Kate Stringer

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August 26, 2014
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Sutherlin Blackberry Festival winners add spice to old recipes

Linda Bruinsma can’t keep her fingers out of the muffin batter or her salsa out of the salad, but the way she mixes blackberries into both is award-winning.

The Oakland resident’s Blackberry Cardamom Muffins and Grilled Chicken with Spicy Blackberry Salsa Salad recipes both earned first prize in their respective categories at the Sutherlin Blackberry Festival. Her Blackberry Amish Cake took second. These were three of many prizes she’s won over the years at baking competitions.

“It’s fun seeing people’s responses to my recipes,” Bruinsma said. “People are surprised that you could do things with the ingredients.”

One example of this is the blackberry salsa topping off her grilled chicken salad. While searching for summer recipes, Bruinsma noticed that adding the concoction to the classic grilled chicken salad imparted a refreshing flavor and tropical look.

She also spiced up the classic blackberry muffin recipe by adding cardamom. “I had to hold my hand away from the batter because I kept eating it,” she said.

On the other hand, 12-year-old Sutherlin resident Riley Youngs still doesn’t know what her first place blackberry pie tastes like. She and her grandmother worked from recipes that had been in the family for years, the crust recipe dating back at least six decades. And while the blackberry pie has been available for Youngs to sample at family gatherings, Youngs said she’s more of a strawberry and apple pie kind of person.

But she didn’t need to taste it to enjoy the baking portion of the competition.

“It was a fun, nice experience to be able to connect with my grandma,” she said.

Youngs was surprised with the first-place ribbon and $25 prize. “I was really excited,” she said. “I didn’t think I would win because it’s my first time entering and I knew a lot of people would be entering for the 10th year in a row.”

Sutherlin resident Rhonda Seekins is one of these legacies. For the past 26 years, she’s brought to the festival everything from candies to chili.

“Some years I’d say ‘I don’t know if I want to (enter),’ but then my husband would pick me blackberries and get me going on it,” Seekins said, whose husband died a few years ago. “Now that he’s gone I feel like I have to do it.”

This year she’s most proud of her Blackberry Oatmeal Bars, a recipe she found on an oatmeal box when her kids were small. She reinvented the bars by adding blackberries, earning her one of five first-place ribbons in baking, along with two chili recipes. It’s the most first place ribbons she’s won in any festival.

Seekins competes against family members sometimes, this year against her daughter in the chili competition.

“Her chili was so hot the judges were wiping their heads, they couldn’t finish,” Seekins said, laughing. Her son beat her last year in the Texas chili competition after Seekins gave him her husband’s secret chili recipe.

Sutherlin’s Bette Hart is also a longtime festival baker, this being her 13th year.

Hart grew up surrounded by flour and mixing bowls. Her dad was a baker and cook for the Navy in World War II, and worked in different bakeries after the war.

“I’m a baker at heart,” she said.

Hart earned first place for her Blackberry Lemon-filled Cupcakes, inspired by her Chocolate Blackberry Curd Cupcakes from a previous festival. This time she paired lemon and blackberries with a vanilla cupcake mix. While the cupcakes won first in the competition, they rank second in Hart’s mind to her chocolate blackberry cupcakes. “I’m a chocolate lover,” she said.

Hart starts preparing for the competition in July. She searches for recipes online, then tweaks them to fit her taste. But if she doesn’t like a recipe on the first try, she’s not afraid to toss it.

“I don’t waste my time trying to refix a recipe,” Hart said. “The first time’s a charm, not the third.”

The recipes that hold promise, however, undergo her husband’s taste-testing and Hart’s rejiggering. The Blackberry Barbecue Ribs Sauce that placed second underwent three rounds of experimenting. Hart wanted the sauce to be sweeter, but didn’t want to add sugar, as it can be overpowering. Instead, she added maple syrup.

“What do they taste like? Oh you’re in heaven,” Hart said. “They melt in your mouth.”

•You can reach reporter Kate Stringer at 541-957-4208 or kstringer@nrtoday.com.

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The News-Review Updated Aug 26, 2014 11:12AM Published Sep 15, 2014 03:16PM Copyright 2014 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.