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It's a Cakewalk

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“American kitchens are not turning out near enough pies these days; we need more pies,” says Jean Devore, culinary department coordinator of the Home & Family Arts building at the Indiana State Fair. “They couldn’t be any simpler. They’re just fruit and pastry.”

With 14 years at her post, Devore claims this section of the building’s lower level as her turf. Here, wall-to-wall antique display cases hold soldier rows of plated pastries and hefty wedges of wobbled-over layered cakes, decadent candies and powdered-sugar-dusted cookies. Meanwhile a segregated section stands devoted to sparkling-jarred specimens of food preservation -- home-canned pickles and jellies.

Resident sweets expert, Jean Devore is culinary department coordinator in the Home & Family Arts building. - JAMI STALL
  • Jami Stall
  • Resident sweets expert, Jean Devore is culinary department coordinator in the Home & Family Arts building.

Having polished the glass-fronted cases too many times to remember, Devore speaks from experience. She says it’s mostly men who linger in front of the pastries. “They come in and stand practically lusting over the pies. When we go to wipe off the front of the display cases, up high we’ll see sets of big handprints [presumably those of men] and then a smudged nose print in between them,” she says, demonstrating with her hands splayed open, palms forward on each side of her face.

“But it’s down low along the cookie display cases where we find all the little handprints with nose prints in the middle,” she says. Devore knows all the intricacies of the department. She explains, for example, the way to keep the baked goods from molding throughout the course of the fair is to open the cases at night, when the building closes to the public. “These cakes and breads here are petrified they’re so stale,” she says, swinging open one of the delicate, old glass coverings.

She’s concerned that certain entries won’t look appealing when photographed, “That doily is oily; here, let’s get that crumb that’s fallen between those plates,” Devore says, fussing with a mummified morsel, and then straightening the red ribbon trailing from the plate like a kite tail.

The fat wedges of cake aren’t always picture perfect, says Devore, but that’s because the judges cut ample slices for a complete sampling into the cake’s center. So, among other things, it can be checked for doneness throughout.

Devore’s respect for the entries and knowledge of the exhibitors is uncanny. She can name the different decorators, such as Rosalind Boyd, who “every year comes to the fair almost every day and has won two first-place awards and one “Sweepstakes” title in the decorating category this year.” Or that Darl Collins’ luscious three-layered white-chocolate peach cake took the “Grand Champion Cake” title and his wife Mary Alice was named State Fair Master just yesterday. Her minced meat pie garnered the “Grand Champion Pie” prize.

For a better look at Devore’s department of sweet treats, make your way down to the Home & Family Arts building before the State Fair packs it in Sunday. But if you can’t, peruse the pics below. Enjoy!

Can you say "Yummy?" Melissa Yoder points out pretty cakes to her 1 1/2-year-old son Nicholas. - JAMI STALL
  • Jami Stall
  • Can you say "Yummy?" Melissa Yoder points out pretty cakes to her 1 1/2-year-old son Nicholas.
The Grand Champion Pie title went to this decadent minced meat pie by Mary Alice Collins. She was also awarded State Fair Master for all her years as an exhibitor. - JAMI STALL
  • Jami Stall
  • The Grand Champion Pie title went to this decadent minced meat pie by Mary Alice Collins. She was also awarded State Fair Master for all her years as an exhibitor.
Clockwise from left: Jason Kinney (in foreground) and Mark Beight peruse the pies, which seem to be most popular among male visitors to the exhibit, according to the department coordinator. - Winning a first-place blue ribbon for this astronaut cake, self-taught decorator Rosalind Boyd has been winning State Fair blue ribbons for her skills since 1997. - The three-layer, white-chocolate something peach cake by Darl Collins earned the Grand Champion Cake title. - JAMI STALL
  • Jami Stall
  • Clockwise from left: Jason Kinney (in foreground) and Mark Beight peruse the pies, which seem to be most popular among male visitors to the exhibit, according to the department coordinator. Winning a first-place blue ribbon for this astronaut cake, self-taught decorator Rosalind Boyd has been winning State Fair blue ribbons for her skills since 1997. The three-layer, white-chocolate something peach cake by Darl Collins earned the Grand Champion Cake title.
Jacob Moles took an impressive first place for his Angry Bird cake. The middle-schooler and his sister both compete in the cake decoration category, but he also competes in the State Fair's art and music contests. - JAMI STALL
  • Jami Stall
  • Jacob Moles took an impressive first place for his Angry Bird cake. The middle-schooler and his sister both compete in the cake decoration category, but he also competes in the State Fair's art and music contests.
Sisters Estella (6) and Mallory Neale (9) study the delicious details of the gingerbread tiki hut. All ingredients in this category must edible. - JAMI STALL
  • Jami Stall
  • Sisters Estella (6) and Mallory Neale (9) study the delicious details of the gingerbread tiki hut. All ingredients in this category must edible.

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