Friday, September 24, 2010

Sheep Thrills

Ruth Cramer and her winning Governor's Cookie Jar
at the 2010 Kansas State Fair

If you visit the Domestic Arts Building at the Kansas State Fair, there's a good chance you'll run into some familiar faces.

Ruth Cramer is one of those faces. She's been exhibiting at the fair since I was a beginning reporter at The Hutchinson News. I covered my first fair in 1979, so both Ruth and I have been around the block a few times since then.

The 85-year-old grandmother won the coveted Governor's Cookie Jar champion ribbon at the 2010 Kansas State Fair. She's won this prize so many times her family had trouble remembering just how successful she's been.

"How many times has Ruth won the Governor's Cookie Jar?" I asked her son Stan after the ceremony last Friday in which Ruth shook Gov. Mark Parkinson's hand and presented the cookie carousel.

He paused for awhile and said, "I think this is her 3rd time."

He forgot one. Actually, the Hutchinson woman has won the cookie jar prize four times - 1991, 1997, 2007 and 2010. That's a lot of cookies!

Back when I was an editor at The News, Ruth was a frequent entrant to the newspaper's recipe contest. She won prizes in that contest on more than one occasion, too. Let's face it: The woman can bake.

This year's cookie jar was a team effort. Ruth baked 14 different kinds of cookies for the jar. Actually, she made 15 different kinds - the most allowed in the jar - but the 15th one just didn't live up to her standards.

Her son, Stan, constructed the carousel that surrounded the gallon jar. Her daughter, Marilyn, made the carousel animals that "rode" the merry-go-round to victory.

Ruth's neighbors and family had to critique cookies: It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it. Ruth, I'd like to volunteer the next time.

The cookies and the carousel all fit the 2010 fair theme: Sheep Thrills. She gave some of her favorite cookie recipes new names to correspond to the theme, for example, "Green Pastures" lime and Brazil nut logs and "Meadow Delights" for her carrot cookies with orange frosting.

The competitors have to include at least one cookie representing these general methods for cookie baking: drop, bar, refrigerator, rolled and molded.

I have had the privilege of judging foods at the Kansas State Fair several times. I've judged a salad dressing contest and Spam contest on more than one occasion. But I only got to judge the Governor's Cookie Jar one time. (I didn't judge any foods events at the 2010 fair.)

If you're not a state fair food contest groupie, you might not know that the quality of the cookies carries the most weight. Cookie quality counts 60 percent, with the outside decorations worth 40 percent.

The fair book also says that the cookies should be mostly visible. I've been standing around the display case at the fair and have overheard visitors speculating as to why this or that particular cookie jar didn't place better.

The outside may be beautiful, but the cookies might be less than perfect. Or an elaborately decorated cookie jar may totally cover up the cookies inside.

But, as usual, Ruth got it all right ... with a little help from her friends and her family.

I've been saving Governor's Cookie Jar cookie recipes for years. Back in Jill's 4-H baking years, Jill's 4-H baking years, we would often use recipes that had been state fair winners. (Check out the recipe for Surprise Middle Cookies by clicking on the link!)

But here are a couple of Ruth's creations I'll gladly add to my own collection:

Meadow Delights Carrot Cookies
with Orange Frosting
1 cup mashed cooked carrots (about 4 medium carrots)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup shredded or flaked coconut

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Mix carrots, sugar, butter, shortening and eggs. Stir in flour, baking powder and salt. Mix in coconut. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls about 2 inches apart on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake until almost no indentation remains when touched, about 8 to 10 minutes. Immediately remove from cookie sheet. Cool. Frost with Orange Butter Frosting. Makes about 5 dozen.

Orange Butter Frosting
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 tbsp. butter, softened
2 tsp. grated orange peel
1 tbsp. orange juice

Mix powdered sugar and butter. Beat in orange peel and orange juice until frosting is of spreading consistency.

Shepherd's Snacks
Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
3/4 cup raisins
3 tbsp. orange juice
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. freshly grated orange peel
1 large egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 cups quick oats
8 oz. white chocolate chips
1 tsp. shortening

Soak raisins in orange juice overnight in refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat butter until fluffy. Gradually add sugar and egg along with orange peel. Mix well until thoroughly blended. Combine flour and soda together. Stir into butter mixture. Add raisins and the liquid they were soaking in. Add the oats. Mix well. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto a lightly greased cookie sheet, spacing about 2 inches apart. Flatten slightly.

Bake 8 to 10 minutes; don't overbake. Cool completely on wire rack. In a double boiler, melt the white chocolate and shortening over a warm temperature. Don't let the mixture get too hot or the chocolate will thicken. (I would personally do this in the microwave. Use reduced power and stir often to make sure you don't burn the chocolate.) Remove from heat once the mixture is smooth and well blended.

Put mixture into a small pastry bag with a fine writing tip and drizzle back and forth over each cookie to achieve a pretty effect. Cool thoroughly. Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

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