ENGLEWOOD — One week ago, Beth Shakan happened to find her husband’s late grandmother’s lemon sponge pie recipe. She thought she’d enter it into the Lemon Dessert Baking Contest at the Cracker Fest. It didn’t win.

“It was a little tricky to make,” Shakan said Saturday at the 17th annual Cracker Fest on Dearborn Street. “We called it Evelyn’s Lemon Sponge Pie. It’s made with egg whites inside the pie. So it turned out a little lumpy and weird. That might have made a difference with the judges.”

Shakan also entered the 2019 Lemon Bay Historical Society Lemon Dessert Contest with her own version of mini lemon cheese cakes with mini raspberries.

“It’s okay that I didn’t win, I know grandma Evelyn was smiling down on us today from heaven,” Shakan said. “I will be back next year. I’m hooked.”

Sue Killion of Rotonda, not only won first place for her lemon magnolia pie, but she won second for her lemon crackle cookies. She volunteered giving out $1 samples after the judges declared the winners from the 28 entries. Members of the Lemon Bay Garden Club dished out the lemony treats. Proceeds went to the Lemon Bay Historical Society.

This year’s judges Monica Mancini and Christine Campbell, who were plucked from the crowd, joined Steve Eittreim, Douglas Chmielewiez (local Elks chef) and William Airey made some tough choices. They tasted everything from a cake doused with Mountain Dew to bread made with orange liqueur.

For 15 years, no matter who were the judges, Dixie Kentopp has tingled their palates. She’s been on a winning baking spree with her lemon creations.

“The first year I entered, I baked a pie and I said this isn’t going to win,” she said. “It came in third place. I was happy. Then I kept coming back and entering in different categories.”

This year Kentopp won five prizes including first place for her lemon pudding sugar cookies; second place for her lemon cheese pie and third place for her lemon Mountain Dew cake, her lemon cream cheese bars and her double crust lemon pie.

“I’m hooked,” she said. “My husband Gene had to go on dialysis six months ago. So, he is very patient with me baking for this competition. We love it. Even if I don’t win. I would still enter. It’s fun.”

Other winners of the lemon dessert contest included Gabrielle Lamb, first place for lemon cookies and cream cupcakes; Captain Jamie Allen second place for Lemon Bay cake; Brianna Lamb third place for lemon whippersnaps; Connie Smoot, first place for her lemon bars and Sue Kolaga for zesty lemon bread.

Phil Sheehan, a visitor from Pennsylvania, said he loved the samples.

“I’m really enjoying this area,” he said. “There’s so much to do in Englewood. This is a great festival. We’ve been coming to it for a few years. With all the white stuff (snow) up north, the only white I want to see is the sugar on these lemon cookies.”

Nancy Pryor finished off her last bite and smiled.

“These lemon cakes were great,” she said.

Dannielle Crowley, 12, wasn’t sampling lemon cookies, she was volunteering through Girl Scout Troop 430. She helped in the children’s area making Valentine’s hearts.

Myakka River Elementary School student John Bass, 10, made a turtle from yarn and wooden sticks.

“There is lots of stuff to do here,” he said. “There’s cool things to see.”

One unique sight was over at the Peace River Wildlife Center tent. Luna the albino owl. While many photographed her, it gave her handler Sue Gilleo the opportunity to explain more than 2,000 injured and orphaned birds, mammals, and reptiles are treated each year at the center in Punta Gorda, 3400 Ponce de Leon Parkway. They are always looking for volunteers and donations.

Quite a crowd gathered to listen to native Floridian Frank Desguin explain how swamp cabbage is made.

“It is really made from the heart of the sabal palm tree,” said Desguin who had a tent at the festival where he showed a video of how swamp cabbage is made. “It makes great coleslaw.”

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