Laura Pert stands front and center among the other winning bakers, holding her cake and third-place ribbon. Below, Laura and her winning cake as it was displayed in the Family Living section of the PA Farm Show Complex.
Story by Rick Hiduk /Submitted Photos
(Originally published in the Susquehanna County Independent)
Laura Brink Pert of Hallstead grew up baking alongside her mother, Donna Brink, and grandmother, Mary Burns, using traditional family recipes and the finest ingredients. Just for fun, Laura and Donna would enter cakes and other baked goods in the Harford Fair, often picking up ribbons for their efforts in what Laura calls friendly family competition.
For several years now, Laura and Donna Brink have baked angel food and sponge cakes side-by-side, Laura using the egg whites and her mother using the yokes from the same eggs. Laura uses her great-grandmother Lucy Burns’ recipe for the angel food cake. Neither Lucy nor Mary ever entered any baked goods in the Fair, but Mary, who was a home economics teacher at Blue Ridge schools for a number of years, has served as a judge there.
In 2017, Laura was pleasantly surprised with a first-place win at the Fair and even more surprised when she was told that she had qualified to enter the same cake in the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg the following January. For one thing, Laura had really never heard of the Farm Show, despite it being the largest indoor event of its kind in the world.
“The cake took us there,” she explained. “We didn’t know that it existed.” She was also in awe of the size of the Farm Show Complex. “It’s a huge affair!”
Laura’s entry did not make the top 25 cut that year, but she learned a lot from the experience.
“The first time, you don’t know what to expect. Everything is over the top,” Laura said of the wide variety of flavors and adornment of entries from veteran bakers. Drizzling some strawberry sauce over her cake was perfect back home but didn’t necessarily stand out at the Farm Show.
But the experience helped her up her own game. In 2022, Laura entered an Almond Angel Food Cake with Honey Almond Frosting in the Harford Fair. Her creation was slathered in a whipped cream frosting with a ring of eight raspberries on the top and crushed almonds around the base. “I also made honey bees out of fondant and toasted almonds to incorporate the flavors and make it more visually appealing,” she noted.
Laura took first place at the fair and qualified again for a Farm Show trip. Her mother also won first place and a Judge’s Delight ribbon for her Orange Sponge Cake at Fair, but the Farm Show only has three baking categories: angle food cake, chocolate cake, and apple pie. Nonetheless, Donna and Laura’s husband, Bryan Pert, made another trip to the Farm Show with her. As per Farm Show rules, the cake that she entered in Harrisburg had to duplicate the one she took to the Fair.
This year, Laura’s colorful entry caught the attention of the judges and satisfied their taste buds to the tune of a third-place win. There were five judges, and 67 entries were spread out across five tables. Each judge determines the best cake on his or her table, which narrows the entries down to a top 25. Then, the judges sample each of those cakes and collectively determine a top five and the order of the ribbons.
“It was a surreal moment to be called up front,” said Laura. “I never expected to be in the top five out of all of those beautiful cakes from around the state. We just go and compete for the fun of it.” After the contest, her cake was prominently displayed in the Family Living Hall of the Complex, where Laura and her family checked out the other baked goods and looked at entries by 4-H youths. “We enjoyed getting to see the demonstrations, specifically the Pennsylvania State Beekeepers Association, and talking with the folks at the American Chestnut Foundation,” she added.
In 2019, Laura decided to turn her love of baking into a hobby business that she calls Hometown Honey Events. She still uses family recipes to turn out cakes, cookies, and brownies for parties and weddings. Technically, it is a limited food establishment within the state of Pennsylvania. Laura does almost all of the baking, and Bryan helps with deliveries. There is no retail outlet.
She found that, since the pandemic, full-size cakes have fallen out of favor for birthday parties and weddings. “Cupcakes, little pies, and cookie platters are more popular now,” Laura remarked. “Since Covid, it’s more about single servings that you can grab.”
She and Donna are already looking forward to this year’s Harford Fair, as they have started competing directly in at least one category per year. So far, Donna has bettered Laura with her brownies, and Laura bested Mom with her chocolate chip cookies.
“She is considering competing against me this year in the Angel Food category for the first time,” Laura noted. “So that will be exciting.”
When asked if she might be selling some Angel Food cakes through her catering business now that hers is officially award-winning,” Laura said, “I may consider it if the interest is there…and if the price of eggs comes down!”
Donna Brink discovers the first-place ribbon and Judge’s Delight tag that was affixed to her winning Orange Sponge Cake at the Harford Fair last year. This year, she is considering competing directly with her daughter, Laura, in the Angel Food Cake contest, just for the fun of it.
(Another resident of the Endless Mountains won a ribbon in the Apple Pie Contest. Read about it here: http://www.endlessmtnlifestyles.com/shunk-womans-apple-pie-wows-judges-at-pa-farm-show/)