PREBLE COUNTY — Undoubtedly the most delicious event at the fair, the 4-H Cook-off and Mystery Mixer allows junior fair members to compete in making the most delicious dish. This year participants made Oregon Apple Cake, lemon squares, and fruit cobbler.
“It’s nerve-wracking, but fun too,” said Kaitlyn Niehaus, a member of Spic n Span Pots n Pans club who has participated three years, and made Oregon Apple Cake as part of the intermediate category. “I get faster as I make [the recipe] more,” she said, mentioning the advantage to the morning’s event.
The Cook-off, according to Christie Millhouse, Preble County’s Ohio State Extension agent, is a practiced event: “They’ve had the recipe beforehand,” she said. “So what they judges are looking at is technique.”
The cooks lined up at tables in the Toney building, spending a morning mixing and blending, while judges watched. Bright aprons made a cheerful contrast to the looks of intense concentration on competitors’ faces. After the judges tasted each product, they made place decisions.
The beginning category recipe, fruit cobbler, had a choice for competitors to make: what kind of fruit cobbler to make. Elliot Voge said he practiced with a lot of different fruits, and Kira Chesney said the hardest part of the recipe was checking the texture while practicing. Laney Ruble said she enjoyed the mixing and measuring, but her “favorite part was being judged.”
In the advanced category, Kelsie Shafer placed first, and received grand champion for the Cook-off. The winning lemon squares in the intermediate category were made by Lynlee Voge, who was the morning’s reserve grand champion, and Jeffrey Gels made fruit cobbler that placed first in the beginning category.
The afternoon’s competition was of a different flavor: in the Mystery Mixer, competitors get ingredient and utensil lists, but do not receive the recipe until they begin to cook. Judge Ross Lunsford, a long-time Preble County 4-H member himself, is a veteran participant. “I did the Mystery Mixer all the years it existed,” he said. “The cook-off has a lot of rehearsal, but the Mystery Mixer is all intuition and on the spot changes.”
Annika Gels participated in the intermediate class, who made pineapple upside down cake. Gels has done both, and finds “the Mystery Mixer is a lot less preparation than the Cook-off.”
The advanced class made cinnamon swirls, and Aryn Landes made the winning batch, and won grand champion for the Mixer. The intermediate class made pineapple upside down cake, which filled the building with a sweet aroma, and was popular with audience members. Annika Gels won first place, and was the afternoon’s reserve grand champion. The beginner class made toffee cookies, and Brenden Webb placed first.
Those who placed first and second had the chance to auction off a plate of their winning baked goods on Thursday evening, in an auction that has traditionally been part of the livestock auction. This change did not affect the large turnout, however, and Preble County continued to support the delicious skills these 4-Hers learn.