Every year on the 4th of July, Whitland Avenue hosts a neighborhood celebration reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting. There are patriotic speeches, a bike parade, politicians kissing babies and a pretty darned impressive recipe contest.
Scores of (mostly) gourmands bring their prepared dishes to the food tent to be judged. It is amazing what people come up with, from the pretty typical stuff like cobblers, pies, cold salads to the unusual, like Kung Pao Chicken, vichyssoise and crème brûlée. One thing this group has in common, they are fierce competitors and are all committed to bringing home the blue ribbon. Judging the entries is tense because the contestants want to find out as soon as possible whether they won or not.
The first time I entered the contest, I was one of those “or nots,” and it completely bummed me out to show off my spectacular tomato basil pie, only to receive a meager 3rd place. Redoubling my efforts the next year, I anted up with my famous Colmer Corn recipe from the best cookbook in the south, the Memphis Junior League’s Heart & Soul. I moved up one position, to second place. Wah! So what did I enter the next year? Nothing. Like a spoiled brat, sick of watching all the first place winners gloat as they pranced around with their blue ribbons pinned prominently on their chests, I picked up my toys and went home, never to enter again.
With StyleBlueprint serving as my full-time creative outlet, I’ve recovered from those crushing defeats and have moved on from my fantasy of launching a career as a Food Network celebrity chef with a blue ribbon-winning recipe. However, in the spirit of congeniality, I thought it might be fun to highlight some winners from some of the earlier contests. Here are some of my favorites:
Marinated Cheese by Mary Beth Caldwell (2002 Blue Ribbon Winner)
Though Mary Beth Caldwell has attended the parade and contributed a dish to the potluck for the last four years, this was the first year she entered the competition. Of her marinated cheese she says, “I make this a lot when we entertain and everyone loves it, so I decided at the last minute to enter it.”
- 3 tbs. chopped fresh parsley
- 3 tbs. chopped green onion
- 1 2-oz. jar of pimentos
- 1/2 tsp. fresh ground pepper
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tbs. chopped fresh basil
- 1/2 cup good olive oil
- 1/2 cup white wine vinegar
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1 large block of extra-sharp cheddar cheese
- 1 large block of cream cheese
Mix all ingredients together, then set aside. Cut one large block of extra-sharp cheddar and one large block of cream cheese (or more if needed) into 1-inch squares. (To make the cream cheese easier to cut, put it in the freezer for a few moments before cutting.) Alternating the cheddar with the cream cheese, press the squares together to make a log. Pour marinade over the cheese log and let sit, refrigerated, at least overnight. Serve with crackers.
Summer Salad by Cindy Steine (This recipe is a personal favorite and I know it must have won something!)
- 6 large Bradley or Ripley tomatoes, sliced thick
- 4-6 Kirby cucumbers, peeled sliced thin
- 1 large Vidalia onion, chopped
- 2 cans garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 12-oz. packages fresh cheese tortellini
- 4 oz goat cheese (Chevre)
- 1/2 cup ( or more) fresh basil, chopped
- 7 tablespoons high quality olive oil (or 4 tablespoons olive oil for cooking mixed with 3 tablespoons olio santo)
- 2 or 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- Kalamata olives for garnish
Sauté the garbanzo beans in 3 tablespoons olive oil until just soft. Allow to cool. Boil tortellini for about 5 minutes. Drain, sprinkle with 1 tablespoon olive oil and set aside to cool. Arrange sliced tomatoes on a platter. Arrange sliced cucumbers over tomatoes. Sprinkle chopped onions over entire platter. Chop or crumble cheese and sprinkle over platter. Spoon garbanzo beans around the perimeter of the salad and then arrange the tortellini in clumps among the tomatoes. Sprinkle all with basil. Drizzle 3 tablespoons of olive oil over the platter, then do the same with the balsamic vinegar. Place olives around platter to garnish. Add ground pepper to taste. May be served immediately or refrigerated for a few hours to let flavors blend. Serves 8 -10
Cup-a-Cup-a-Cup Cobbler (a.k.a. Cobblereggio con Frutti) Recipe by Carrington Fox (2nd Place winner 2001 or 2002)
“This is my Grandmother Meme’s Cup-a-Cup-a-Cup Cobbler recipe. I entered it in the Whitland potluck contest for years and never won. When I finally realized that the winning recipes were always Italian-inspired dishes, I renamed it “Cobblereggio con Frutti” and won second place in the dessert category.”
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup milk
- 3 cups fruit (peaches and blackberries work great)
- 2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 stick margarine or butter (melted)
- 1 cup sugar for topping
Sift dry ingredients together. (Keep one cup of sugar out for topping). Add margarine/butter and milk. Pour into buttered 9×9 casserole. Distribute fruit evenly across top. (Don’t stir. Batter will bubble up from beneath fruit as it cooks.) Pour remaining cup of sugar across the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour.
1-2-3-4 Cake with Blackberries in Muscat Wine by Dancey Sanders (Blue Ribbon Winner in 2002)
- 1 cup butter
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 eggs
- 3 cups cake flour
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 tsp. vanilla
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Cream butter with sugar, then add eggs. Sift the dry ingredients together, then add to the butter mixture, followed by the buttermilk and vanilla. Bake in large round cake pan at 325 degrees for 45 minutes.
- 3/4 cup white dessert wine such as muscat
- 4 tbs. sugar
- 1-inch by 3-inch piece of orange zest
- 1/3 cup top-grade seedless blackberry preserves
- 4 cups fresh cultivated blackberries
Bring wine to a boil with 3 tbs. of the sugar, add zest and boil until sugar is dissolved, about two minutes. Remove zest and pour all but 2 tbs. of liquid on top of the cake; it will be absorbed. Add 1 tbs. of sugar to the 2 tbs. of liquid remaining, then add the preserves and cook the mixture until thickened. Pour blackberries into mixture and coat well. Pour on top of cake only a couple of hours before serving. Cake can be made a day ahead, but do not add topping until a few hours before serving.
From Kay West, one of the contest’s most dedicated judges, “In fact, I’m not sure how much of Dancey’s cake actually made it to the buffet table for the public to sample. But thanks to her great generosity in sharing her recipes, you can make one of your own at home. Dancey has an awfully good track record: last year, she won first place in the Picnic Food category with her amazing pickled green tomato slices. (The judges all hope to be invited for dinner at the Sanders’ household sometime soon.)”
My thanks to Nicki Woods, Kay West and Carrington Fox for their help in researching this post
Happy eating and happy 4th of July!