonstrates the power of creativity and quality ingredients,” she said. “I’m just interested in different food contests. I thought the (hotdish contest) was really fun. It was interesting to see what everyone came up with, and having a chance to be creative. And it’s also nice to have people try things and give you feedback.”

In the bio she sent to the Herald, she vows that her pies won’t be just “healthy/diet food.”

“I would love to enter your contest and show how far vegan food has come in the past few years,” she said.

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