For Gershman, chronicling America’s county fairs showed him how passionate people are about celebrating their communities. She said it gave her hope.
“There are so many things that are tearing us apart these days,” Gershman said. “County fairs really bring people together.”
The following recipes are taken from “County Fair: Nostalgic Blue Ribbon Recipes from Small Town America,” by cookbook author and photographer Liza Gershman.
orange chiffon cake
This orange chiffon cake was inspired by a recipe from Donna M. Hayes, who featured it at the North Alabama State Fair. It’s gluten-free and a good choice if you’re sharing with friends who avoid eating gluten.
Makes 1 cake
6 egg yolks
1 cup plus ½ cup sugar
1 cup potato flour
2 tablespoons baking powder or cornstarch
½ teaspoon of salt
4 tablespoons of water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
6 egg whites
1 cup orange juice
Blackberries and orange slices, to garnish
Icing sugar, to garnish
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Beat egg yolks. Gradually add 1 cup of sugar, a little at a time, and beat well. Mix and sift together flour, baking powder or cornstarch and salt. Add to yolks, stirring until blended. Add water and beat well. Beat egg whites with lemon juice in a clean, dry bowl until stiff but not dry. Gently fold into cake mix. Pour the batter into an ungreased 9-inch tube pan. Bake for 1 hour.
Take out of the oven and let cool down. While the cake cools, combine the orange juice and ½ cup sugar in a small bowl. When almost cooled, invert the cake onto your serving platter or cake stand and pour the orange juice and sugar mixture over the cake while it is still slightly warm. Add a few blackberries and orange slices on top, sprinkle sifted icing sugar over the cake to garnish and serve.
This simple recipe was inspired by Nathan Moore, who won a blue ribbon award at the Addison County Fair in New Haven, Vermont.
Makes 4-6 servings
4 cups peeled, cored and thinly sliced tart apples
½ cup of maple sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup rolled oats
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-inch by 8-inch by 2-inch baking dish.
Spread the apple slices in the pan. In a medium bowl, combine sugar, flour, oats, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir in butter until mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle the mixture over the apples. Bake until topping is golden brown and apples are tender, about 90 minutes. Serve in bowls with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or freshly whipped cream. Garnish with a drizzle of Grade B Vermont maple syrup.
Peanut butter and jam bars
Makes about 36 cookies
This recipe was inspired by Gloria Rankin, who won Best of Show at the Conway County Fair in Arkansas.
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup shortening
½ cup peanut butter
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¾ cup raspberry jam
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Beat together sugars, shortening, peanut butter and egg. Stir flour, baking soda and baking powder into peanut butter mixture to create crust dough. Reserve 1 cup of batter.
Press remaining batter onto ungreased baking sheet to create bottom crust; spread with jam. Make small crumbles with the reserved dough and sprinkle on the layer of jam. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool and cut into bars.
This classic pie was inspired by a recipe by Kasey Meek, which won Best of Show at the Florida State Fair.
Makes a 9 inch pie
2 cups graham cracker crumbs
½ cup unsalted butter, melted
1 package 8-ounce cream cheese, room temperature
¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
⅔ cup lime juice (optional)
Whipped cream or Italian meringue, for garnish (recipes to follow)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, mix the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter well. Press mixture into bottom and sides of 9-inch pie dish. Bake the crust for 10 minutes or until lightly golden. Let cool.
Using a hand or stand mixer, whip the cream cheese until soft. Add the butter. Once mixed, slowly add the condensed milk, then add the lime juice if using. Mix until well blended, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl as needed.
Pour the mixture into the crust of a pie pan, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
Garnish with whipped cream or Italian meringue, with a twist of lime.
Traditional apple pie
Another fair and versatile American classic is apple pie. This recipe was inspired by Teresa Winder, who won a blue ribbon award at the Johnson County Fair in Iowa.