The Crafty Cookie Contest at the Northwest Montana Fair has been going on longer than most of its participants have been alive.
The director of the competition, Karen Strong, said she believes the children’s cookie decorating contest has taken place at the fair for at least 10 years. This is the family and consumer science teacher’s second year in charge of the unique competition as part of her duties in running the fair’s home culinary section.
“It’s a hilarious mess,” Strong said with a smile.
Children ranging from older toddlers to young preteens competed on Thursday, designing a sugar cookie with a variety of colored frostings and a slew of tasty toppings, including cereal, licorice, M&Ms, pretzels, goldfish, raisins and marshmallows. Rosauers donated the cookies and frosting, and Snappy Sport Senter provided fishing poles to award to the top three winners in each age group.
Strong said the main factor the judges look for is creativity.
“The kids have their own way of doing things,” Strong observed. “The trick,” she pointed out, is to keep from licking or eating the ingredients while decorating.
Competitors were divided into two loose categories for kids ranging in age from about 6 to 9 and 10 to 13.
Eleven-year-old Oscar DeFrancesco spoke candidly about the competition level. “I wouldn’t have a chance” in the younger kid category, the four-time competitor said. “The little kids make too good of a cookie.”
DeFrancesco’s observations proved accurate as the young competitors submitted their sugary creations. More than a dozen decorators presented edible inventions with titles such as “Cabin Fever,” “Jaws” and “Candy River.”
The creative process for the cookies was as diverse as the submissions themselves.
Gideon Clark, 6, who said he comes to the fair every year with his brother Jubal, designed the marshmallow-heavy “Candy River” because his “favorite candy is marshmallows.” Khana Melnick decided to create “Sunset Cake” because, “I really like looking at the sunset a lot.” The 9-year-old admitted, “It was really hard to think how to do it” with goldfish and cereal.
Della Stollery, 9, took inspiration from the tepee in her backyard to engineer a tiny tepee on her cookie. She overcame some structural challenges by tying up the pretzels with a strand of licorice.
Ultimately, the judges decided to crown “Pikachu,” “Cabin Fever” and “Work Site” as the winners in the first round of the competition.
The second group of older participants had more experience, but a markedly different approach to the creations.
“The younger ones are more creative,” Strong observed. “They spend more time making the cookies. The older ones just load it up.”
The older age group included competitors like Lainey Erving, who claimed she had been competing in the contest “since I was old enough to do it,” and Marian Tuck, who reported she took second place the previous year. One-time champ Emily Hall designed the cookie “Rabbit Barn” since she had competed in the rabbit hopping contest prior to cookie decorating.
Despite the age differences, there was some consistency across the categories. Tuck said the hardest part “is trying not to eat the food.”
In the older kid category, a second “Pikachu” entry was announced as a winner, along with “Campfire” and “Rabbit,” which creatively utilized pieces of the paper plate for the bunny ears.
This year’s trio of cookie champions was excited to receive the fishing rod awards. As she handed them out, Strong noted the participants are not only cookie decorators, but also “Montana kids.”
Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at email@example.com or 758-4459.