Bandon is Oregon’s cranberry capital, where about 80 cranberry growers harvest the majority of Oregon’s cranberry crop each fall. Which is to say, this town knows cranberries – and when they name a winner for the annual Cranberry Kitchen contest, you know it’s going to be good.
The contest – formerly known as the “Queen of the Kitchen” competition – has been a staple of the annual Bandon Cranberry Festival since 1948. Over its 76-year history, only one man has won (Lawrence Williams, with a cranberry cake with cranberry filling and cream cheese frosting in 2003.) In more recent years, the competition was renamed the Cranberry Kitchen contest; the winner still receives a tiara, a sash and a bouquet of roses.
Jan Hester, who organizes the annual contest, said contestants can prepare any kind of food dish as long as it’s homemade and uses cranberries. Past winning foods have included cranberry soup, cranberry pizza and cranberry wine.
This year, there were 43 entries in the Cranberry Kitchen contest ranging from drinks to main dishes to desserts, but one dish rose to the top for the three judges. That would be the cranberry coffee crumble cake created by first-time entrant Katy Vierck Latsko.
Latsko was born and raised in Bandon, where her family runs Vierck Cranberry Farm. Her mom had been asking her to enter the contest for years, she said.
“I have two small kids, and so I just feel like I never have time to do it,” Latsko said. “I got up at 6 in the morning and I was like, ‘I’m going to make something this year.’ And then, I couldn’t really decide, so I picked two things and got them in just before (the deadline).”
Latsko modified an existing coffee cake recipe, replacing blueberry and lemon flavors with cranberry and orange. She also entered a batch of pistachio cranberry white chocolate chip cookies.
Judges loved both desserts, with her cookies taking third place and the coffee crumble cake winning top honors.
After her cooking win, Latsko was invited to ride in the Cranberry Festival Parade, an event she has fond memories of from her childhood. The Bandon Cranberry Festival is held the second weekend in September, before the year’s cranberry harvest. Latsko said it’s a kind of homecoming for the whole town.
“It’s like a little party before we start harvest, and then everyone gets to work after that,” Latsko said. “It also brings in a lot of tourists to the area, which is good for one last hurrah for everyone before we slow down for the winter.”
Latsko works for Bandon Dunes Golf Resort but still takes time off each fall to help her parents with the cranberry harvest.
“It’s a lot of really hardworking people,” she said of the area’s cranberry farmers. “It’s just a huge part of Bandon. … As logging and fishing have kind of gone away, this one has lasted, which is cool to see.”
Looking to add cranberries to your holiday cooking? Here’s Latsko’s award-winning recipe:
Cranberry Coffee Crumble Cake
• ½ cup granulated sugar
• ¼ cup all-purpose flour
• 3 tablespoons butter, melted
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
• ½ teaspoon salt
• ½ cup unsalted butter softened (1 stick)
• 1 ½ cup granulated sugar
• 2 large eggs
• 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
• ½ cup whole milk
• 1 tablespoon orange zest
• 2 cups cranberries fresh or frozen
• 1 cup powdered sugar
• 1-2 tablespoons fresh squeezed orange juice
1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Spray a 9-inch spring form pan with nonstick cooking spray with flour.
2. Prepare crumb topping by mixing the sugar, flour, and butter together in a small bowl well with a fork and set aside. The mixture should be sandy and then start to form small clumps.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.
4. In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, vanilla and milk. Mix in orange zest. Add flour mixture and mix just until combine. Stir in cranberries.
5. Spread batter evenly into prepared pan. Sprinkle with crumb topping.
6. Bake at 350º for 45-55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. The center should be 210 degrees F. with an instant read thermometer.
7. Whisk together powdered sugar and orange juice to create a thin glaze.
8. Cool the cake 10 minutes in the pan, then run a knife around the edge and remove ring. Drizzle icing on cake. Cool completely before serving.
— Samantha Swindler, [email protected], @editorswindler