Bite, Chew, Swallow, Repeat

John C. Hollinger

© Copyright 2021 by John C. Hollinger

John snf Heike.
John and Heike.  Photo by the author.

When you think of Maine, cookies and cream might not be your first thoughts. But after an unexpected challenge for the ages, John now knows that Maine is all about makin’ Whoopie… Pies.

With Heike riding shotgun, Boo asleep in the back, and Tino sunning himself on the dash, John navigated the backroads of Maine. In addition to being transportation across exciting new lands, our little red Kia Rio hatchback had also been acting as our home away from home the past two months. During the day, we explored. At night, our quartet - husband, wife, paraplegic dog, and temperamental cat - snuggled together atop foldaway seats while parked at roadside rest stops and Walmart parking lots. We had put on both miles and pounds as we traveled North America in search of adventure and deliciousness. Canada’s Maritime provinces provided amazing vistas and wonderful seafood the past couple of weeks. But we had crossed back into the States that morning and now happened through the conjoined towns of Dover-Foxcroft.

After declining John's suggested stop at a local bakery on the outskirts, Heike attested that, in light of our past several meals conspicuously lacking the color green (excepting the occasional sprig of parsley as token garnish), today she would like to just have salad, perhaps accompanied by something small and savory. As she was stating this, we noticed a sudden influx of cars and pedestrians. We approached the heart of the community where our road curved right, but to the left was some sort of crowded street party. Not expecting such revelry, we initially zoomed right by and had to double back to check it out. What 'it' was turned out to be both adventure and deliciousness: the Maine Whoopie Pie Festival. There would be no salad today.

A traditional whoopie pie is a northeastern treat composed of two large chocolate 'cookies' (actually, more like round slabs of thick dense cake), sandwiching a layer of creamy white frosting. Imagine a double-stuffed Oreo injected with copious amounts of steroids and growth hormones to become the size of a Burger King Whopper. They are sweet and rich and heavy… and they were being celebrated.

The festival had all the usuals: rides and games for the kids, live music, food stands, a merchandise table (where John hummed and hawed over a $20 dayglow orange festival T-shirt, which he decided to come back to later), and dozens of booths selling crafts, jewelry, and other eye catching junk that nobody really needs. What makes the whoopie pie festival different is the long row of stands where restaurants, stores, and bakeries from across the state offer up their best versions of the whoopie pie in hopes of being crowned the Maine Whoopie Pie Festival Winner. Our $3 entrance fee got us four wooden tokens, each good for a whoopie pie sample, plus a golden token to cast a vote for our favorite vendor. There were scores of versions of the whoopie pie to sample, each with with uniquely delectable combinations of cookie and icing flavors. Ultimately, Heike's golden token went to D & G Bakery's 'Blueberry Pancakes', which, with blueberry-vanilla cookies and maple frosting - tasted just like its name. John's vote went to the Frisky Whisk Bakery for the 'Fat Elvis': banana cookies and peanut butter filling loaded with chunks of real bacon.

Having toured the festivities over an entertaining and edible hour, we were beyond pleased with our serendipitous discovery and ready to travel on. But as we were making our way towards the festival exit, a crowd within the crowd was forming at tables near the food court area. The cause of the commotion? Festival volunteers were gathering participants for the annual whoopie pie eating contest.

Now, in spite of our glowing review, John is not actually much of a cake person. And, on the rare occasion he does eat cake, he definitely does not eat the frosting. (Don’t worry, it doesn’t go to waste. Heike generally scrapes all that creamy goodness off John’s portion so she gets double.) In fact, the samples he had earlier were the first time either of us could recall him consuming frosting in a long time. (But, when in Rome, right?) That means John, usually up for a challenge, had little interest in a whoopie pie eating contest. Heike, however, was excited for him to participate. Also, in Moncton just the day before, he had rebuffed her pushes to sing O Canada to a Molson Canadian beer fridge for the chance to be in a television commercial (yep, those crazy Canucks). That in mind, stuffing himself with a food he didn’t particularly care for, in front of a gawking crowd, while sweating in the 90 degree heat, was a duty John felt he simply had to undertake that day - both for Heike's amusement and the true Maine experience. Diabetes be damned.

John was the final entrant of four contestants. He slid his unremarkably average-sized frame into the remaining open space at the large picnic table in the center of the spectacle. The other three contestants were already seated, eager, and ready. Jordan was a husky but baby-faced local kid who looked 13, was actually 17, and probably weighed more than John and Heike combined. David was a wiry twenty-something with the hair and garb of a typical rock band roadie, originally from Michigan but currently living in Bangor. And Grant, clearly the odds-on favorite, was a strapping 34-year old military man from Texas, now posted in North Carolina, where (based on musculature and girth) the base doles out equally massive amounts of pull ups and pulled pork.

The emcee belted out her rules with exuberance that would make Michael Buffer blush. They were simple: Eat as many whoopie pies as possible. No time limit; just go until you can stomach no more. Drink as much milk or water as you need. That's it.

John sized up the competition as the crowd counted down with the emcee... 6, 5, 4... He knew he was in tough... “3, 2, 1... Oh well, it was free food... “Begin!!!

The crowd cheered! Jordan, David, and Grant were off to furious starts, stuffing the first whoopie pies into their gaping maws. Meanwhile, John methodically opened the clear plastic clamshell containing his first pie and began eating. Before John was half done, Grant was already on his second pie. At John’s three quarter point, David was working on pie two as well. Poor Jordan, who started as frenetically as the others, surprisingly seemed to already be hitting a wall; he finished pie one the same time as John.

A casual sip of milk, then John started his second whoopie pie. Meanwhile, Grant was cracking open number three. John figured the lost ground made him a long shot, but he just maintained a steady rhythm: bite, chew, swallow, repeat.

By now the crowd had picked their winner - obvious to many from the start. Grant was well ahead and the chant erupted: "Grant! Grant! Grant!"

Bite, chew, swallow, repeat.

As the dense desserts added up, the laments began

David: “They're so dense!”

Jordan: “My mouth is coated! I can't swallow!”

as did the trash talk.

Grant: “I have a hamburger waiting for me when I'm done.”

Bite, chew, swallow, repeat.

John finished pie two at nearly the same time as David, who had now also slowed considerably. Grant's third was already digesting, but, as his stomach filled, his cockiness was waning. Crestfallen Jordan began to look ill - holding his head in his hands as he woefully chewed.

David: “They're so dense!”

Grant: “And so sweet.”


Bite, chew, swallow, repeat.

Somehow, Jordan managed to finish pie two, but he was clearly laboring. Sitting directly across from him, John was worried Jordan was going to lose it and a whole Stand By Me-style ‘Barf-o-Rama’ was about to erupt.

John polished off pie three. David was still working his third. Grant was nursing his forth. And nearly delirious Jordan was falling in and out of consciousness.

Grant: “I shouldn't have had those samples!

David: “They're so dense!”


Bite, chew, swallow, repeat.

Jordan, listlessly gnawing on pie three, became coherent again just long enough to concede. When told he could keep the partially eaten pie for later, he nearly retched. And then there were three.

Bite, chew, swallow, repeat.

David managed to put away pie three and was on to four. Grant was barely nibbling any more, essentially stalled halfway through his fourth.

Bite, chew, swallow, repeat.

John angled to face his faltering foes, then started into pie five while staring them down.
Grant: “Where are you putting all those?”

David: “They're So Dense!!”

Bite, chew, swallow, repeat.

As his competitors wallowed, now both floundering at three and a half pies, John knew he had it. Some simple psychology would be the final blow.

John: “You guys are doing good. Only one more entire whoopie pie to catch up, plus however much more I eat by then.
Their faces sunk. John smiled and kept on.

Bite, chew, swallow, repeat.

Grant: “Tie for second?”


The pair watched John mechanically continue consuming cake and frosting. David looked down, examining the heavy treat in his hands. Then he glumly glanced up to Grant, placed the whoopie carcass on the table in front of him, and slowly nodded. It was over! The runner-up accord had been ratified! And John was still going. Was a new contest record in sight? Not even close. Heike inquired with the emcee and was informed that last year's winner ate nine - and in a mere ten minutes.

For good measure, John finished his fifth whoopie pie (knowing he could have ate more, but to what end?) and then accepted his prize as the 2016 Maine Whoopie Pie Festival Whoopie Pie Eating Champion. The winnings? Another whoopie pie, of course, plus a $20 certificate for the merchandise stand - exactly enough to purchase the bright orange T-shirt he didn't commit to earlier.

Heike and her sugar-stuffed hero made their way back to the car, T-shirt and whoopie pie in hand. As she walked and he ambled somewhere between a waddle and a limp, John could have sworn he heard from over his shoulder the band on the festival stage start into their best Freddy Mercury tribute: "We are the champions..."

John C. Hollinger is a ‘master-of-none’ who has worked in many industries throughout his life. Ophthalmology, the postal service, hotels, radio, television, and bars - to name a handful. John works to live but he lives to eat and travel. He loves experiencing new places and new dishes, and then documenting them for his family and friends. John, his wife Heike, their physically handicapped dog Boo, and their mercurial cat Tino, have visited every Canadian province, 49 states (only Alaska remains), and several regions of Mexico and the Caribbean. The Canuck family is perpetually on the move, having lived in nearly two dozen homes this millennium - not counting the motor home and hatchback which have carried them across North America. Food challenges, for spice and for size, are a hobby John doesn’t seek out but undertakes when accidentally discovered. And he has the collection of T-shirts to prove it.

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