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In the Kitchen with... Cheryl Ashwill
By Carol McGarvey | Photography by Ben Lochard
IN THE KITCHEN WITH... August/September 2017
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Cheryl Ashwill
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Check out these recipes from Cheryl Ashwill:

Frosted Lime Cookies

Maya’s No-No-Nanaimo Bars

Frances Miller’s White Bread

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Des Moines pharmacist and baker is a veteran winner at the Iowa State Fair.

The Iowa State Fair doesn’t just magically happen every August, of course. Ask anyone who is involved. When one fair ends, another begins. Work goes on all year, from maintenance to setting up programs to lining up events. And that’s just the fair staff to start.

Contestants in all areas—livestock, winemaking, sewing and quilting, banjo picking, photography—all require year-round preparation. The same is true in food contests. It’s a matter of finding the right recipes, trying them and trying them again, tweaking them to suit your tastes, testing them out on family and friends, and fretting about the judging process.

Ask veteran winner Cheryl Ashwill of Des Moines. The busy pharmacist (Kmart on Hubbell Avenue) is a 32-year veteran of mostly food contests in the Elwell Family Food Center at the fair. She began in 1985.

Became hooked

“I actually started out in baby clothing sewing contests,” she says. “I used to love to make frilly items. I also entered a cheesecake that won a ribbon, and I was hooked.” She adapted that recipe from one of her all-time favorite cookbooks, The Joy of Cheesecake.

Cheryl grew up in Bunker Hill, Illinois, near Alton. “We always went to the Illinois State Fair, leaving at 4 a.m. It’s a huge and great fair for sure, but it has a different feel than the Iowa State Fair.” She came to Des Moines to study pharmacy at Drake University.

A laundry basket full of state fair ribbons attests to her persistence. “Sometimes I think I keep entering because other people ask me what I will take this year to the fair. I have longtime customers at the pharmacy who are most interested,” she says. She has ordered 45 tags for this year’s fair, 40 for food items and 5 for Fabric and Threads. She loves crafts and quilting.

Cheryl comes by her baking prowess naturally. “At Christmas in 1970, my dad gave me the Better Homes and Gardens Bread Cookbook. I started baking bread and selling it to my friends to save money for my class ring.” Hundreds of cookbooks later in her home, she always is on the lookout for new recipes for the next fair.

Cookies her specialty

She considers cookies her specialty. To that end, she has collected ceramic cookie jars since she was in middle school and now displays more than 100 of them in her home. A current favorite is Wonder Woman. She also has train car jars, numerous Disney characters, even Marilyn Monroe.

She also collects Cambridge glass from Ohio because her grandfather was a glass blower for the company.

She has passed along her love of baking to her two grown children; Kate is an architect in Dallas, Texas, and Rob is in graduate school at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. “Kate likely was one of few students who took along a KitchenAid mixer and a Cuisinart food processor to college,” says her mother.

A favorite memory

One of Cheryl’s treasured memories of her baking involves getting ready for the fair. “While I make tons of cookies, you can only put four on a white paper plate for the fair, so there are always lots of practice ones. My kids would invite their friends over to eat the ‘ugly’ ones that couldn’t go to the fair,” she says. “I treasure that time.” Now she takes the extra cookies to share at work.

Cheryl’s husband, Don, an estimator for a mechanical contracting firm, also knows his way around the kitchen. She says he makes day-to-day meals often because of her schedule. Cheryl says he makes a mean linguine with clam sauce. The couple is renovating an 1899 home near Terrace Hill, the Iowa governor’s mansion. The house, which had been converted into apartments and is now converted back, was built by Frederick M. Hubbell, who had earlier purchased Terrace Hill from its original owner, B.F. Allen.

At the fair, Cheryl cannot stand to watch judging. “I just get completely stressed out,” she admits.

But she does love the fair. “It’s an experience that is so personal to the fairgoers and participants. They literally own it. I love that.”

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