TRAVERSE CITY — Think home economics is a thing of the past? Don’t tell Barbara Klinetop, superintendent of the culinary arts department at the Northwestern Michigan Fair.
Klinetop, of Traverse City, takes fair week off every August to oversee the event’s culinary arts competition, part of the larger Home Economics and Art competition. This year the culinary contest attracted 200 entries, from pies, breads and other baked goods to jellies, preserved pickles and canned fruits and vegetables.
About 30 of those came from Julia Deemer, 73, who enters the fair every year. Deemer, of Interlochen, learned to cook from her mother when she was in third grade as a sort of consolation prize for not being able to go along on her younger brother’s class field trip to the circus. Now she bakes everything from cinnamon rolls to fruit breads, cans everything from tomatoes to beans, and preserves everything from pickles to relishes.
“I had heart surgery in April so I didn’t get as much done as I usually do,” said Deemer, who won one of two “sweepstakes” ribbons for her cucumber relish.
The entries were judged Sunday and will be on display at the fairgrounds’ Evelyn Heim Building through Saturday.
Klinetop said most culinary entrants are older area residents, fair volunteers and 4-H moms. But new participants are throwing their cakes, candies and bar cookies in the ring every year.
“Every year I have new entries, and the creativity of the cakes is starting to get better and better every year,” she said. “We’re finding that the younger ladies in the farm community are bringing in things.”
The competition also gets its share of male participants, mostly in the food preservation category. Barbecue and catsup/chili sauces are often hotly contested.
A panel of judges, including a graduate of the Great Lakes Culinary Arts Institute at Northwestern Michigan College, tasted every entry except the decorated cakes. The judges also evaluated them on texture and appearance.
“I have seven of them divided up, so they don’t go home with so much food to digest,” said Klinetop, adding that the decorated cakes are judged according to their detail.
Visitors can view — but not taste — the entries, including the two most popular categories: cherry pies and decorated cakes. Klinetop said the winner of the Best Cherry Pie takes home $10 and a special platter, while first place winners in other categories get a blue ribbon and $3.
Kim Kelderhouse won two blue ribbons in this year’s competition for her Black Mocha Cake with Cool Whip frosting and her Carrot Cake with Maple Syrup Glaze.
Kelderhouse, 22, learned to bake cakes for friends’ and relatives’ birthdays but often found herself modifying the frosting recipes.
“I just didn’t like the store-bought cakes with all that sugary frosting,” said Kelderhouse, a museum assistant at the Leelanau Historical Museum and a 4-H leader in her native Leelanau County. “I do things a little different with frosting.”
Nancy Ingersoll of Kingsley entered the fair for the first time this year at the behest of a co-worker. She was surprised to win first place in the brownie category for her Milk Chocolate Macaroon Bars, which blend a brownie recipe from an old, taped-together Betty Crocker cookbook and a topping from a newer recipe.
“I’m just a grandma baker,” said Ingersoll, 71, who sometimes makes the bars for special events at her daughter’s Interlochen quilt shop, where Ingersoll works. “I’m not fancy or anything. I just bake.”
Klinetop, who lost out to Kelderhouse in the carrot cake category, is celebrating her seventh year as culinary arts superintendent at the fair.
“It’s a lifestyle,” she said. “Once you get hooked, you’re hooked.”
She believes culinary arts are essential to the 105-year-old fair, one of the longest ongoing events in the region.
“Everyone likes to bake something or another. We always have something to put on the table. We cook all year round for our families, so it’s essential to the fair,” she said.
Carrot Cake with Maple Syrup Glaze
1 c. all purpose flour
1 1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/4 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1 1/4 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. fresh ground nutmeg
1/2 t. salt
1 ½ lbs. carrots, peeled
1 1/2 c. (10 1/2 oz.) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (3 1/2 oz.) packed light brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 c. safflower oil
1/2 stick butter, softened
Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 350°. Spray 13-by-9-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in large bowl; set aside. In food processor fitted with large shredding disk, shred carrots (you should have about 3 cups); transfer carrots to bowl and set aside. Wipe out food processor workbowl and fit with metal blade. Process granulated and brown sugars and eggs until frothy and thoroughly combined, about 20 seconds. With machine running, add oil and butter through feed tube in steady stream. Process until mixture is light in color and well emulsified, about 20 seconds longer. scrape mixture into medium bowl. Stir in carrots and dry ingredients until incorporated and no streaks of flour remain. Pour into prepared pan and bake until toothpick or skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking time. Cool cake to room temperature in pan on wire rack, about 2 hours.
Maple syrup glaze:
2 T. unsalted butter
1/4 c. pure maple syrup
1 c. confectioners sugar
In a small saucepan, melt butter and syrup together over medium heat. Whisk confectioners sugar into hot mixture until smooth, and immediately pour over cooled cake.
— Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated by Kim Kelderhouse
Milk Chocolate Macaroon Bars
1/3 c. softened margarine
1 c. sugar
4 T. cocoa
¾ c. flour
½ t. baking powder
½ t. salt
Grease bottom and sides of 8-by-8-inch pan with margarine. Mix wet ingredients and add dry. Pour in pan and bake at 350° for 17 or 18 minutes. Take brownies out of oven, spread with topping, and return to oven for 17 or 18 minutes more. Let cool for at least an hour before cutting into squares.
2 c. shredded coconut
1 14-oz. can condensed sweet milk
2 c. chocolate chips
1 t. vanilla
½ cup chopped pecans
— Adapted from Betty Crocker by Nancy Ingersoll