Kids get into the (cake) mix at the Delaware State Fair

Children in age groups of 5 to 8, 9 to 12 and 13 to 16 participated in this year’s Kids Using Cake Mix competition at Delaware State Fair on Tuesday. Winners were announced on Facebook Live, on the Culinary Department’s page.  (Delaware State News/Brooke Schultz)

HARRINGTON — Although circumstances were slightly different this year, young bakers still poured their hearts into their cake mix during the Delaware State Fair’s annual Kids Using Cake Mix competition on Tuesday.

“The kids that come in are so excited and their parents are so excited and thank us for still having it,” said Trina Stump, assistant superintendent for the culinary department. “We feel like it’s really something they still can do even though all of these things are going on.”

The annual contest’s rules had to be amended — several times — to respond to the changing coronavirus atmosphere.

“It’s been a challenge,” Ms. Stump said, noting that they had to take away taste-testing from the competition this year.

“We’re judging everything this year by appearance, texture, creativity and difficulty.”

Even with the different caveats, children participating in the three different age groups (ages 5 to 8, 9 to 12 and 13 to 16) still turned around tiered strawberry or chocolate cakes, cupcakes, crinkle cookies, truffles and more.

“You can tell they’ve had the time on their hands to get on the computer and be able to look at Pinterest and get ideas and really step up their game,” said judge Laura Madara.

Ms. Madara noted that there’s been much growth in the contestants since she first began judging about 10 years ago.

“Over the years, we have educated the people on how to compete and do things correctly,” said Spicer Leaming, a fellow judge.

Despite the changes to the fair, turnout has been impressive for competitions in the culinary department, Ms. Stump said, noting there’s been an increase in participation by 25% for most of the events. The Kids Using Cake Mix competition was slightly down, which they had prepared for due to the no-tasting rule. She’s hopeful next year things will improve.

Judges Laura Madara and Spicer Leamings examine and rank baked goods using appearance, texture, creativity and difficulty as their parameters this year. (Delaware State News/Brooke Schultz)

“At least it’s giving people an outlet. It’s something they can do,” noted Ms. Madara. “Everyone’s been cooped up.”

Mr. Leaming agreed.

“And everybody’s been very cooperative in bringing things in, and understanding that we can’t taste it but still participating.”

For many at the competition, the 101st iteration of the state fair is another year in a long history of attending the fair. Ms. Madara grew up going to the fair; Mr. Leaming has been a judge for at least 10 years. Ms. Stump has been volunteering in the culinary department for about 20 years.

That dedication to the fair trickled down to the youngest volunteers during the competition, Megonigal siblings Hannah, 14, and Hunter, 12, of Greenwood.

“We’ve been doing this since we were very little and our aunt works for the culinary department and I’ve always had an interest in culinary,” Hannah said.

Hunter agreed, recounting when their older sister had volunteered. Throughout the years, the two, and their family, have entered canning (Hunter’s favorite part), and have spent time at the fair volunteering (Hannah’s favorite) for the past several years.

As volunteers, they help the judges and with check in.

“It was better last year because we got to taste stuff,” Hunter noted, but he and his sister agreed that they were glad the fair was going on, regardless of the different precautions.

“I always like to see all the animals and go through the buildings and see everything,” Hannah said.

Hunter agreed, noting that with the fair still open, “kids can come and bake stuff.”

Although the children usually come back together to see the results of their judging and collect their prizes of $20, $30 or $50, this year the winners were announced over Facebook Live.

“If you guys could be in here right now, all you can smell is cinnamon, strawberries and peanut butter. It’s a great mix,” Ms. Stump said during the Facebook livestream that announced the winners.

The bakers typically get to sit down and speak with the judges. This year, they filled out a questionnaire, answering questions about themselves, their recipes and more.

Supporting this outlet for the children is important, too, Mr. Leaming and Ms. Madara sid.

“It’s life skills for one thing. How many kids get to college and don’t know how to cook? Any time you can teach a young person how to prepare their own food, it’s a good thing,” Ms. Madara said.

Mr. Leaming referred to one entry that explained the baker had hopes for opening a bakery after first participating in the competition years ago.

“That’s why,” he said.