Editor’s Note, August 2016: Best in Show at the State Fair
Sure, the Indiana State Fair can sometimes seem like a compendium of Hoosier cliches. Deep-fried red velvet Oreos do our fattest-state ranking no favors. Farmers in overalls drive John Deeres in the evening parade. The Fair gives out awards for best cobs of corn. But something about seeing the midway lit up beneath the purples and pinks of a midsummer sunset makes my heart swell—a feeling not tempered by those odes to Hoosierdom but enhanced by them.
I hope you’ll forgive me, then, for the fact we have more than one story on the event in this issue, including a look at the economics of raising a prize pig. My dream, on the other hand, is to win a blue ribbon in the culinary arts, the one division where I might have a snowball’s chance. Every year, I drag my husband past the Best in Show desserts to get a gander at the competition. Perhaps I’ll one day enter a spin on my grandmother’s five-flavor pound cake, oozing with coconut and rum, or a bourbon-peach pie I’ve been working on.
I decided to call Mary Alice Collins of Markleville for advice, and ended up being inspired in more ways than one. The former home economics teacher has entered the contest for almost 60 years, winning thousands of ribbons and an “Indiana State Fair Master” award along the way. Among her 70 entries last year, she snagged top honors for pineapple cookies, applesauce cake, Dutch apple pie, and many more.
“The main thing is to experiment,” Collins assured me after I lamented my sad pie crusts. “You can take a recipe out of the cookbook, but it doesn’t always work. And if it doesn’t work, don’t give up—keep trying.” Then Collins revealed that she is not giving up, either; despite losing some of her fingers to sepsis, and a recent cancer diagnosis, she plans to push through the chemo and, with the help of her husband, Darl, still roll out the dough for a few cakes and pies this month. Best in show, indeed.