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Hangin’ with Klecko: Minnesota’s Favorite Baker, Marjorie Johnson

As my wife and I sat down to watch the recent Elvis documentary on HBO, I was reminded that I promised I wouldn’t answer any phone calls until after the program. I had every intention of fulfilling my oath, but several minutes in my phone rang and the caller I.D. informed me Marjorie Johnson, America’s premiere blue ribbon baker, was on the line.

What could I do? I shrugged my shoulders and informed my wife that Marjorie was baking royalty.

After exchanging salutations, Marjorie asked if she was calling at an appropriate time. After I explained what I was doing, I asked if she liked Elvis, and that’s all it took. The floodgates opened and Marjorie began her monologue of joy:

“I’ve never had HBO. I knew who Elvis was. He married that girl and he was on Ed Sullivan, but I never bought his records because I had kids in ‘55, ‘57 and ‘59 so I was busy.

“By the way, I read an article you wrote about Kim Ode retiring from the StarTribune. I don’t like it when people are really good at what they do and then retire. I’m going really strong and I don’t think I will ever retire.

“Pretty soon I’m going to Scoops for Troops. They raise money for the troops by sampling three new ice creams and people get to pick their favorite and at the end of the contest they’ll hang up a sign announcing my favorite. I love ice cream.

“But I’ll tell you what else I love. I love those Turtle candies. I bought some at Byerly’s, but they weren’t called Turtles, they had a different name. At Fleet Farm they call them chocolate-pecan-caramel clusters. I picked some up on sale.”

As Marjorie stopped to take a breath I asked if she would be competing at the Minnesota State Fair.

“Why I sure hope to. I will probably do a lot in the honey building for sure. Sometimes they have sponsored contests and I enjoy those. I’ve been baking there and the Creative Activities building since 1974.

“The first time I entered four things and got three ribbons, two seconds and one third. I was hooked, but as you know it’s the blue ribbon that people like to get.

“In 1986 my friend Janice took me to the Anoka Fair and I liked that because they only took a fourth of your entry and then they let you take the rest home.”

As Marjorie took a breath, I asked if she had a favorite entry.

“My goodness, once I made an angel food cake. I hadn’t made many of them, but I worked hard on this one and the judges really liked it and gave it a sweepstakes ribbon. After they give you a sweepstakes, they put your entry up against all the other winners, a best of category, and wouldn’t you know, my angel food cake won best of the best. That was so exciting.

“I stopped counting my blue ribbons after 2006. I had over a thousand, and I know I’ve won 100 since then. No, I’ve probably won 200 since then. Last year I placed more than 50 entries at the state fair.”

During an uncharacteristic pause I asked if she had talked to her good friend Jay Leno recently.

“No, I haven’t. Not since the last time he had me on the Tonight Show. He has a new show now where he shows automobiles, he’s  a workhorse. Jay didn’t like taking vacations. He learned that from his father.

“He wrote a book talking about this. I didn’t go to the signing when he came to town because you can just go to the library and get the book for free. In the book he talks about how his mom wanted to go camping so the family got a boat to go fishing and Jay and his father got so bored they drilled a hole in the boat and it filled up with water so they could go home. I wonder if his mother ever read that.

“Jay’s mother hated attention so when they went to the grocery store he would tell the cashier he was lost and they would announce over the loudspeaker that Mrs. Leno needed to claim her child. He was a handful, I hoped she spanked him.

“I think Jay Leno likes me because like his mother, I am thrifty. She would add water to her catsup to stretch it for several more servings. I do that with dish soap. Did you know if you add water to an empty dish soap bottle and shake it up you can get three or four more days?

“When you cook on TV you don’t get the time you need to teach so it’s better to entertain. We did things impromptu and made the audience laugh. I was a great straight man for him.

“I like California. Wayne Brady had his show there and he invited me, but my husband had just had an aneurysm so I asked the doctor if Lee would be able to accompany me, and the doctor said he would be OK if I didn’t run him ragged. So we went and stayed at a hotel in Burbank.

“In Beverly Hills we went to a Chinese restaurant that had a thing called orange-chicken and boy was that good. It was in a batter, like nuggets and it was crunchy.

“But I’m not traveling right now. I’m cleaning out the clutter in my closet and giving it to charity, but that takes so much time and I don’t have time to spare. I exercise three times a week. One hour on the treadmill and 15 minutes rowing. 

“I have energy. I hope you eat your fruits and vegetables, I sure do. I like corn on the cob and sweet potatoes. I also eat chicken three times a week and salmon three times a week. And I eat oatmeal every morning, but that takes time, too, so I make a big batch once a week and parcel off portions daily.

“Dr. Oz says it’s good because it has vitamin E and that’s a good fat, and you need good fat. I also add flax and chia seeds. If you like to add blueberries, let me know and I’ll tell you when they go on sale at Aldi’s. Two dollars a pint, you can’t beat that. I had my daughter pick me up 10 packs.

“Sleeping is important, too. Did you know I sleep eight hours every night? I allow myself treats every day, but in small portions and I chew them slow and taste them. Nowadays I like to speak to people about how to live healthy. I’ve never felt pain or been depressed because I try very hard to treat my body right. I want everybody to feel good.”

At that point my wife was giving me ”the look,” so I signed off by reminding Marjorie that I loved her and she told me she was glad I was her friend.

Until next month. 

Dan “Klecko” McGleno can be reached at kleckobread@gmail.com or 651-329-4321.

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