Baked goods draw big crowd to Grange Fair exhibits

By early afternoon on Friday, single cookies, cinnamon rolls and pieces of cakes and pies stood in prize ribbon-adorned rows of plastic clam-shell containers.

At the northeast end of the Grange Building, judging of the baked goods exhibits had concluded and stacks of plated cookies, pies missing a piece and cupcakes stuck with toothpicks to separate frosting from plastic bag stood waiting for the droves that would roll in later for the auction of the leftover goods. A sweet smell filled that end of the building.

“The cinnamon rolls ... I’d like to have one of those,” said Tawna Smith, assistant Centre County Grange Encampment and Fair secretary and horticulture committee chairwoman.

Judging began Thursday night and finished Friday morning with two women from the Huntingdon County Fair.

“They were fantastic,” Smith said. “We have people who are very knowledgeable about baked goods.”

Though 5,700 baked goods entries were registered this year — a number higher than last year’s total — Smith said she doesn’t yet know how many entries arrived in the building.

“Every year we just really have good bakers and canners,” she said, holding up a can of spiced peaches, which featured slices of jalapenos.

The quality was evident a few hours later when, at 4 p.m., dozens of people crowded onto green benches and stood in a half-circle at the end of the Grange Building. Most people watched as a few crowd members — including elected officials — bid on most of the goodies.

Auctioneer Barry Kerstetter started this year’s event with a twist. Typically, lower-placing baked goods fill a $1 table, and attendees can buy them outright. This year, Kerstetter mixed in calls to bid on that table, and the winner could pick one or more items. He warned participants that if bids didn’t climb higher than $1, he’d end the deal.

“They’re lower-place cookies, but they’re all good,” he said. “We’re going to have this table as a choice.”

Jim McCloskey and his wife, Linda, come to the fair from Lewistown and had front-row seats Friday. Jim McCloskey said he always comes to the auction and the best goods he’s picked up are whoopie pies, cookies and cakes. He had a reusable grocery bag at his feet, already holding a $1 table plate of brownies purchased before Kerstetter’s new rule took effect. He said he goes with the flow in terms of what looks good and how much money he spends.

“Linda’s Barry’s cousin,” he said of Kerstetter. “But we don’t have any pull.”

And they didn’t spend more than $1 this year, leaving the auction without bidding on anything.

Grange Fair Queen Madison Kauffman and first runner-up Kacy Ripka delivered the goods to the winning bidders, but piled hundreds of dollars worth of goods back in the building for Don Waltman, who owns a meat market in Williamsport.

He’s also run a broasted chicken restaurant at the fair for 26 years and said he buys the baked goods for those customers. This year, they’ll be sampling the first-place apple and peach pies, blueberry pie and whoopie pies, among other goodies.

The first-place pies cost Waltman $100 each.

“When I first started, you could get a pie for $5,” he said.

Some items were slow to get a response from the crowd, like a chocolate cake and plate of zucchini bread. Kerstetter started at $25 and got no takers.

“Folks, there’s a sale here today,” he said into his microphone headset, often playing to the crowd. The combo eventually went for $22.50.

The money earned by the auction benefits the fair’s land fund.