Monday, August 29, 2016

"Great (Minnesota) State Fair Recipes" & "Blue Ribbon Winners - America's Best State Fair Recipes" - Chocolate Drop Cookies and German Apple Cake - It's State Fair Time!

Date I made these recipes:  August 27, 2016 – it's State Fair time here in Minnesota!

Great State Fair Recipes – A Collection of Minnesota State Fair Sweepstakes – Winning Recipes from 1906 to 1975 (spiral bound), edited by Karen Humphrey
Published by Minnesota State Agricultural Society (State Fair) and the American Daily Association of Minnesota
© 1976
Gift from a friend
Recipe:  Chocolate Drop Cookies submitted to the Fair by Mrs. Merle Robertson of Minneapolis, MN  - p. 32

Blue Ribbon Winners – America's Best State Fair Recipes by Catherine Hanley
Published by Smithmark
ISBN: 0-8317-0310-5; copyright 1993
Purchased at BCPA (Bloomington Crime Prevention Association) annual sale, 2015
Recipe:  German Apple Cake made by Joyce Dubois, submitted at the South Dakota State Fair- p. 67

Quiz time:  What phrase gets uttered more times in Minnesota in the month of August than any other?

Answer:  "So, are you going to 'The Fair'?"

'Round here, "The Fair" needs no explanation.  While county fairs and city fairs and festivals abound, there is only one big daddy and it's the Minnesota State Fair, now in its 157th year.  On average, 150,000 people per day stroll through the Fairgrounds during the Fair that starts on the last Thursday in August and ends on Labor Day.  I know people who go to the Fair every single day as well as those who go every year. 

My husband and I have been rather slow to embrace this thinking, having gone about every five years or so.  Unlike the vast majority of people who attend the Fair, we're more interested in the music than anything else and the Fair provides a lot of stages and artists from which to choose.  We're on deck to go next weekend although we haven't decided on the musical act we want to see.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my friend, Laura, asked if I wanted to go to the Fair with her this past Friday, Day 2 of the Fair, and I said "Sure, why not?  Nothing says I can't go twice!"  We had a blast.  We have similar tastes when it comes to what things to see and do and in the almost six hours we were there, we managed to put some respectable miles on our shoes.  

One of the exhibits I make sure to tour are all the craft and cooking projects in the aptly named Creative Activities Annex building.  There you will find sewing projects, needlepoint, knitting projects and other crafts and then in the back you'll see the baked goods winners, pickling and preserve winners and other related food offerings.  This year though, and I cannot believe we did this, I was so focused on finding the award-winning knitting submission from my friend, Bonnie, that I forgot to go in the back and look at the food!  Just means I have to go back and look another day.  (PS—Congratulations, Bonnie!)

To be clear, I have never entered or will enter a food competition as that job is best left to the "professionals" i.e. those individuals who have been baking and canning and submitting their treats to the Fair for years and years and years.  I've always liked how the judging is done by trained "professionals" instead of letting "America vote" as happens on popular TV competitions.  These judges know their stuff and can tell in a nanosecond if someone's bread or rolls didn't rise (mine don't rise) and so there's no sense subjecting my offerings to these judges. "pre-emptive self-elimination" is the way to go, folks, and for that, I am sure the judges thanked me.

In fact, I tend to live my life by this (very real) motto:  "Why do for yourself when you can pay others to do for you?" And this is exactly why I would rather spend money on purchasing and then using cookbooks by award-winning state fair bakers than trying to create a special something on my own. 

Happily this year, I have two such cookbooks that fit the bill nicely and both of them contain recipes from state fairs around the country.  Both books pretty much have the same table of content that mirrors state fair categories:  "Pies and Pastries;" "Family & Party Cakes;" "Yeast Breads;" "Quick Breads;" "Special Cookies;" "Candies and Snacks; "Sweet Spreads (your jams and jellies)," and "Pickles and Condiments."  And no, the sweet stuff does not really go with your pickled stuff but these are state fair rules and so by god, we are following them!

The Great State Fair Recipes cookbook (collection of Minnesota sweepstakes winners from 1906 to 1975) also features award-winning recipes from these historic years:  1906, 1927, 1939, 1949, and 1962.  A little history recap is provided for each historic year and this is how I was reminded that the "March King" a/k/a John Philip Sousa was the 1927 opening day attraction.  According to the recap, JPS was approached by the U of MN to compose a march for the university and that is how the Minnesota March came into being:  "March on, march on to victory!/ Loyal sons of the varsity/ Fight on, fight on for Minnesota/ And the glory of the old maroon and gold...."  I played this piece so many times while in my community band that I have my clarinet part memorized. This march is now part of the standard repertoire played by the University of Minnesota Marching Band at every pep rally, game, or performance, including the Minnesota State Fair. (Small disclosure:  although I do not root, root, root, for the U of MN teams, I do love marching bands and did love playing all the U of MN fight songs while in community band.)

Also notable and slightly off point:  JPS was also commissioned to write the Foshay Tower Memorial March in honor of the opening on the (then) tallest building in Minneapolis, the Foshay Tower.  There is a long story behind this piece and in the interest of time, I won't bring you down that road but it's a great march and one I even conducted once with my community band.

At any rate, this cookbook is pretty fun and all the recipes sounded great.  The one that "sold" me though, was Chocolate Drop Cookies.  Aside from being something even I could bake without fear, I love it when cookbooks contain hand-written notes such as this:  "Very, very good.  1986." I don't know who wrote this next to the chocolate cookie recipe but that is what sealed the deal for me.  A second note also said "Chocolate is very mild!"  I have no idea if that was a good thing or a bad thing but there you have it.

As to the second recipe book – Blue Ribbon Winners – this book contains recipes from state fairs across the United States and I tell you what, selecting a recipe to make from this book was no easy feat. I looked over everything, paused for quite some time on the candy section (divinity—yum!) and even considered, albeit briefly, making some canned items even though I have not one piece of equipment to properly do so – (small detail).  In the end, I tagged about five recipes, one of which was Marjorie Johnson's "Jelly Roll" (a word on that in a minute) before deciding on the German Apple Cake.  I like apples, I have a little bit of German in me, and I was in the mood for another taste sensation besides chocolate...not that there's anything wrong with chocolate.  (There is NOTHING wrong with chocolate.  Ever.)

So German Apple Cake it was but first, a word on master baker, Marjorie Johnson, from Robbinsdale, MN.  And while once upon a time, nobody knew who Marjorie was, this woman has won so many ribbons at the Minnesota State Fair (over, 2500, of which 1,000 were blue ribbons) that she attracted the attention of national talk shows like The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.  Besides being a highly-decorated baking contest winner, Marjorie (whom I met and have talked to) is a delightful talk-show guest because she has a great personality that is packed into her very petite 4' 8" frame.  The only reason that Marjorie does not stand out in a crowd is because she disappears! 

Although Marjorie has "retired" from competitive baking (no doubt a sigh of relief was heard by her competition around the state), she is still up for making appearances at the Minnesota State Fair this year.

Now Marjorie's "Jelly Roll" recipe doesn't seem hard but jelly rolls can be tricky and it would be most unfair of me to "ding" Marjorie because of my failure to come up with something that even approximates a jelly roll, never mind a blue ribbon appearance.  And since I could about bet the farm(!) that my efforts would fail, I settled on the German Apple Cake and I was not disappointed.

Both of these recipes "halved" very easily which is a good thing as I would rather savor a small batch of cookies and cakes rather than freeze the leftovers or worse, toss them out after swearing a week later that I could not eat another bite.

And so bakers or aspiring bakers, if you're feeling in a State Fair kind of mood, check out these recipes and these cookbooks and have at it.  I managed to time the making of these on a cool and rainy Saturday and they were the perfect thing to motivate me to stay in the kitchen which, despite all my cooking, is still something of a rare occurrence.  When the weather's warm out, I'd rather be outside soaking up the sun while I can. 

And finally, and apropos to nothing discussed above, since I am a musician, I often have ear worms running through my head at all times and it's often music to fit the occasion.  In my last blog post about the Olympics, I mentioned a few tunes about Rio or Brazil that came to mind.  This time around, here are some State Fair favorites.

From the movie State Fair (1962, starring Pat Boone and Ann-Margret) there's the song of the same name – State Fair – written for the musical and movie by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein.  And how can you not like these lyrics:  :  "Our State Fair is a great state fair is a great is a great is a great state fair hey!" (Love the "hey!"  It just pulls it all together.), not to mention "It's dollars to doughnuts that our state fair is the best state fair in our state."  I mean, I use the term "dollars to doughnuts" all the time but I'm old!  Older than this movie "old."  And as long as I'm at it:  of course "your" state fair is the best STATE fair in the "YOUR" ("OUR") state.  What else could it be?  But, and with all due respect to Rodgers and Hammerstein, this movie is really hokey and not one of their best and so there you go.

Not all the music from State Fair was that ridiculous though.   The movie also contained two other songs that I love and that I used to play on piano:  "It Might as Well be Spring," and "It's A Grand Night for Singing."  (Shall I just tell you though, that once I get past "It's. A. Graaaaannnnd. Night for signing..." I'm rather lost when it comes to the lyrics?  I can still envision the piano part but after the first line, I've got nothin'.)

From the musical/movie Camelot, written by Lerner and Lowe, we have the song "Then You May Take Me to the Fair."  This song, sung by Julie Andrews (on Broadway), is rather amusing and it still makes me laugh to hear it.  This is the lyric that sticks the most:  "Then you may take me to the fair, if you do all the things you promised/In fact, my heart would break should you not take me to the fair!" 

Finally, and a bit more contemporary, there's Simon and Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair," a tune my glee club sang while I was in high school.  I can still remember my part when singing the lyrics (which I hope you know!):  "Are you going to Scarborough Fair/Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme/Remember me to one who lives there/She once was a true love of mine."

Oh sniffle.  I love this song, love Simon and Garfunkel, love, love, love.

And now, bake to baking!  Your recipes await below:

Chocolate Drop Cookies – makes 36 cookies - Recipe submitted by Mrs. Merle Robertson of Minneapolis, MN

Ann's NOTE:  Mrs. Robertson says to frost these cookies with chocolate butter frosting while they are very warm,  but she did not provide a recipe.  And when I Googled one online, I found I did not have all the ingredients to make chocolate buttercream frosting, so we ate them without and they were fine.  Frosting though, would probably make them sensational.

½ cup shortening
2 squares unsweetened chocolate
1 egg
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup milk
1 2/3 cup flour
½ teaspoon soda
½ cup chopped nuts

In a small saucepan, melt shortening and chocolate.  Cool.  Beat egg; stir in sugar, salt, and vanilla.  Add chocolate mixture and mix well.  To this add alternately the milk and flour-soda mixture.  Stir well.  Add chopped nuts.  Drop from teaspoon to ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake at 350F for 10-15 minutes.  While still slightly warm, frost cookies with chocolate butter frosting.

Ann's Note:  I was in a hardware store the other day, when I spotted this dinky little measuring cup, meant for ¼ cup or less.  I love gadgets like this so I bought it and I used it to "halve" the egg needed to make a half recipe of the cake.  It was perfect, just perfect, and now I want to go get a few more.  And by the way, if a recipe calls for half an egg, simply crack an egg into a measuring cup (yield is about ¼ cup), stir it to mix, and then use only half of that mixture.  The dinky little measuring cup helps a lot.

Also, if you Google "Chocolate Buttercream Frosting" (a/k/a Chocolate Butter Frosting), you'll find endless recipes for that frosting.  And if another type of frosting is more to your liking, then run with that.

German Apple Cake – makes one 9 x 13" cake - Recipe from Joyce Dubois from Wolsey, South Dakota, submitted to the South Dakota State Fair.  According to her bio, she started submitting recipes around 1968 and entered (at the time the book was published) about 100 items (not all of them cooking items) to the State Fair each year.

2 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
4 cups finely chopped apples
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350F (175C).  Great a 13" x 9" baking pan.  In a large bowl, beat eggs, oil and vanilla; gradually eat in sugar until mixture is thick and creamy.  Sift flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon into a medium-size bowl.  Add dry ingredients to creamed mixture, stirring until well blended.  Fold in apples and walnuts.  Spoon into greased pan.  Bake in preheated oven about 45 minutes or until cake has started to pull away from sides of pan and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean.  Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.  Sever slightly warm or cool.

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