Tuesday, November 13, 2012

That time I entered a cake into the MN State Fair

And I shall call myself, Minnesota for I have participated in the Great-Minnesotan-Get-Together: The Minnesota State Fair.

As someone who is motivated by the potential to win things, especially strips of brightly colored satiny fabric, I really want to win a ribbon at the MN State Fair.

Note: For years living in Minneapolis (as a non-native MN-er), I didn’t realize the State Fair was the biggest holiday of the year for the Minnesotan. But it is. And any Minnesotan will talk with you for at least 30 minutes about their favorite and therefore best ways to expereince the state fair. It is the type of joy and magic that only comes when a child is sitting on Santa's lap asking for a pony, before realizing that Santa is a stranger and your parents are nowhere in sight, and that you have been abandoned! But wait, oh, there's mommy waving and taking a photo. But you will never regain that joy from before. 

But now, I know. I’ve been there a few times. Ate the cookies and the things on sticks and rode that ride that got stuck in a tunnel of water (not as romantic as it sounds). But what I really want to do is to win a blue ribbon.

Partially based on dreams of using my North Dakota pride to win a ribbon at the MN State fair, also based on my need to enter contests and then mainly on my deep dark desire to make the world love beets, I entered a cake into the State Fair.

So I cooked up the Chocolate Beet Cake. Which is the only thing that I bake, not the only thing I can bake, but the only thing I will bake.

Take a look at this:

To enter a baked good into the State Fair, you have to register in advance, online. I assumed this would increase my chances at winning, since I understand the internet. I thought the fair required this because so many little old ladies want to enter that online registration would reduce the number of entries.

The hardest part of the whole thing was dropping the cake off to be judged. There is a small window of four hours starting at 8am on a specific Sunday that baked goods can be dropped off, this of course is only if they have been pre-registered and you have your online registration in your hand at the time of drop off. No un-pre-registered goods can set foot on the fairgrounds, ever. If you do, you will been blown away by state pride. Not really, they just won't let you enter your cake.

Just getting on the state fair grounds is hard enough. First you have to find your way to the state fair. Again, as a non-native MNer, I lack the natural instinct to know where the fairgrounds are. But with help from a Google map and my uncanny ability to always know where North is (hint: up), I found the fairgrounds, and the specific bakery good drop off entrance. This specific bakery goods drop off entrance had a line at least ten cars long. All these were cars of people dropping off baked goods. The cars were stopped because everyone had to check in with a police officer! I watched as the officer chatted up and recorded the licence plates of the cars in front of me. Oh no! Did I need some sort of authentication? I do have this cake sitting next to me, but what if it was a bomb cake? The officer has no way of knowing if I made this cake with beets or bombs? 

Then I saw the car directly in front of me hand the officer a bakery box and a coffee. There it is. That is how you do it. Bribe them. It's all too easy. It's bakery drop off day, of course people want the law on their side right before they are about to have their family recipes judged by strangers. Why didn't I think of that? But it was too late to hack off a hunk of my cake to give to the officer, as if I had intended all along to to win their favors through my ability to beat eggs. Too late! Here comes the officer!

Officer: Bakery drop-off?
Me: (fidgeting like a meth addict) Yup, chocolate beet cake, not bomb cake. Right here, it tastes better than in sounds. I should have brought you a piece. I am sorry.
Officer: That is OK. We get a far too many treats on this day.
Me: Oh.
Officer: Alright you can go through.

Ta-da! The officer didn't want any more processed sugar adorations. I was on the winning side. 

Now to find the bakery building. The MN State fairgrounds is it's own little city with a intricate network of roads named after famous Minnesota things. The only road I ever remember is Dan Patch, because I am pretty sure that was a Breyer horse back when I was a horse-brained teenager (I still suffer and live with bouts of horse-brain.).

The line is long and mysterious.
Now that I was out of the car, I had to make the rest of the journey on foot. About 30 feet to be exact, I was parked right next to the bakery building. But wait! Another line! The line to drop off the baked treats is the length of a football field. I am using football field as a measurement because that makes sense to my non-football brain. I supposed I could say polo field but I'd rather not conjure up thoughts of horse poop while talking about my chocolate cake, also I have no idea how large a polo field is, or even if it is called a field. 

So I stood in the whatever sports-size metaphor is appropriate line. The people in front of me had a radio flyer wagon full of cookies, cakes and pies. I just had my small cake on a 9 inch cardboard round: the required 9 inch cardboard round. The instructions said that all cakes had to be submitted on a 9 in cardboard round, all other receptacles, plates, or doilies will not be accepted. However, everyone had space age looking containers in their arms. It was like an intergalactic baby pageant. Except the babies were baked goods. I felt so insignificant with my tiny bundt of chocolate and beets on the allowed 9 inch cardboard round. I wanted to shout "I listened to the rules! I did, you are all cheaters!"

But I didn't, because then the guy behind me said. "Huh, you didn't even put a cover on that. That's odd, well I guess I will have to eat it. Ha Ha Ha." I knew he was trying to psych me out, to make me feel bad about my poorly covered, exposed to the elements tiny cake. And it was working! I was psyched out. Yes, the rules did allow one to cover their cake with a Ziploc bag, but I didn't know how to get a frosted bundt cake into a Ziploc bag with out messing the cake up! The answer: use a fancy (illegal) cake carrier tin Tupperware from the future. Well, I didn't have that. 

See? Unprotected. And there was nothing I could do about it now. I could only wait through the line.

And wait.

And fret about my cake.

And wonder if I filled the online registration out correctly.

And wait.

And remember that no where on my registration did I say that it was a chocolate beet cake.

And wait.

And wonder if the judges are going to think my cake is actually a chocolate cake entered in to the wrong category. Because I had entered it into the Bake Products: Cake, vegetable or fruit category and on first glance you might think my cake is only chocolate. (because I have fooled a great many folks in that way, a lesser handful of beet haters have spit out the cake in my presence, knowing full well there were beets in there in the first place.)

Finally, it was my turn to turn in my cake. I thought I would have a chance to double check my registration info and fill out a identification card.


I stepped up to the table, handed my online registration confirmation to the intake worker and my cake was whisked out of my hands, crammed into a Ziploc (Watch the frosting! oh I see, that you, oops, well it doesn't look too...) I was handed a MN State Fair button and a packet of baking yeast. I had to clarify baking yeast so you wouldn't think I caught some sort of yeast infection from the nice but hyper efficient maybe volunteer, but they could also be paid employees of the State Fair.

And that was it. Like dropping a child off at college. But the child is a tiny baked good and college is the mouths and forks of strangers set on judging the living yeast of it.

A few days later, I attended the fair to check on my cake. Did it still recognize me? Did it win a prize?

The answer was no. The cake was different now. It was missing a quarter of it's body. No longer a circle of beets a chocolate, but a stale u-shape, left to dry in the display rack. 

See it there at the bottom midde ^                 No ribbon.                        

I wasn't sad. I was disappointed. Not because I didn't win. But because this won:

This is a carrot cake! Carrot cake! The most predictable of all the Baked Products: Cake, vegetable or fruit category. At least a zucchini cake or a watermelon cake could have won. But a carrot cake. Sure carrot cake is delicious but this one is even decorated in the traditional style. Is that why it won? It was dressed well and tasted good? Or were the judged distracted by the tiny frosting carrots to pay attention to the fact that they were eating a cake they have eaten before? What will happen if I dress my cake up like a carrot cake, instead of tiny frosted adorable carrots I festoon my cake with tiny frosted beets? What would that make them feel like? Like giving a ribbon to the tiny beet cake that could?

Scorecard by Judge DJ
In the mail, I received my scorecard for my cake. Though I did not win a ribbon of any color, I did a decent showing. My frosting, which is my least favorite parts of all cakes, got a perfect score. My beet cake only lost 15 points, 5 for being too moist and 10 for flavor. I bet they took 10 off because of the beet flavor, those beet haters. Or they took 10 off because there wasn't enough beet flavor! Next year, more beet flavor!!

Note: This blog was about an event that took place the summer of 2011. I did not enter the state fair in 2012. So I still have not won any sort of ribbon from the MN state fair. I have, however, continued to make the chocolate beet cake which mainly gets rave reviews and only one out of every twenty people has to spit it out in front of me. Apparently, the reaction is so violent they cannot even save face and do it without my knowledge. My friends are jerks.

Note 2: My friends are not jerks.

Note 3: Though I could use more friends that are as passionate about beets as I am.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

I am sorry you didn't win a prize. I have never heard of anyone putting beets in cakes. That in itself is pretty different. Loved your blog about the state fair.