Durango woman wins blue ribbon

Lynelle Caldwell could pass down family recipes to relatives on index cards, but if she did, the rest of her friends and colleagues familiar with her baked treats wouldn’t benefit.

Instead, she posts them on the coupon and social networking site, justapinch.com, a subsidiary of American Hometown Media, and “the largest database of user-posted recipes anywhere,” justapinch.com claims.

Caldwell’s generosity recently paid off. The passionate home cook won a blue ribbon for her husband Chris’ favorite treat – oatmeal pear chocolate chip cookies.

Only 2 percent of the user-posted 125,000 recipes win blue-ribbon designation and review in the company’s test kitchen in Franklin, Tenn., company spokesperson Annakate Ross said.

Caldwell’s prize-winning recipe mimics flavors she sampled in a tasty muffin purchased at a commercial bakery in the Midwest. Her family isn’t crazy about muffins, but cookies boasting the same combination of ingredients became an instant hit, she said.

“It took me a while, tweaking the recipe over the years, to get it just right,” Caldwell said.

Pears contribute to the cookie’s soft bite, but they need to be very ripe and juicy, she said.

Having an understanding of the ratio of dry to wet ingredients for success is important, but documentation of the details, while formulating the recipe is critical.

“I had to adjust the flour and eggs, but I always noted the changes, even adding the actual date changes were made to the basic recipe,” Caldwell said.

Organization gives the busy home cook, who also is the family’s chief breadwinner, an edge. Her disabled husband, Chris, who is legally blind, is a stay-at-home dad and a big fan of his wife’s gift for baking.

The oatmeal cookie adaptation is not the first time Caldwell, a computer trainer at Mercy Regional Medical Center, found herself in the kitchen winner’s circle.

Several years ago, she entered a Better Homes & Gardens cake-baking contest. It was Caldwell’s creative cake-decorating idea that earned the surprised cook a KitchenAid mixer that she still uses.

“I had totally forgotten that I’d even entered the contest, but then was notified that I’d won a consolation prize,” Caldwell said.

The winning creation featured colorful, silk gerbera daisy kitchen magnets arranged in a basket perched on a chocolate sheet cake. Basket-weave icing decorated the mostly edible creation, which doubled as a table centerpiece for a baby shower Caldwell had attended.

When it comes to advice for novices considering the cooking contest circuit, Caldwell is not shy. “Pick a dish that everyone seems to love. If family and friends love it, everyone else will, too,” she said.

Cooking for family is nothing new to Caldwell. As the youngest of six siblings crowded around the family’s kitchen table in Great Falls, Mont., she had big snowshoes to fill.

“Great Falls – that’s the coldest part of Montana,” where eating heartily came naturally, she said. “The first meal I made was fried chicken, mashed potatoes and corn. I didn’t use any salt or pepper.”

Despite the less-than-ideal start, Caldwell’s mother encouraged Lynelle and her siblings to get plenty of practice at the stove.

“My three brothers are all great cooks, but my sister has no desire,” Caldwell said.

A recent family reunion in Missouri had several of Caldwell’s siblings testing their hands in a friendly cook-off of cornbread, beans and ham.

“I’m probably considered the best dessert cook, but my brother, who adds jalapeños and more to his cornbread, is really the best comfort-food cook in the family,” she said.

Caldwell continues to search online for recipes but named only one future contest possibility.

“I’ve never entered the La Plata County fair,” she said. “Someday, I’m going to do that.”