Near Disaster for a One-Egg Cake Headed to the County Fair

My 4-H years were from 1955-1962. Although you could still record activities that overapped, there were three main focuses, one per year: Clothing, Food and Nutrition, and Home Furnishings.

Clothing included choosing items, taking care of them, and sewing new ones. Food and Nutrition focused on making good choices, cooking and canning, gardening, serving, and setting an attractive table. Home Furnishings taught choosing fabrics and colors, designs, refinishing furniture, even repurposing it.

The highlight of each 4-H year was the Madison County Fair. Members of the Penn Gwens lived in Penn Township, which is in the far northwest corner of the county. Our moms were busy farmwives so one would volunteer to take neighbor girls’ fair entries so the others could stay busy with their work.

Penn Gwens 4-H Club, Madison County, Iowa, July 1957 Standing: Judy Moore, Mary Nevitt, Connie Piatt, Marilyn Lawson, Ruby Ralston, Judy Neal, Janice Lorimor, Susan Shepherd, Gretchen Godby, Shirley Schafer, Joy Neal, Linda Lenocker Seated: Sandra Blohmquist, Jane, Neal, Pat Willrich, Jane Morford, Gloria Neal, Jayne Nevitt

Mom volunteered the summer of 1957, Food and Nutrition year. A popular entry was a One-Egg Cake. Every girl had to follow the same recipe. I baked one to enter that year. So did my younger cousin Jane Neal.

The moms brought over their daughters’ entries, which we assembled in the back seat of the two-tone Chevy. When we got ready to drive to Winterset, we discovered our cat Minnie in the back seat with white crumbs on her sweet face. She’d enjoyed some of Jane’s cake.

What to do? Did Mom call the County Extension Office? I don’t remember. But she carefully trimmed where Minnie had sampled, and the people checking in the entries probably said things like this happened all the time. I wish I knew what the judge wrote!

Mine earned a blue ribbon and was chosen to go to the Iowa State Fair. I baked another one for it. In those days, everyone got a blue, red, or white ribbon. A white meant that the judge wasn’t impressed at all. A red ribbon meant mediocre work. We all aimed for blue ribbons. My cake got a red ribbon at the Iowa State Fair that year, but what fun to get to enter.

We learned to keep an eye on Minnie, even around desserts.


  1. This is so funny (although I’m sure not so much at the time). Our daughters entered several similar open home ec-type contests at the Tennessee Valley Ag and Industrial Fair every September and won several ribbons.

    • Do they still have those ribbons? I’ve still got mine, even the Iowa State Fair ribbons I received for mainly handwork (knitting, crocheting, etc.) as an adult. What to do with all of them? ha

  2. Such a marvelous story about Minnie…Love the state fairs. The ribbons are wonderful, but just think of all that you learned, and all the memories of those special hours.

    • Amen! The early years were nerve-wracking because our first talks and demonstrations were done in front of the HIGH school girls, but later we could relate when we were the big girls.

  3. The only fair I went to as a girl was the New York World’s Fair 64/65. What a shame, I never experienced what was a huge part of yours and so many’s lives. What an fun adventure 4-H was and is 🙂

    • We’d been to the Iowa State Fair, but not to our local county fair. But taking our own exhibits made it such fun, and I’d never watched a barrel race before. We lived on a farm but didn’t participate in “boys’ 4-H.”

  4. What a fun post. It also stirred up my own memories. I was in 4-H for a short period of time. True to my suburban roots, haha, I took classes like cooking and knitting, not pig raising. I won a blue ribbon for my brownies at the Kalamazoo County Fair.

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