Every year the winner’s of the Palisade Peach Festival’s baking competition have their recipes published in the local paper and every year I say I should enter. It would be fun I tell myself and yet I’ve never followed through until this year.
The adventure started when my book club chose a novel called, “Kitchens of the Great Midwest”. The online description didn’t enthuse me at all, but out of loyalty to the club I went to Barnes and Noble to at least flip through it. When I found the book it was set-up in a display and wouldn’t you know it a penny was sitting below the bottom shelf. Oh geez, now I have to read it!
I hate to admit it but I LOVED the novel. One of characters was a middle-aged woman who’s known at church for her baking and gets talked into entering a contest in the big city. What follows is a hilarious culinary journey—one that got me brainstorming about the Peach Festival. Now was the year I had to enter.
Out of anything peachy I could bake I knew it had to be a cupcake because I’m all about small composed desserts. It also had to be ambitious. That’s my personality. I can’t just roll out a peach cobbler cupcake. That’s too common—not bad common it just wouldn’t represent me.
The perfectionist in me also insisted that it would have to be judged by a jury of my peers beforehand. I wasn’t going to roll out something nobody had critiqued.
After a few weeks I had my first demo ready to go. It was a peach amaretto cupcake with a brown butter buttercream. As yummy as that sounds it wasn’t a winner. Experiment number two was a peach curd cupcake with a peach basil cream. It was light and flavorful but didn’t make a lasting impression.
At that point I was a little worried but I stuck to it. Version three ended up being a brown butter peach cupcake with a peach basil buttercream. It was light and moist yet rich and flavorful. My friend Farlie said, “When you bite into it is says peachy keen.” All my taster’s deemed it a winner.
A week later Luke drove me out to the contest with my cupcakes and when we dropped them off we thought I had a chance. The ladies checking-in my entry asked me if they could peak in the box and when the aroma wafted out they were so excited.
I left feeling good about my chances but I was also tired. Baking the night before had turned out not to be as fun as I thought it would be, and I wasn’t sure why. All my practice rounds had been.
Later that day when I went back to Palisade for the announcement of the winners I discovered my cupcakes had sold out but not earned a ribbon. Instead a peach cobbler bar had won. Really? I’m sure it was delicious but original? Hmmm?
A couple days later one of my tasters asked me what happened. I told her I hadn’t won anything and that’s when she said,
“I knew you wouldn’t. That whole thing is rigged.”
“Oh yeah—it’s totally political,” she said.
“The baking contest?”
“Yes and every other contest in Palisade. You have to be a local or super involved in that community to win anything.”
I thought she had to be overstating this and dismissed it as her trying to encourage me. Then several other people told me the same thing. That got a bit irritating because had I known I might not have entered.
When one friend told me I should enter again next year with something traditional I told her I’ve hung up my competitive apron. “Why—because it’s rigged,” she asked.
“No, and honestly there’s nothing wrong with a hometown favorite winning it. If that’s rigged that’s fine. With food we all vote with our heart. I bake because it’s a way of bringing people to the table. It’s not about proving myself and I realized after the fact, that’s why it was so tiring. I was in it to win it not to offer people a little cup of love.”
“Oh my friend you’re the only woman I know who would take it all that seriously!” she said.
“I know,” I said laughing with her. “But it was a timely reminder for me about what’s important—winning to prove myself or losing to find out why I care.”
“That’s definitely a blue ribbon thought,” she said.
“And worth every calorie, “I said.
In today’s political climate I can’t help but wonder if this lesson transcends cupcakes and applies across the board. Winning is great but what does it teach you? That you’re right or just that enough people thought you were?
In the days ahead one of our Presidential candidates is going to claim they have the people’s mandate but do they really? What does their win represent a dish everyone loved or one folks choked down? If the latter is the case I think that’s our “just desserts” as a nation and we have to figure out how to do better next cycle.