Public Decides Outcome of Contest

Feldner, Dan. “Public Decides Outcome of Contest.” Minot Daily News, 28 July 2009, B4.

Dozens of people line up for the first-ever Kuchen Kontest Monday afternoon at the North Dakota State Fair.

If there’s two things that really go good together at the North Dakota State Fair, its food and contests. 

The first-ever Kuchen Kontest was held Monday afternoon at the State Fair.  For those unfamiliar with the popular confection, kuchen is the German word for “cake,” and is a coffee cake-like pastry with a thick crust and custard filling. 

Sara Kelsch, marketing specialist for the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, said they were trying to come up with a different way to pull people into their tent during the 21st annual Pride of Dakota Day. 

“This is the first time we’ve done this contest, and it’s in conjunction with our Pride of Dakota Day here at the State Fair,” Kelsch said.  “We were trying to think of something unique that would bring people back to our tent and to view some of the great products that we have going on here in the tent, so we have about eight kuchen makers in the program, and six of them are participating in the Kuchen Kontest.”

The six contestants and their flavors of kuchen were Ashley Super Valu of Ashley with peach, Grandma’s Kuchen of Pollock, S.D., with strawberry rhubarb, Karen’s Kuchens of Cavalier with juneberry, Lapp’s Bakery of Hebron with sugar crumb, Mary’s Bake Shoppe of Jud with peach, and Wagner’s Wagon of Mercer with peach.

“It’s a pretty unique dessert to North Dakota, and so many companies are active in our program, we thought we’d highlight them this year.  And I think it’s going to be a success, because all these people are sitting around waiting for kuchen,” she said, pointing to the horde of people who were indeed all sitting around waiting for kuchen.

There were 30 kuchen on hand for the contest, and less than an hour after the 3 p.m. start, they were out of kuchen and actually had to turn disappointed “judges” away.

Asked to prognosticate who she felt the winner might be, Kelsch eventually went with Karen’s Kuchens, which had the lone juneberry entry.

“They are all very tasty, I’m not sure which (will win).  I’ve heard people talking about the juneberry, that’s kind of unique,” she said.  “It might be an early favorite, but it’s gonna be close, I think.”

Putting on an event for the first time is always a learning process, and this one was not different. Kelsch said she’d like to make this an annual event, and although the contest went smoothly, Kelsch said she’ll start cutting earlier next year.  She and Bonnie Sundby, an administrative assistant with the state ag department, was cutting kuchen right up until the start of the contest.

Kelsch did note, however, that their exploits with the kuchen were apparently appreciated by the crowd.

“In fact, we’ve had several women over there watching us and laughing,” she said.

Three women who appreciated the kuchen as much as the cutting were Merri Staigle of Center, Mellisa Peters of Rapid City, S.D. and Darlene Dagman of Bismarck.  Staigle is Peter’s aunt, while Dagman is Staigle’s mother and Peter’s grandmother.  They were all in town for the fair and couldn’t resist the chance to taste some homemade kuchen.

While Kelsch had predicted the juneberry kuchen might be the winner, Staigle said she preferred the sugar crumb variety from Lapp’s Bakery.

“I liked the thicker consistency of the custard, and it really had good flavor,” Staigle said.

While she doesn’t bake kuchen herself, Staigle does enjoy eating it, something she said she doesn’t get to do often enough.

Peters was the one who alerted her aunt and grandmother to the contest after she received a text message about it from her boyfriend.  Like her aunt, Peters also favored the sugar crumb kuchen.

“I liked the consistency and the texture,” Peters said.

“Can you tell we’re related?”  Staigle said with a laugh.

As for Dagman, who does bake her own kuchen, she chose to break the precedent her daughter and granddaughter set by picking the peach kuchen by Wagner’s Wagon.  Her favorite might have been different, but her reason for choosing it was eerily similar. 

“Well I liked the consistency, I liked the curst and I liked the cinnamon on top,” Dagman said.  “That’s how I make mine.”

When all the votes were tallied, which numbered around 150, it was the strawberry rhubarb kuchen that came in first, with the sugar crumb kuchen by Lapp’s Kuchen that Staigle and Peters preferred coming in second, while the juneberry kuchen Kelsch predicted might win placing third. 

Since the contest was staged to showcase the many different kuchen-making companies in North Dakota, the only prize Grandma’s Kuchen won was bragging rights.  However, to a good cook, that’s often the only prize that’s needed.

Reprinted with permission of Minot Daily News.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller