April 25, 2010


Fair overachievers, here's your competition (Kyle Munson, April 25, 2010, Des Moines Register)

Ladies and gentlemen, start your ovens.

But then, some of you already have.

Closing in on 100 days until the Iowa State Fair officially opens its gates, veteran fair competitor Andrea Spencer is busy perfecting her recipe for dinner rolls to enter in one of the fair's 869 classes of food contests. [...]

The kitchen is the focal point of Spencer's ranch home north of Gilbert, its soundtrack provided by clucking chickens (laying farm-fresh eggs for her recipes), ducks and the lone pet goose, Honkers, from the barnyard out back.

Her son Clark, who turns 3 next month, begged for another of his mother's dinner rolls on the cooling racks. His younger brother, Grant, nearly 1, tried struggling to his feet in the living room.

"Usually the years they're born, I've gone down in entries," said Spencer, a stay-at-home mom.

Spencer was raised in Algona and graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in agronomy, entomology and integrated pest management. She added a master's in agricultural education in 2005. Husband Alan works as executive secretary and treasurer for FFA in Iowa - so he gets to spend three weeks on the fairgrounds each August chaperoning FFA students.

Both Spencer's mother, Nancy Clark, and her late grandmother, Elfrieda Clark (who was 92 when she passed away two years ago during the fair), received home economics degrees from ISU and handed down their recipes to her.

She's an admitted "ingredient snob" who has 10 pounds of King Arthur flour delivered to her door each month via UPS.

She keeps 25 pounds of flour on hand in her freezer - regular, wheat, rye and whole-grain varieties.

With her experience and arsenal of ingredients, Spencer aims to improve not just her project quantity but also her ribbon ratio this year.

"Last year I think I was the queen of honorable mentions," she laughed.

Tarbell-Thomas' late grandmother, Mildred Phillips, amassed no fewer than 5,000 ribbons at the State Fair and county fairs during her 40-year run that began in the 1930s. (Tarbell-Thomas stopped counting her own State Fair ribbons more than a decade ago when the tally was around 3,000.)

Spencer's golden-brown rolls this year will have to vie with those of Indianola's Ross, who won the top two overall prizes in last year's King Arthur Yeast Rolls competition.

"I think it's fair to say I'm a 365-day State Fair competitor," Ross said. gauntlet for the 2012 State Fair. The rest of you fair contest overachievers have been warned.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 25, 2010 6:42 AM
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