The Piedmont Interstate Fair didn’t look like much to an outsider. It was a half-mile dirt track, but it represented a long line of winners. NASCAR greats had taken victory laps here, and Tilly would be no different.
Tilly was the reigning queen of the Best in Baked Goods category and Best Overall. Her lemon pound cake, complete with blueberry glaze, had earned her a decade of accolades.
Folks shoved orders at Tilly faster than she could make pound cakes. But today was all about winning. She was on her way to the fairgrounds to admire her blue ribbons.
Tilly made her way to the agricultural building. As she entered, hands patted her back and greeted her. Tilly felt electric.
Her eyes found her lemon pound cake. Only one small blue ribbon draped across her cake. Where was her Best Overall ribbon? Her eyes frantically searched the table and rested on a mason jar full of whole figs and cinnamon sticks. There was her grand prize ribbon.
Tilly struggled for air. The chatter intensified. Judgment rolled off the others and pushed up against her. Who had stolen her grand prize?
She went straight to that fig jar. The card said pickled figs. Who had ever heard of such nonsense? A neighbor approached.
“Pickled figs. Can you believe it, Tilly? I had a small taste when Mr. Ross was experimenting. Pure genius, I tell you.”
Tilly forced a smile. Mr. Ross was new to the area. A widow who wanted a fresh start. His fresh start had spilled over into Tilly’s life.
As Tilly exited, she spotted the fair director. She cast her eyes down to avoid conversation.
“Tilly!” Tilly! Congratulations on your baked goods win. I can’t wait to get a sample of that lemon pound cake at tomorrow’s celebration of winners.”
Tilly nodded and kept moving. Her nails ripped into her palms. Opening her hands, she saw that she had drawn blood. In a flash, Tilly knew what she would do.
The celebration of winners’ ceremony was tradition. The judges and the winners visited and sampled the prized goods, while the press snapped photos and interviewed the attendees. If new experiences were what they wanted, then Tilly was going to give it to them.
As Tilly prepared the batter for her lemon pound cake, she peered out the window over the sink. Her potted plant arrangement was gorgeous, all fall mums, marigolds, and chrysanthemums. Nestled between all the oranges, reds, and golds was a plant with shiny dark berries. Her belladonna plant that she had grown from seed. The juice from those almost black berries would blend right in with her blueberry glaze.
Days later, Tilly was ready for the celebration of winners’ event. Judges, friends and family, and the press gathered to sample the prize-capturing treats. As the 4-H youth members ferried her cakes from the car to the building, Tilly supervised.
The table groaned under the weight. It looked like the Lord’s Supper but the Southern edition. Everyone’s plate was weighed down with slivers of cakes, dabs of preserves, and those damn pickled figs. Tilly spied her lemon pound cake with its special glaze on most everyone’s plate. A panic ran through her like a sprinkler system, soaking her in sweat. What if a sliver of lemon pound cake wasn’t enough?
Tilly stared at her plate and a pickled fig stared back like a wet slug. She plucked the whole fig from the plate, dropping it into her mouth. Her mouth filled with a mix of vinegar, sugar, and spices in a perfect layer. Exquisite.
One week later, Tilly had three fewer neighbors. Most had recovered from the poisoning, but not the unlucky handful that indulged in more than their fair share. Of course, the majority were still battling some aftereffects.
Tilly cut two large slices of lemon pound cake complete with special glaze. The doorbell rang. Mr. Ross had arrived.
“Tilly. So nice of you to invite me over.”
She led Mr. Ross to the cheery yellow kitchen and seated him in front of the largest slice of cake. Next year, the Best Overall category would be with its rightful owner again.