Toni’s Kitchen’s First Berry Bake Off Took A Bite Out Of Hunger

by Melody Kettle

This past weekend the gloves were off, the tension was high, and the berries were abundant in the Berry Bake-Off supporting the work of Toni’s Kitchen, a soup kitchen on South Fullerton in Montclair.
Held in the Assembly Hall of St Luke’s Episcopal Church, the event was open to all members of the community. Based on unofficial tallies participation by non-parishioners outnumbers members of the church by a 2 to 1 margin. This was a genuine community event with members of the community entering their treats, members of the local bakery community judging, all to benefit members of the community whose days have not been so easy.

Entries of the berry creations were sorted into four categories : Kids, Tweens and Teens, and Two Adult Categories created because of the sheer volume of entries. Tables were lines with all manner of goodies, everything from berry muffins, a wide range of pies, tarts, and something called a Strawberry Supreme (more about that later.)

One of the more interesting entries was a Huckleberry Pudding entered by Montclair Historical Society President Anne Mockridge. Similar to a Christmas Pudding, the pudding was presented in a traditional Charlotte Mold. The pudding dates to the 18th Century, basically the period in which the Israel Crane House was built in Montclair. While not a winning entry, it was delicious traditional recipe that, perhaps with a little coaxing, Hot From The Kettle can share with readers in the future for inclusion in their Thanksgiving celebrations.

The kids and tween entries were the big surprise. The tables were set up with adults in one section, kids in another and the tween/teens in yet another. Unless one was told about the placement of entries there was no way to tell the difference between these entries and the ones created by adults. Judging by the looks on the judges faces it was obvious they some of them know there will be some stiff competition in Montclair’s dessert scene in decade or so!

For the kids (under 10) the 1st place winner was Charlie with his Strawberry Cream Scones, 2nd place wne to Christian for a Strawberry Rhubarb Pie. In the teen tween category the winners were Eva for her Strawberry Supreme, Hope for her Peach Blueberry Meringue, and Kev for Berry Gooey Crack Pie. Eva has graciously agreed to share her recipe with Hot From The Kettle and we’ll be publishing it in the next fortnight or so.

The adult categories are where the gloves really came off. With judges from Little Daisy Bakeshop, Baker’s Dozen, Gina’s and the Montclair Bread Company the competitors know they had to impress. Entries were diverse in style, structure, flavor combinations, and presentation – there were rustic pies, crumbles, fancy cakes, and simple desserts. Having had the chance to taste most of the entries I can only imagine the struggle the judges had to determine winners because everything was SO good.
In the first adult group Naomi Jacobs took home 1st prize for her Berry Cheesecake. 2nd Place went to Lorraine Lombardi for a Lemon Blueberry Layer cake and 3rd place went to Nicky Mesiah for her Chocolate Raspberry Brownies. In the second adult group Florence Relino won for her Beehive Layer Cake. With an appearance like a bell shaped beehive the cake featured almond bees dancing about the blueberry covered hive. Roni Axelrod took the 2nd place nod for her Blueberry Tar and Karen Mazanek took 3rd place for her Summertime Pie.

Winners in each category received foodie prizes including HFTK favorites albert’s on Church Street and Egan and Sons on Walnut Street. Prizes from Cuispro and Neilson-Massey Vanilla were also awarded.
The entries were delicious, winning prizes of course was fun, but the big winner was Montclair where people of all ages and areas of the community came together to support Toni’s Kitchen. An unofficial tally of entry fees, raffle ticket, bake sale, and jars of Toni's Bean Soup Blend put the proceeds of the event at about $900. Director Anne Mernin is rumored to be planning other foodie events in the future. HFTK has an inside source who will keep us posted on the next event.

Toni’s Kitchen serves a hot meal to those in need every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 11:30an to 1 pm, plus dinner on Sunday from 5pm to 6pm. Toni’s Kitchen is a separate non-profit organization housed under St Luke’s Episcopal Church on South Fullerton Ave.