Nearly 500 bidders drove the price of a loaf of bread up to $110. An excavating contractor paid $3,000 for a cake judged grand champion. Colorfully iced replicas of a farm, a tractor and popular cartoon characters each sold for close to $300.
The annual cake auction at the Carroll County 4-H FFA Fair sparks lively bidding among friendly competitors, high prices willingly paid for prize-winning baked goods and smiles all around from contestants eager to show off their culinary creativity.
All those ingredients make the auction the biggest fundraiser for the weeklong fair, which ended yesterday after drawing more than 75,000 visitors to the county's Ag Center in Westminster.
By the time the cake sale wound down Wednesday, just before midnight, the auction went into the record books with the biggest profit - $63,780 - in the 108-year history of the fair.
"We have a lot of big supporters who come and bid every year," said fair volunteer Rachel Rafferty. "They all know that the proceeds support our clubs and keep our fair free. Even the last cakes, at the end of the night, bring high prices."
The auction gives the 4-H kids a chance to shine and the community an opportunity to show its support for thousands involved in 4-H projects.
"Smile like crazy," volunteer Melissa Miller told the young exhibitors, who nervously lined up with their baked goods and prepared to enter the auction tent. "It's a cakewalk."
It's more like a beauty pageant, only with cakes as contestants. Amanda Boyer, 15, of Finksburg fretted over her Swedish tea ring like a mother hen.
"I made it from my grandmother's recipe, and it's the first one I have ever made," Amanda said. "A lot of people have walked by and said it was pretty."
Mary Uhler - Amanda's neighbor, who paid $240 for the cake - said, "She is a wonderful baker, and I am going to enjoy every taste of this cake."
Beaming young bakers walked up and down the aisles, showing off their creations to clapping, cheering and photo-snapping bidders.
"It doesn't matter if they have a blue ribbon or a grand champion, everybody is cheering for them," said Frances Crispin, cake-auction superintendent. "It is a tremendous boost for them."
By the fifth entry, bids topped $200 and rarely dropped below that figure. Kelly Gross' cookie gift basket sold for $300. The 12-year-old from Hampstead quickly figured that her buyers had spent $10 per cookie.
"That's a lot of money for cookies," she said.
Brady Welch, 11, produced a John Deere replica, using a tractor cake mold. He had hoped his grandfather would bring the sweet tractor home, but Ruth Perkins, bidding for Spring Brook Farm, outbid Grandpa with a $170 offer.
"We are real John Deere fans," said Perkins. "I think we will check out a tire or two once we get home tonight."
Jenna Krebs, 12, sported a black-sequined cowgirl hat and needed a little help to walk her decorated cake - a farm scene complete with barn, haystacks and various animals grazing on grass. This tableau took three hours to prepare and bake, and four to ice - and brought in $475 and the grand champion ribbon in the decorating category.
Her younger brother John earned a blue ribbon and a $410 bid for what he said was his "first cake ever." The 9-year-old molded various-sized cakes and cupcakes into a puppy gnawing on a bone, a creation inspired by the Lineboro family's newest pet.
The loudest, longest cheers went to the 22 champions awarded the top spots in several categories. An all-smiles Eric Dodson, the 12-year-old grand baking champion, paraded among clapping bidders, lifting high his award-winning lemon-lime soda cake, a tall, traditional number baked in a tube pan.
"He is a better baker than I am," said auctioneer Nevin Tasto, who opened the bidding at $1,500.
Eric's cakewalk lasted several minutes as bidding accelerated to $3,000, paid by Norman Condon Excavators of New Windsor.
"I never thought I would be holding a $3,000 cake," Eric said. "It feels good."
Area businesses eagerly vied for cakes, and many spent more than $1,000 total on their purchases.
"Ever since my sister was in 4-H, we have come every year and bought several cakes," said Mary Keiser, bidding for Integral Components of Westminster.
Her first purchase - a chocolate-frosted monkey complete with a curly tail, baked by Marina Halbertstam, 10, of Manchester - cost $200. Her selections became pricier as the night wore on. Alyssa Ray's decorated fishbowl cost the company $240, and Keiser spent $1,100 for a pumpkin chiffon baked by Sarah Smith.
A long, hot night under a canvas tent did not dampen the enthusiasm. Four hours into the auction, Amanda Boyer's second entry, "a perfectly chocolate cake," came up for bidding. It was the 207th of 212 items. The teen had worried that the last cakes would bring in the lowest prices.
"Three people were fighting over it, and it sold for $500," said Amanda's mother, Jennifer Boyer.