Ballard High School senior and Cambridge resident Dana Edleman wanted to prove something to herself at this year’s Iowa State Fair.
The 17-year-old began her planning right after the 2016 state fair ended, and through an unbelievable maze of organization, pre-typed entry cards, flour and sugar, and lots of dirty dishes, she turned in 35 food entries to this year’s Iowa State Fair in her last year of qualifying for the “youth division,” and she took home the coveted purple Sweepstakes ribbon and award for being the top youth baker.
“I said, ‘If anyone else wins the Sweepstakes Award this year, I want to shake their hand,’” said her mother Kristi, remembering how much work her daughter was doing at the house every day, especially in the week before the fair, to get all these foods plated and ready to deliver for judging.
Despite the amount of work, Edleman never wavered from her decision to conquer the task at hand. “I typically do no more than 10 things (in the food category),” she said, “but it was my last year as a youth. That’s the main reason I did all of it.”
The cooking and baking alone seem overwhelming, but in addition to that, Edleman also had FFA photo entries, 4-H exhibits and entries, some fabric projects and she and her younger sister, Carla, a sophomore at Ballard High School, also showed sheep and pigs at the state fair. Not to mention that they were busy a few weeks before the state fair at the Story County Fair, where Dana was also a candidate for Story County Fair Queen. She came up short on that, but still managed to win over the other candidates’ favor, as they voted her “Miss Congeniality.”
Edleman, who has been in 4-H as a member of the Palestine Peppy Pushers since she was a fourth grader, said 4-H and fairs are part of her DNA. Her mom was from Dysart, where she did 4-H and FFA. Her father, Marty, grew up in the Spencer area doing 4-H and FFA, as well as participating in one of the top fairs in Iowa, the Clay County Fair, which the Edleman family goes to every year in September. And yes, the Edleman girls will be showing at the Clay County Fair during the upcoming weekend, and Dana plans to enter photos there, too.
“This is the 100th anniversary of the Clay County Fair, so it’s going to be cool,” she said. “It’s basically a mini state fair.” It’s also unique because unlike other fairs, it comes “after” the state fair each year.
Thankfully, the hardest work of the year for Edleman — those 35 food entries — are past her now, and she won’t have nearly so much to focus on in the coming week. Looking back, she believes, however, that it was worth it to put in all the work she did this summer. “It was fun, because I had things to look at during the state fair, and I enjoy baking … even if it was more time-consuming than most people would spend.”
As stated earlier, her work on the 2017 state fair started a year ago, when she made a big document of everything she wanted to enter. She points out that some things she baked could be entered for more than one category, so she didn’t actually make 35 different things, but it was still a lot.
The preparation work, of getting all the tags made for each entry, with the right information on it … she worked on most of that over the winter, attaching each tag and a sticker to each plate and lining them up in numerical order inside a big box. That way, she explained, as the items were baked, she could pull out the plates one by one, and all the information was ready on them for the cookies to be plated.
Some of her entries were savory and had different entry rules. For example, she entered walking tacos. For that entry, she had to bring all the ingredients along separately, with instructions on how the judges should put them together so they could taste the finished product. She also made a hamburger soup and twice-baked potatoes, and those were entered by placing things in a bowl to be heated up by the judges.
Most of what she entered was sweets, like different types of cookies, quick bread, cake … “My favorite thing to make is chocolate chip cookies. It’s my favorite recipe. I have it memorized and it’s fast,” she said.
When it comes to all the work of baking, she admits, it was a mess at times, especially because she only had a window of a few days to get everything made so it would be fresh. She did all the baking work, but her family members did help her keep dishes washed, because that was a constant job. They also helped taste test and helped her pick out the best-looking finished baked goods for her plates.
She said the hardest part of the baking process was dealing with the oven and waiting for one thing to be done so another could be put in. One day before all her “youth baked goods” needed to be submitted, she also had to bake a Mahogany Chiffon cake for a 4-H competition … that’s a recipe with eight eggs in it. And somehow she got it done. The cake got a blue, the best you can get in that category. She sighs as she’s recalling it all and under her breath, she said, “I don’t know how I did all that.”
She did, though, and now, as she looks to being an adult, she said she wants to continue to participate in state fair competitions for years to come. “It’s a tradition for our family,” she said.
Edleman, who is a member also of the Ballard FFA, the Ballard tennis team, the National Honor Society, speech competition and who works as a tutor for Spanish, has another big year ahead of her as she contemplates where she will go to college. “I’m not sure where yet,” she said, but she does want to study ag communications and marketing, and minor in Spanish. She sees herself some day working in the marketing department of an ag company; and if it involves any measure of organization, she will no doubt do very well in it.