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.