By Adrienne McGee Sterrett
Specific directions to the Boughans aren’t really necessary. Just be on the lookout for the old brick schoolhouse they converted into their home in 1995.
Once inside, it all comes into focus. Of course Tammy Boughan’s kitchen would have touches a baker would love — a vintage cake carrier, a rack of antique rolling pins, a collection of clear glass cake stands on display.
Tammy Boughan’s name is familiar to anyone who has visited the baked goods area of the Allen County Fair, as would be plenty of other names. She is but one of many who enjoy entering the open class contests, competing against each other for everything from top sugar cookie to casserole. She may enter some items this year at the fair — Aug. 19 to 27 — but she is playing her cards close to her chest in the style of a true fair exhibitor.
Not bad for a person who A) isn’t from here and B) doesn’t recall ever going to her home fair when she was growing up.
She is from Middletown, between Cincinnati and Dayton. She and her now-husband, Troy, met while working in Columbus at the statehouse. He’s from the Lafayette area and wanted to come home to raise his family. He grew up raising hogs for 4-H and wanted that lifestyle. And she was game.
“I’m not a country girl,” she said, laughing.
She loves her country address and the wide-open spaces it provides (Columbus Grove mailing address but Allen County location), the history of their family home (the Monroe Center School House was built in 1897), and their single acre on which she can dabble at a garden and raising animals. There are picket fences and coneflowers and even an orange tabby kitten on the porch. Picturesque.
While she’s not so sure about bona fide farming, Boughan has always been attracted to baking. She studied graphic design and counts herself a creative-leaning person.
“Even with three kids, I think (baking) is relaxing. It’s something I enjoy,” she said. “I think I just sort of have an artsy knack.”
So, when they relocated, renovated the house with much help from his family and got settled, Boughan started hearing from her husband’s family about all the things they were taking to the fair. She started to be interested.
“Well, I could bake cookies,” she remembers thinking. “And I could make muffins. … I don’t know if fever is the right word, but you just get caught up in it.”
Boughan first entered the Allen County Fair in 1996 or ’97 — she can’t quite remember — and she has done so almost every year since. She didn’t work while their children were smaller, and she has started working again recently. (Two kids are at college and one is in high school.) Her job has made it trickier to compete at the fair.
“There’s been years that I entered a lot of stuff,” she said.
What’s “a lot”? Perhaps 40 different items, ranging from baked goods to cake decorating to a few canned goods, even though she says canning isn’t really her thing. And sometimes she would make duplicate items for the Ohio State Fair, which for a time overlapped with the Allen County Fair.
Two plastic totes hold her ribbons — and some of her kids’ ribbons are mixed in there too, she said — but there have to be hundreds.
In all of that, though, she has a clear proudest moment: best white cake. She laughs telling the story, explaining there was a Kenton woman who always entered white cake and won. Everyone will know exactly who she’s talking about, she said, grinning.
“I think sometimes … you get your recipe perfect and it’s just hard to beat,” she said.
Boughan made it a goal to bake a better white cake, and she had to work at it a few years.
“But one year I actually succeeded,” she said.
Winning, of course, is glorious — but more than that, Boughan appreciates the camaraderie.
“I do think that even though it’s a competition — some people may think it’s cutthroat or something — but I think everybody’s out there to help everybody,” she said. “It’s just so nice to see new people involved and want to be a part of it.”
She remembers convincing her neighbor to enter something, a casserole. The neighbor won.
“I was so excited for her,” she said. “There’s more to being first place. … It’s not just all about being the champion or getting the check. It’s a different kind of family.
“I think it’s just something that once you’re a part of it, you’re a part of it.”
Servings: 2 1/2 to 3 dozen
2/3 cup cashews
1/3 cup butter-flavored shortening
1/3 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 2/3 cups flour
8 ounces white chocolate squares
4 teaspoons butter-flavored shortening
3/4 cup cashews, finely chopped
Grind cashews in food processor for 2-3 minutes, until smooth butter forms. Mix cashew butter, shortening and butter, beating until smooth. Add sugars, baking powder and baking soda. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Beat in flour. Divide in half, cover and chill for 3 hours.
Preheat oven to 375 F. Roll to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut out into desired shape. (The recipe is so named because the baker used a leaf-shaped cutter.) Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 8-10 minutes until edges are lightly browned.
Melt chocolate and shortening together, stirring until smooth. Ice cookies and top each with chopped cashews.
Note: Good-quality cashew butter is commercially available and could be purchased instead of grinding your own butter. Boughan reports the delicate cookies are also quite good without the icing.
(Recipe from Better Homes and Gardens magazine.)
Servings: 1 1/2 dozen
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 1/2 cups peanut butter
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 1/2 cups uncooked rolled oats
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup M&M’s
Mix all ingredients. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Measure 1/3 cup of dough for each cookie and place 4 inches apart on sheets. Flatten dough. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 350 F.
Note: Dough can be divided into smaller cookies, doubling the yield. Bake about 8 to 10 minutes.
(Recipe from Tracy Jerger.)
EASY BEER BREAD
Servings: 1 loaf
3 cups self-rising flour
12 ounces of beer
1/2 cup sugar
2-3 tablespoons of butter
Mix flour, sugar and beer. Batter will be thick. Transfer into greased loaf pan and bake at 350 F for 45 to 50 minutes. Add melted butter to top of loaf and bake an additional 5 minutes.
Notes: If you lack self-rising flour, add 1 tablespoon baking powder and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt to regular flour and mix dough as directed. Boughan reports this is similar to Tastefully Simple beer bread.
(Recipe from Cooking Light magazine.)