America’s Favorite County Fair Champion, Linda Skeens
In Episode 73 of the Kitchen Confidante Podcast, Liren talks to Linda Skeens, America’s favorite county fair champion, about her life and family in Appalachia, her long history with county fairs, and her book, Blue Ribbon Kitchen: Recipes and Tips from America’s Favorite County Fair Champion.
Blue Ribbon Kitchen — with Linda Skeens
On the podcast, I recently spoke with Linda Skeens. Linda made headlines in the summer of 2022 when she won dozens of ribbons at the Virginia-Kentucky District Fair. She was a force to contend with from a clean sweep of first, second, and third place awards for best cookies, best cake, best pie, best brownies, best overall baked good, and more. Linda also won in multiple savory categories, including canned tomatoes, pickled peppers, spaghetti sauce, and another clean sweep of all three embroidery categories. Linda recently published a collection of prize-winning recipes and family stories in her book, Blue Ribbon Kitchen: Recipes from America’s Favorite County Fair Champion.
In this episode, we chat about her life and family in Appalachia, her long history with county fairs, her new cookbook, and more. Listen to the full episode here, or keep reading for some of my favorite moments with Linda.
How did you get started cooking?
Growing up in Appalachia, my mother always had a garden. She was a great cook and canned over 300 cans annually. Back then, she had to be a prolific canner and cook to feed our large family, especially in the winter. It wasn’t possible to just run to the store to restock.
However, I was never interested in cooking until I married and had kids. I was terrible at first, but I was determined to learn, practice, and improve. To anyone who is just starting out, I always say that you can do anything you want if you try.
In addition to cooking, I also love quilting and crafting.
My son encouraged me to enter the county fair contest as I got better. I entered my first contest in 1984 with one of my crafts. That year, I won a ribbon, and it got me hooked. I’ve been doing competitions ever since.
Over 30 years, I’ve won almost 1500 ribbons for my crafts and cooking. In 2022, I had the biggest sweep and won the most Best in Show awards in one year, which caught national attention.
Tell us more about your book, Blue Ribbon Kitchen
I have always wanted to write a cookbook but never thought I’d get the opportunity to, so I am very excited about this cookbook.
My book, Blue Ribbon Kitchen, includes 100 of my favorite recipes. Some of the recipes I’ve developed, while others are treasured recipes that have been passed down through my family.
In addition to my recipes, I’ve also included bits about my personal history and some of my poetry. Many of the recipes have tributes to the important people in my life. For example, I’ve included a poem I wrote for my son, who passed nine years ago.
Overall, I keep my recipes easy and simple but good. That is my best Blue Ribbon tip!
Blue Ribbon Kitchen: Recipes & Tips From America’s Favorite County Fair Champion, by Linda Skeens (83 Press, 2023).