fig winners and Monroe PS IMG_2249
Winners of the Fig Cake Bake-off Aug. 15 in Community Square are, from left, Mary Vankevich, for the ‘innovative’ category, and Della Gaskill, for the ‘traditional’ category. Della held on to her title having won the traditional bake-off last year. At right is Della’s son Monroe Gaskill. Photo P. Vankevich.

September 2014

A Fig Cake Bake-off and end-of-summer celebration in Community Square Aug. 15 salvaged some of the festivities of the canceled July 4 on the island.

Della Gaskill, last year’s winner in the “traditional” cake category, took the honors again this year in a blind taste-testing by judges Gene Ballance, Bar­bara Adams and Judith Garrish. Mary Vankevich won in the ‘in­novative’ category.

“This was fabulous,” said Robin Payne, executive direc­tor of the Ocracoke Founda­tion, landlord of Community Square, as the Ocracoke Rock­ers did their sound check be­fore playing. “Very few locals did innovative cakes,” she said.

This year there were seven traditional cakes and 11 inno­vative. In this contest, ‘tradi­tional’ means a plain fig cake with no icing or other embel­lishments.

Ironically, though Vankevich won the innovative category, she married two molasses cake recipes she had found in a Methodist Church Women’s cookbook from the 1950s.

A testament to her cooking skills, Vankevich said she de­cided at the last minute to make a cake.

In this little green book­let, priced at $1, the fig cake recipe is the one Chester Lynn described as the original Oc­racoke method: make two plain butter cakes and spread fig pre­serves between the layers.

Lynn said it was islander Margaret Garrish in the early 1960s who is responsible for the “traditional” cake of today when she was out of dates for her date cake and substituted figs.

Lynn also noted that add­ing lemon as an ingredient to making fig preserves was not that popular on Ocracoke in the past, whereas additions of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice were used. Although there are several varieties of fig trees in Ocracokers’ backyards, he said they did not pay attention to the type of fig–sugar, celeste or brown–and just selected those that were ripe.

Zandra Relaford and her daughter Lauren who were visiting the island for their fourth time from Richmond were highly enthusiastic about the day’s events, especially the cake tastings after the judging.

“I would definitely come back for an Ocracoke Fig Festi­val,” said Zandra.

Visitor Dieter Baumgartel believed the fig festival in the future should include specialty dishes.

“How about fish stuffed with or marinated in fig preserves?” he mused.

As he sampled the entries and other traditional cakes available for tasting (in case there weren’t enough contest entries), Gunther Peck of Dur­ham said he has a brown turkey fig tree in his back yard and was eager to learn more on how others use their figs.

The event was sponsored by Ocracoke Civic and Business Association and included a tra­ditional Ocracoke square dance with Philip Howard as caller.

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