By Emily Beckett
Carolyn Prokopyk said people were probably wondering why she hugged Steve Bittermann so tightly after he won the cook-off at Chilton County’s Peach Festival last year.
Why would Prokopyk, the 2010 cook-off winner, hug the man who bumped her down to runner-up the next year?
Well, despite their different last names and their friendly rivalry, this husband and wife of Clanton support each other no matter how well they fare in the competition.
“I have to admit, I never expected to win,” Bittermann said. “That’s the first cook-off so-called entry I’ve ever done. It was fun to do and fun to try, and, of course, it’s fun to win.”
Perhaps it was beginner’s luck that brought Bittermann the blue ribbon for his peach cheesecake, considering Prokopyk won her first year in the cook-off as well. But Prokopyk claims her help and her lucky cake plate could have something to do with her husband’s success.
“I just told him how to make the glaze stay on top so it wouldn’t run off,” Prokopyk said. “I made him do it, but I told him how. That was a mistake.”
Bittermann got his basic cheesecake recipe from an attorney in North Dakota, but he added the peach glaze especially for the cook-off.
“With my recipe, it required like a dozen peaches, of which you have to eat six,” Bittermann said. “Carolyn did help me in putting mine together, but I did all the work.”
Although all cook-off participants had to submit written recipes for their dishes, Prokopyk doesn’t follow a recipe for her fried peach pie.
“I’ve been making piecrust dough all my life. I think I learned mine watching my grandma make fried pies,” Prokopyk said. “She didn’t have a recipe either. She would just do it till the dough looks right.”
Both said their dishes took about two hours to make.
“The variety of dishes that are brought in—they’ll range from baked goods to a meat with peach glazing,” Bittermann said. “I can say there’s nothing like Chilton County peaches.”
Bittermann is originally from North Dakota, and Prokopyk grew up in Chilton County before she met Bittermann and moved away for a time.
“I had to come home and try to make up for missing 20 years of Chilton County peaches,” Prokopyk said. “We go through quite a few. They are good.”
The couple has lived in Chilton County since 2005. Prokopyk decided to enter the cook-off partly because her sisters participated.
“Whipping them is great because they’re older,” Prokopyk said. “It’s just fun. I love peach week.”
She conceded that Bittermann’s dish – his specialty, she said—was good, but she hasn’t moved his blue ribbon from the side of their refrigerator to the front, where hers is.
“Everything around the house for the next week was, ‘Number one this,’” Prokopyk said, laughing. “He makes one thing and it’s a winner, so that’s all that matters.”
She said she wishes more people would participate in the cook-off, an event organized by Gay West, Alabama Cooperative Extension System coordinator.
“[West] does a great job putting it on. I don’t know of anybody that is disappointed when they come,” Prokopyk said.
“If you like that kind of stuff, it’s worth a Saturday morning. If you like to cook or whatever, you’ll pick up a tip or two.”
Both are planning on entering the cook-off once again this summer.
“We’ll make time,” Bittermann said. “I’ve still got to maintain my turf in the kitchen.”
The 2012 Peach Festival Cook-Off Contest will begin at 10 a.m. on June 23 at Thorsby First Baptist Church.