Sandwich Fair’s queen of the cakes ... and pies and cookies
By Linda Girardi For The Beacon-News September 7, 2012 4:50PM
Champion baker Marjorie Hash entered 80 items in this years Sandwich Fair on Friday, Sept. 07, 2012. | Donnell Collins~For Sun-Times Media
What’s the secret to whipping up a prize-winning pie or cake?
“Butter is always good, said Bill Gilbert, one of four judges sampling the nearly 1,000 entries in this year’s bakery division at the 125th anniversary Sandwich Fair.
Gilbert, a certified Master Baker for Cargill of Minneapolis, Minn., wore a white lab coat as he taste-tested the hundreds of freshly baked goods.
“Basically every baked good must stand on its own merit — quality and fresh ingredients stand out,” he said.
Gilbert said it is difficult to taste the full impact of a winning cake baked days before it goes to show.
The judge said it helps to have a pitcher of water handy to refresh the palate between bites.
“By mid-morning the sugar intake gets pretty high. You take a break — otherwise you get a headache.”
— Linda Girardi
Updated: October 10, 2012 6:16AM
SANDWICH — Marjorie Hash decided to try a recipe for a banana layered cake that had an intriguing banana coconut butter cream frosting with finely chopped pecans.
“I like to try new recipes,” said Hash.
That willingness to try out something new has paid off for Hash, who has award-winning entries for years in the open baking contest at the Sandwich Fair.
This year, the 74-year-old Somonauk resident won Grand Champion Baker for earning the greatest prize money, an honor she has received for the last four years.
But exhibitors are not really motivated by the prize money: $5 for first place, $3 for second and $2 for third. The prestige is in winning a blue ribbon.
For this year’s 125th edition of the Sandwich Fair, which runs through Sunday, Hash submitted 80 entries – all handsomely displayed in some of the original bakery cases of the 1905 Home Arts building, where the wood floors creak as people admire the baked goods, art and crafts and the sparkling glass canning jars of strawberry preserves, pickles and corn relish.
Overall, the retired Plano junior high school teacher took home 22 blue ribbons, 20 red ribbons and 13 white ribbons.
Hash said the ribbons do not make her “the greatest” baker, although when there are a couple of dozen entries in a division even a third place ribbon is pretty good.
“You definitely see the competitiveness from exhibitors hoping to win the blue ribbon – they put their heart and soul in baking,” said Penny Monkemeyer, assistant superintendent at the fair.
“Marjorie loves to bake and it is fun to see her bring in the entries with a smile on her face,” Monkemeyer said.
Monkemeyer said Hash earned the most blue ribbons for baking this year.
Hash said her ribbons are a reflection of how hard she works in the weeks leading up to the fair. She submitted nearly seven dozen entries in practically every category — cakes, pies, muffins, cookies, yeast products, quick breads — and she “dabbled” in the candy division for the first time.
“We like to compete with one another but it is a fun competitiveness,” said Hash’s close friend, Gwen Fox of Somonauk.
“Marjorie is quite the baker,” said Fox, the fair’s Grand Champion Canner, an honor she, too, has held for several years.
Hash submitted 19 cakes, 8 two-crusted pies, 10 varieties of cookies, 6 varieties of muffins, 22 yeast products (coffee cakes, Swedish tea rings and cinnamon rolls) 11 quick breads and 4 fudge candies.
“I enjoy baking pies – I use a pastry brush to lightly cover the pie crust with a coating of cream and sprinkle it with sugar so it comes out of the oven with a pretty glaze,” she said.
Her prize-winning “thumb print” peppermint cookies were filled with a rich chocolate butter icing topped with a chocolate mint candy for a decorative flare.
“I am in the kitchen from the second week in August until the morning of the fair,” Hash said.
It took five hours to prepare the frosting for the cakes and cookies on the Sunday before the fair and all day Monday to frost the baked goods. And she credits her “sweet” husband, Gene, for modifying their SUV with shelving to transport the baked goods to the fairgrounds.