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A blue ribbon baking legend

Woman, 104, has earned 2,500 awards for her work in the kitchen

By Patricia Buschette


Marjorie Johnson posed next to a fun scarecrow display at the State Fair made by Kate Richardson. Her display included Marjorie’s trademark smile and a portion of her blue ribbon collection... but Richardson appears to have miscalculated Marjorie’s height (4 foot 8 inches). Contributed photo

Marjorie Johnson’s fame precedes her. The winner of 2,500 fair awards, many from the Minnesota State Fair, for her baking entries is a 4-foot 8-inch dynamo, whose baking skill is renowned. This creative baker from Robbinsdale celebrated her 104th birthday in August. However, that is only the beginning of her story.


Marjorie, who grew up on the north side of Minneapolis, speaks of her early years of economic hardship, not with anger or regret, but rather of the lessons she learned, lessons that guide her philosophy today. It is her attitude, her way of life, her gratefulness, sense of humor, and moderation that wins the hearts of many, but oh, yes, there are the 2,500 ribbons that give evidence of her culinary ability.


“My mother was a wonderful cook,” she explained. We lived through the Great Depression so mother baked everything and cooked everything. We never bought anything, and it was so good.”


Her father, a carpenter, worked six months and Marjorie’s mother, an excellent cook and seamstress, stretched her father’s six-month employment for a full year. There were lessons that could be learned through 4-H and when Marjorie saw their exhibits at the state fair, she wanted to join, but could not. “You had to live on a farm to join 4-H, she said ruefully. They were so smart. It was so interesting to see all the things they could do,” she said with admiration.


One of Marjorie’s many Minnesota State Fair ribbons. This one was for sweet rolls at the 2022 Great Minnesota Get Together. Contributed photo

How then do you polish your skills in the kitchen? “Practice!” she said with emphasis. “Learn to cook and follow the directions. It’s not hard to cook. Practice makes perfect. The more you practice the better you get.”



It was through years of practice that she learned to be the renowned baker she is, acknowledged by her awards.


Marjorie is adamant about a healthy life style. “Don’t eat all that store bought food,” she said firmly. “And see that you get your exercise. You must exercise! You have to exercise to keep your legs strong so they will support you. Go out for two walks a day, morning and afternoon.” When the weather makes outdoor walks difficult, she isn’t deterred, and takes walks indoors.


One might be surprised why Marjorie loves baking. “I do it because I want to be healthy. I like to cook everything from scratch.” Her daughter buys her groceries. “I tell her what I need and she goes shopping,” Marjorie explained.


Some of Marjorie’s awards displayed in a showcase in her home. Contributed photo

Marjorie and her husband had lived in Texas, returning in 1966 to build the house she now lives in. “That’s when I started making plans to enter my baking. I like the sour cream coffee cake. So tender, so flavorful, so delicious.”


Marjorie enjoyed the process of competition at the Minnesota State Fair. “It is always exciting. You had to go to the fair and see if any of your products had a ribbon. It was so exciting. They judge so much for appearance, so much for texture and moisture, so you learn every time you enter the fair. It is good experience. I love it,” she said with great enthusiasm.


Sour cream coffee cake streusel is one of her favorite recipes. “The nice part about this recipe is that it makes two so you can share one with someone and freeze the other. If you get unexpected company you can defrost it,” she explained.


Marjorie loves to bake and has many recipes. She does have a favorite. “My very favorite is caramel rolls – sticky buns – they have so many names. They have caramel on bottom, so, I like to make them individually.”


Marjorie’s family enjoys her baking very much and as she looks forward to entertaining her family at Christmas, there are favorite recipes. One of her favorite treats is her cream wafers, adapted for the Christmas season with food coloring. See recipe for her cream wafers on Page 7.


Marjorie on KARE 11 from the KARE barn at the Minnesota State Fair August 2019. Contributed photo

In 2007 she compiled and published a cookbook, “The Road to Blue Ribbon Baking with Marjorie.” For Marjorie, thumbing through her cookbook is a trip down memory lane as she enjoys pointing out her favorite recipes. However, the publication of the book resulted in a setback. After she published the cookbook, she was ineligible to enter the Creative Activities contests. Therefore, she competes in the honey division. You can always count on seeing her entries as she has not missed a year except when the 2020 pandemic resulted in a closure of the fair.


Marjorie didn’t enter just one entry, she was entering 50 things every year. “My late husband Lee knew just how to pack the baking so nothing jiggled when we drove to the state fair,” she said. “Without him I wouldn’t have been able to enter so many.” Lee and Marjorie had been married for 67 years when Lee died June 12, 2013.


Marjorie has fans throughout the State of Minnesota and beyond. Here she shares with Laura Lee Berger, one of her most loyal fans, some of her favorite recipes. Contributed photo

Marjorie’s birthdays have become a national celebration. “To celebrate my 100th birthday, I baked a coffee cake on The Kelly Clarkson Show with Jay Leno and we had a big celebration.” Is Jay Leno a good baker?


“I don’t think he knows a thing about baking,” she responded matter-of-factly.


Marjorie’s success in the kitchen and in the public spotlight is legendary. She has often appeared on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Rosie O’Donnell Show and The Kelly Clarkson Show. She has many fans through the podcast “Garage Logic.” It has become a tradition for Marjorie to be interviewed on the podcast the first day of every Minnesota State Fair.


Some of Marjorie’s favorite recipes. Contributed photos

This celebrity baker is not apprehensive about travel. However, at her age there are challenges. At 103 she found that the airlines’ identification system only acknowledged the age of travelers up to 100. At 103, Marjorie was classified as a three year old, and as such, not able to travel without a companion. She will be traveling to California mid-November to be with her daughter Merrilee for Thanksgiving, accompanied by her daughter Marleen and will be classified by the airlines as a four year old. Traveling does not cause any apprehension for Marjorie and she looks forward to travel to New Jersey next year to attend her grandson’s wedding.


Christmas will be celebrated at the Johnson home and Marjorie is already making plans. “My grandchildren like my candy cane cookies; they are their favorite. I will make cream wafers, part pink and part green.” She quickly added, “I have to make ginger snaps.”


With Joe Soucheray 2023 at the State Fair. Contributed photos

Marjorie has her own favorites. “I want to make brownies. I like brownies and cover them with fudge frosting. I love everything chocolate.” Yet, Marjorie is careful about consuming too many sweets, anxious to maintain a healthy diet.


Her creative mind is often preoccupied with developing new recipes; this year she is in the midst of the creation of a recipe for citrus cake.


Marjorie is an accomplished baker, a centenarian, and a celebrity, but she is much more than this. She is beloved by all those who know her. While we may relish her excellent baking, for many it is her attitude toward life that inspires them. What is her secret to a happy life?


“First of all, you got to think positive,” she exclaimed “Most people think their brain tells them what to do. You tell your brain. You say to your brain, ‘Today is going to be a wonderful day,’ and it will be, because you told your brain.”


Cream Wafers

Submitted by Marjorie Johnson of Robbinsdale

Dough

1 cup butter

1/3 cup whipping cream

2 cups all-purpose flour

Granulated sugar (for coating)

Filling

1/4 cup soft butter

3/4 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

A few drops of red or green food coloring

Directions

Combine butter, cream and flour thoroughly. Chill one hour. Roll out dough 1/8 inch thick and the flowered pastry cloth cut with a round 1 1/2 inch cookie cutter. Transferred cut circles to a waxed paper sheet that is heavily coated with sugar turn each cookie to coat both sides. Place on and on greased cookie sheet. Bake in preheated oven at 375 degrees for 7 to 9 minutes or until slightly puffy cool on racks. To make the filling, cream butter, sugar and vanilla until well mixed. If desired, tinted pink or green with food coloring. Put the filling on one side of the cooled cookie and top with another flat side of a cookie. Makes about 60 cookies.


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