Today is the day! It’s Minnesota State Fair baked goods entry day, and I’ve just returned from dropping off my cupcakes at the fairgrounds. Let me just say, What a fun experience.
But first… let’s see the cupcakes:
I talked a bit before about what I was entering—a miniaturized version of my mother-in-law’s awesome carrot cake. I followed the recipe almost exactly, though I did add a tiny bit of nutmeg this time to give the cake a little bit more flavor. I mentioned that one of the best parts of the cake is its pecan and cream cheese frosting, but that cream cheese isn’t allowed in fair entries. So instead I whipped up my usual white frosting but added a cream cheese emulsion to help give it that flavor. I thought they came out tasting pretty good. Honestly, the cake itself is so good it can just be eaten as-is, so my goal with the frosting was just to complement without getting in the way.
And off to the fair we went!
It was really neat to be at the fairgrounds on the eve of the fair, when many of the booths and attractions are set up but there’s still hardly anyone on the grounds. I’ve been to the site before at off times of the year, but never this close to the actual date of the fair. There’s this feeling of anticipation in the air, and though I’m only so-so on the fair itself and attend only once every few years, I found myself all excited as I drove through and saw all the familiar sights.
If the fairgrounds were a labyrinth puzzle, the platform would be tilted significantly under the weight of the Creative Activities building. The sidewalk in front of and all along the side of the building was lined with bakers toting pies and cakes and bags of bread.
I took my place in line, wishing I’d brought something to pass the time. It turns out that I didn’t need it. As soon as someone stepped in line behind me, she and I struck up a conversation that continued through the 45 minutes we waited. She was surprised by the length of the line; in her six years baking for the fair, this was the longest she’d seen it. We talked about what was in her large Sterilite container and about the ribbons she’d won in years past. She was tickled recalling how last year during fair drop-off she’d been interviewed for a special show by the Travel Channel and got her 15 seconds of fame with her sound bite, “chocolate chip cookies.”
The other woman in line with us was a lot like me—around my age and also entering the fair for the first time. “Just banana bread and apple pie,” she shrugged when I asked her what she’d brought. “No, that’s State Fair-worthy banana bread,” I told her. She and I had similar motivations as well. Her parents were both ribbon winners, and she’d always thought it would be fun to enter the competition at least once. I told her I’d heard that there was no such thing as entering one time, that once you start there’s no going back.
Perhaps that would explain the hoards of middle-aged women lugging plastic totes and rolling suitcases full of baked goods. It made my new friend and me feel like total newbies with our one and two items. To me, the crowd epitomized “The Great Minnesota Get-Together,” all these people gathered with a common interest and a common goal.
The competition certainly is a culture in and of itself. At one point while we were waiting in line, a silver SUV pulled up and parked just across the road. A stir of whispers went through the crowd as state fair baking celebrity Marjorie Johnson, the “Blue Ribbon Baker,” stepped out in her pretty little red dress. Not even five feet tall, Marjorie still had quite an effect on those around, with many asking to take a picture with her while her “entourage” unloaded her goodies and got in line. I guess 2500 ribbons is what it takes to get someone else will wait in the line so you don’t have to. 😉
Once we got inside the building, it was a quick and easy process of delivering our entries to be judged, almost anti-climactic in fact. Soon enough I was on my way again, with a simple reminder to “check the website” later in the week to see if my cupcakes had placed.
If you’re headed out to the fair in the upcoming weeks, make sure to check the case for my carrot cake cupcakes. With a little luck, they’ll be the one with the blue ribbon attached to them! 🙂
[EDIT: So I didn’t win any ribbons, but I still had a great time doing it. Make sure to let me know if you see my cupcakes in the case at the fair!]