The first time I stepped foot in Sarasota it snowed. I don’t know if that was a sign, or if so, what that sign could mean, but sure enough I was standing with sand in my shoes on Bahia Vista Street and there it fell: millions of wanderlust snowflakes drifting out of the heavens to say hello.
The fluttering flakes reminded me of the sand on Siesta Key Beach--that crystalline confetti I’d only minutes before introduced my feet to--and somewhere in the disparity between the cool white dew sprinkling over my head and the sugary grains sifting around in my sandals, I knew my decision to move here had been right.
But it took me a little longer truly feel at home in Sarasota. Although I did not grow up Mennonite, I had found my way to the Mennonite faith and to Pinecraft, Sarasota’s Anabaptist nook. I was overwhelmed by the warm welcome I received, from strangers who soon became friends, and I loved the home-cooked food that was at the center of so many of our gatherings. My new friends encouraged my interest, sharing recipes and tips, and they even invited me to be a judge at an annual Pinecraft pie contest.
The badge I wore designated me as a contest judge, but as the contest began I worried that maybe I wasn’t qualified. Who was I to rate such sugary staples from Sarasota’s sweetest sisters?
Then I bit into a pool of chocolate pudding paradise. And I whipped at the cream, and I coasted through the custard, and I bobbed blueberries on my tongue. Suddenly, not only was I qualified, but I was as confident as a queen. I knew these tastes. Who needed a scepter? I had a fork.
I got a suntan that day, and ate through pies richer than Bill Gates and no less charitable. And as I looked around at my friends in head coverings and on bikes, with smiles and with pious faces, all of us surrounded by dense city life, something became clear to me.
Nowhere else but in Sarasota could such people, such pies, and such a contest judge be carved into a landscape so stylish and urbane, so swanky and sunny and full of life and culture. It is a special place. And as I realized that, I looked up into a beautiful sunset and felt so very content here, that a few tears twinkled the sun’s rays in my eyes.
It looked like it was snowing.
Sherry Gore is the author of Simply Delicious Amish Cooking.