1/12/2013 7:00 AM
By Sue Bowman Southeastern Pa. Correspondent
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Those expecting to find the nostalgia of grandma’s thumbprint cookies on display at the Pennsylvania Farm Show last Sunday were in for a surprise, but a pleasant one. Now in its second year as a Farm Show event, the thumbprint cookies open competition brought out the creativity in its 42 entrants. Using little mounds of jelly or jam to add pretty pizzazz to indentations in a variety of tasty cookie bases has clearly been raised to an art form at the Farm Show.
Six-year-old Darby Harman of Abbottstown, Adams County, Pa., was the youngest entrant, but her young age doesn’t mean that she’s a novice in the kitchen. With two years of experience already under her belt, she’s been baking for one-third of her life. She does so under the watchful eye of her mother, Kathy Harman, who also entered her own version of thumbprint cookies and eventually placed second in the cookie contest. Darby didn’t have much to be disappointed about, though, as she’s already won a second place at the Farm Show with her apricot-oatmeal cookies and also has to her credit a blue ribbon from the York Fair for her barbecue sauce.
The thumbprint cookie contest was also a family affair for the Foors from Everett, Bedford County, Pa., with four members of the same household typifying the innovative cookie and jelly combinations in this event. Mother Pam Foor topped her pecan cookie base with homemade peach jelly, while her three daughters each tried their own novel creations. Courtney Foor filled the thumbprints in her almond cookies with apple cinnamon jelly, while her sisters Alexis and Madison tried their hands at a white chocolate cookie with homemade raspberry jelly, and a chocolate cookie filled with strawberry jelly.
Melissa Lenker of Grantville, Dauphin County, Pa., was entering a Pennsylvania Farm Show food competition for the first time. Her thumbprint, made in a cream-cheese dough cookie, was topped with strawberry-rhubarb jam.
Each of the 42 contest participants was required to submit a plate containing one dozen of their cookies, which were then judged based on overall appearance (25 points); flavor (30 points); texture (20 points); lightness (10 points); and consistent size (15 points). After narrowing the field to 12 semi-finalists, the judges retired backstage to discuss what was apparently a very challenging decision. Anticipation grew in the audience of entrants — and among the spectators who were looking forward to free samples at the end of the contest — as the judges needed extra time to finalize their list of winners.
Eventually, the winners were called to the stage to receive their awards. Debra Martin Berkoski of Lancaster County took the blue ribbon and the $150 cash prize that came with it. Adams County’s Kathy Harman won $100 for her second place finish, while $50 went to third-place finisher, Linda Lucy from Fayette County. Fourth and fifth place ribbons went to Dorothy Martin, Lancaster County, and Centre County’s Brenda Harper, respectively. Dorothy Martin is the 85-year-old mother of top finisher, Debra Martin Berkoski, leading Gerri Moore, chairwoman of the Family Living Department to comment, “Like mother, like daughter!”
Noting that her brother Brian had won the inaugural thumbprint cookie contest in 2012, Debra Martin Berkoski emphasized that, when her family members participate in the same baking events, “We don’t compete against each other; we compete with each other.
Here is her prize-winning cookie recipe.
Cherry Thumbprint Cookies
1 cup shortening
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons water
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
2 cups chopped pecans
4 ounces homemade cherry jam
Beat shortening and brown sugar until fluffy. Add the egg yolks. Beat well. Add the water, vanilla and salt. Beating well, gradually add flour, beating on low. Beat egg whites in a small bowl. Place nuts in a small dish.
Make 1-inch balls, roll in egg whites, and in the nuts. Place on cookie sheet. Using back of a spoon, form small holes. Bake and remove from the oven. Fill the thumbprint with the jam. Heat oven to 350 F, and bake cookies 5 to 7 minutes.
Debra Martin Berkoski
Lancaster County, Pa.
First Place, Thumbprint Cookie Contest