Slices of Victory at the Minnesota State Fair

by | Mar 2024

Jim Lind has an large display of award ribbons alongside his blue ribbon-winning Cinnamon-Raisin Bread and Posies Dinner Rolls.

Jim Lind has an large display of award ribbons alongside his blue ribbon-winning Cinnamon-Raisin Bread and Posies Dinner Rolls.

It’s not too early for these bakers to practice their contest skills.

As of March 1, there are 174 days until August 22. What does this matter? Well, if you feel the 12 days of Christmas play second fiddle to the 12 days of the Minnesota State Fair, then you’re counting the days until the Great Minnesota Get-Together swings open its gates.

And, if you’re like Minnetonka’s Jim Lind and Kim Narveson, you might be pulling out mixing bowls and firing up your oven to practice your baking skills in order to enter loafy goodness into the fair’s food competitions.

Jim Lind

Jim Lind

Last year, Lind, who started competing at the state fair in 2000, secured 10 ribbons out of 15 yeast bread entries, bringing his ribbon tally to 97. He explains that there are two baking competitions at the state fair—“… the more prominent being at Creative Activities but also popular is the Honey Foods (honey only as a sweetener) competition in the horticulture building,” he says. Lind’s blue ribbons came for his Cinnamon-Raisin (honey foods competition), Sourdough-Rye and Whole Grain breads.

Cinnamon-Raisin Bread and Posies Dinner Rolls.

“I honestly cannot recall a day that I decided to start baking bread, but I believe that the fair competitions were a motivator,” Lind says. “I don’t recall ever missing a year at the fair in my lifetime (except 2020).”

Practice (and more practice) really does make perfect when it comes to preparing for the state fair. “Any loaf that doesn’t meet my expectations is given the unfortunate title of ‘reject,’ and my friends and family love rejects,” Lind says. Of the 15 entries he made to the fair, they came by way of 25 bread loaves and 54 dinner rolls that he baked during the run-up to the fair’s delivery day.

“I just have to count on everything tasting good (I can’t slice into a loaf to taste before I deliver.), but I’ve had a lot of practice with these recipes,” Lind says. “What I need for the fair is a visually appealing entry with good color, sheen and shape on the outside. Once I get that, I just hope the judges appreciate what’s inside—sometimes, they do.”

Speaking of what judges appreciate, there’s a synonymous name when it comes to baking and the Minnesota State Fair—Marjorie Johnson, winner of more than 2,500 state fair ribbons. Lind once asked her how she managed to bring so many entries to the fair that were fresh and award-winning. “She said that she couldn’t do it if she didn’t freeze her baked goods, sometimes for quite a while before the fair,” he says. “When properly wrapped before freezing and properly thawed before delivery, they come across as fresh baked. That’s when I invested in a chest freezer.”

As he preps for August, Lind will review last year’s judges’ scoresheets, which review appearance, taste, texture and conformity to rules. “Based on that, I will make notes about what I may change,” he says. This year, Lind hopes to tip the kitchen scale at 100 ribbons. “While that’s not remotely close to Marjorie’s rarefied space, it’s a good mark for me,” he says.

At the 2023 state fair, Narveson’s Gingerbread garnered a first-place finish. (Her Carrot Cake, Grape Jelly, Plum Jam and Snack Mix also earned first-place finishes, and other entries also received ribbons.)

Kim Narveson’s Gingerbread recipe received a first-place ribbon.

Kim Narveson’s Gingerbread recipe received a first-place ribbon.

Narveson recalls her early days in the kitchen. “I have been baking since I was a little girl with my mom,” she says. “I started making yeast breads about 34 years ago. My mom didn’t like working with yeast, so I had to teach myself. I also like making bars, brownies and quick breads.”

Narveson has participated in the Minnesota State Fair since 1999 after competing in Waterloo (Iowa) 4-H as a teen and at the Sheboygan (Wisconsin) County Fair from 1987 to 1998. “We moved to Minnesota in 1999 and decided to test the waters at the Minnesota State Fair,” she says. “It has always been a good experience.”

Kim Narveson’s baking skills have netted an impressive array of award ribbons.

Kim Narveson’s baking skills have netted an impressive array of award ribbons.

Those experiences have been so good that Narveson is planning for this year. “I start getting serious about entries usually in February,” she says. “The years I can’t decide and start later, I don’t do as well. Plus, if I don’t start baking [by] early spring, my coworkers start asking when I am starting to practice bake.”

Most of Narveson’s recipes yield two to four loaves. She assesses their viability for submission. “Are the tops evenly browned and nicely domed? Are there any obvious holes? Which loaf is the most attractive?” she says.

This year, she plans to remain in the canning and baking lanes, hoping to add more cake and bread to her repertoire.

It appears that interest in bread baking continues to rise, and novices should note that Narveson doesn’t find the kitchen endeavor to be overly difficult. “Even if it doesn’t look perfect, it always tastes good,” she says. “The neighbors [and coworkers] never mind taste testing my not-so- perfect loaves.”

Blue Ribbon Baking

Looking to recreate some of that Minnesota State Fair magic at home? Both Lind and Narveson have shared a blue ribbon bread recipe with us.


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