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Holiday cookies compete

By Staff | Dec 7, 2018

PLATE UPON PLATE of holiday cookies graced the competition table at the “Holiday Cookie Contest,” which took place at this year’s Clay County Fair. Sweeping the contest was a plate of date pinwheels made by Lois Klein of Sheldon, which the judge liked because she said they were “tender, and are hard to make.”

By Karen Schwaller


SPENCER – All that was missing was the Christmas music.

Sixteen competitors and their fans gathered at the Creative Living Center at the Clay County Fairgrounds (CCF) this past September to find out who baked the best holiday cookies.

The holiday cookie contest was a first for the fair under the brand new Family Favorites category, and was sponsored by Sharon Anderson and her family. Formerly of Spencer, the family now lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

COOKIE JUDGE Christy Patterson of Paullina (left) looks over another entry in the Clay County Fair’s “Holiday Cookie Contest,” held during the 2018 edition of the Clay County Fair. Alice Nielsen looks on as she writes comments from the judge.

Anderson chose holiday cookies for the contest because she and her recently late husband, Jim, used to make them together and give them away at Christmas time. The contest, in essence, was a tribute to her husband.

The Andersons often made cherry winks (or cherry blinks), spritz cookies, date-filled cookies, krumkake (Scandinavian cookie), and peppernuts.

The only criteria for the contest was that the entries be some kind of Christmas cookie, and that they include a sentence or two about why those cookies were special at holiday time.

Attendees heard stories of baking with grandma or great-grandma, using sprinkles, decorating gingerbread men, using Norwegian-descended cookie recipes, and decade-old recipes.

Winners included:

  • First place: Lois Klein, of Sheldon, for her date-filled pinwheel cookies. The judge said they were tender and hard to make.
  • Second place: Shelby Haak, of Spencer, for her decorated cut-out sugar cookies. The judge said they were beautiful.
  • Third place: Barb Christensen, of Spencer, for her Swedish tea cookies. The judge said they were very tender.

The first-place winner received $100, second place $50, and third place $25.

“It’s an incentive for people,” Anderson said. “And (if they win) they also get back some of the money they spent on ingredients, because it’s important to use the best ingredients.”

Contestants came from as far away as Garner and Humboldt.

Anderson was glad judge Christi Patterson, of Paullina, didn’t make her decisions on taste alone, saying a lot of work went into the decorated entries. The winning date-filled pinwheel cookie entry brought back memories for Anderson.

“Date-filled cookies were a staple at our holidays,” she said, adding that her mother-in-law used to make them every year. “(Hers) was a little different recipe, though.”

While she said taste is important, appearance plays a big role.

“I believe that we eat with our eyes first,” said Anderson.

She and her husband are no strangers to baking contests at the CCF. They entered the cinnamon roll contest for 12 years. Anderson said it took her husband eight years to win that contest.

After that, they entered other CCF baking contests, such as cookies, breads, meats and vegetables.

“We had a lot of fun doing that together,” said Anderson, who is a stockholder of the fair. “The fair means/meant a tremendous amount to both of us, so in order to support the fair, we wanted to create this Family Favorites contest.”

Her hope in creating the holiday cookie contest was to create memories.

“Jim and I had so much fun making Christmas cookies together, and I hoped to pass that experience on to other families,” she said. “And this contest shows how they are passing love on to their families.”

The following holiday cookie recipes are from the Clay County Fair Centennial Cookbook.

Lemon meltaways

Recipe from Lois Simmons, former superintendent

1 cup butter or oleo

1/3 cup sugar

1 cup flour

2/3 cup cornstarch


2 cups powdered sugar

1teaspoon grated lemon rind

2 tablespoon lemon juice

1/4 cup melted butter

Cream shortening and sugar. Sift together flour and cornstarch. Add to creamed mixture. Drop onto ungreased cookie sheet by teaspoonfuls; cookies should be small. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Watch carefully. Don’t brown very much. Frost when cool.

Wheaties cherry blinks (or winks)

Recipe from Katie Taylor, first place winner of 2016 junior contest

1/3 cup shortening

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

1 1/2 tablespoon milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup raisins or cut-up dates

1/2 cup chopped nuts

1 1/2 cups Wheaties cereal, crushed

Candied or maraschino cherries

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix shortening, sugar and egg. Stir in milk and vanilla. Blend dry ingredients together. Add to wet ingredients. Stir in dates and nuts. Drop dough by teaspoons into cereal until coated. Place 2 inches apart on greased cookie sheets. Top with a piece of cherry. Bake 10-12 minutes until no imprint remains when touched. Makes 3 dozen.

St. Nicholas cookies

Recipe from Robyn McDowell, first place winner of 2017 contest

1 cup margarine

1 cup lard or shortening

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup white sugar

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cloves

4 1/2 cups flour

Cream butter, shortening and sugars together. Add sour cream. Mix in dry ingredients. Shape into roll and wrap in waxed paper. Put in refrigerator or freezer. Slice and bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes.


Recipe from Sharon Simington, first place winner of 2016 contest

3 eggs

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup melted butter

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

3/4 cup flour

Touch of salt

Beat eggs until thick, then gradually add sugar and salt. Add vanilla. Fold in melted butter and flour alternately, ending with flour. Place one scant teaspoon batter on krumkake iron. Turn iron over as it browns. When edges are golden, remove with a table knife and roll on a wooden peg.


Recipe from Marjean Hanno, third place winner of 2017 heritage contest

1 cup sugar

1 cup dark syrup

1 cup butter

1 teaspoon soda

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

2 eggs

Dash of cloves

1 teaspoon anise oil

About 5 cups flour

Mix all ingredients together. Roll into small balls, using 1/2 teaspoon of dough per cookie. Dip in sugar. Bake at 350 until nicely browned. Can be mixed a day or two before baking.

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