The winners are, from left, Harper Smith, Mike Dagliesh, Will Adams, Brenda Kremser and Walker Raeborn.

Sept. 2, 2019

By Connie Leinbach

Harper Smith of Durham watched with her family as judges for the Fig Cake Bake-off dug into the seven entries made by youth during the Ocracoke Fig Festival Aug. 16 and 17.

Already an award-winning baker, Smith, 12, had entered a fig cheesecake topped with orange-lemon zest. This was different from what she had entered in the state fair.

“They all won prizes,” she said about her fudge, second place in 2017; lemon poppy seed cake, third place, and her cookies, second place, both in 2018.

This was the first time she ever made a cheesecake, she said, and it was good enough to capture first prize.

Walker Raeburn, 6, of Morehead City, captured second place with his traditional fig cake topped with fruit.

“It was a lesson,” said his grandmother, Cindy Davia, who was his sous-chef. “He did it all.”

Islander Will Adams’ figgy crab patties won first prize in the innovative category.

“It was the first time I ever made a crab cake,” he said, about his savory creations stuffed with lemon figs and topped with a port wine reduction.

Clockwise from top left, cakes by youth with Harper Smith’s top-winning cheesecake right corner and the second-place winner in the left corner.

First-time contestant islander Brenda Kremser’s tropical fig cake came in second.

“The appearance was right on,” said Peyton Picard, one of three judges for the innovative entries, about the cake that combined orange marmalade, crystalized ginger and coconut with an orange glaze. “The innovation of flavors and figginess was a really nice blend.”

Islander Mike Dagliesh bested nine others to capture the traditional honors.

“I fussed with the ratio of spices,” he said noting that the recipe he used was by Della Gaskill, who won the first two years of the bake-off.

A cake by Rachel Burdo of Virginia won second place.

As attendees pounced on the cakes after the judging, the plates began to get bare.

Visitor Natasha Jones of Merritt, Pamlico County, tasted her first traditional fig cake ever.

First-place fig preserves winner Trudy Austin receives her honors from Sundae Horn, event organizer. Photo: C. Leinbach

“I grew up eating persimmon pudding,” she said. “This is sweeter.”

On Friday, Trudy Austin’s peach fig preserves won top honors out of 18 entries in the fig preserve tasting contest and Tom Pahl’s came in second.

Event organizer Sundae Horn was happy with the event this year held mostly in the Berkley Barn because of rainy weather.

Milk Street Soap, one of the vendors, made a fig soap especially for the event and sold every bar.

The Savory Side of Figs event Friday night sold out also.

“People are discovering new and different ways to celebrate figs,” she said.

Hosted by the Ocracoke Preservation Society, next year’s event will be Aug. 7 and 8 to be closer when figs are in season.
“The restaurants wanted that and people want to taste fresh figs,” she said.

Judging the innovative cakes are, from left, Bill Cole, Kim France and Peyton Picard. Photo: C. Leinbach
Three generations of O’Neals judge the traditional cakes: Stephanie O’Neal, Stella O’Neal, her mother, and Nicole O’Neal, Stella’s granddaughter. Photo: C. Leinbach