Ryan Murphy from Tamborine Show, South East Qld Sub Chamber, has placed runner up in the 2023 Royal Queensland rich dark fruit cake state finals. Picture supplied by the Queensland Chamber of Agricultural Societies

In what could be the first time in Queensland show history, men outnumbered women at the dark rich fruit cake state final.

Of the 10 finalists at the judging at Rocklea on the weekend, six were from male sub chamber finalists.

Queensland Chamber of Agricultural Societies general manager Trevor Beckingham OAM said although the organisation had not yet captured the data, anecdotal evidence suggested there were more men than women entering in cookery overall.

“At the present time it’s only what I’m observing as I’m going around shows, but I probably get to around 30 or 40 shows a year,” he said.

“Plain and simple, I think there’s more men cooking.”

Meet the youngest male to take out runner up 

Ryan Murphy of Nerang in the Gold Coast region was one of those men defying stereotypes both in gender and age, by becoming the youngest male to place second in the section finals.

Dark rich fruit cake runner up Ryan Murphy only started entering the section in 2019. Photo supplied

The 29-year-old was blown away to have placed among the veterans after only having entered for the first time in 2019.

He was glad to see more men getting involved in a show section that was traditionally dominated by women.

“I do think there is interest in it and I think stereotypes are being seen for what they are, a negative, and they’re being challenged, so that’s definitely a good thing” he said.

He said there was a great sense of camaraderie among the men, “because you’re blokes doing something that’s not “normal”.’

“It’s nice to see another guy having a go and doing it.”

Mr Murphy said he only ever felt acceptance at the shows, high school was a battlefield.

“Back in high school I was quite proud of my accomplishments, but a lot of people would go, ‘oh you’re doing girl stuff’,” he said.

“Luckily my close friends have always supported me and known how much it means to me.”

Mr Murphy has been entering his baked goods and preserves into the Tamborine show since he was nine, after being inspired by his mother who he said had a handle on many of those long-held traditions.

When he first started he would hear some other exhibitors make snide remarks that he was just using his mum’s “off-cuts”, but since then the other exhibitors had grown to respect him.

“For me the shows are about that connection to family and tradition.”

He comes from a long line of loggers who competed in the wood chop and said he loved the rich Australian history and heritage displayed at the shows.

Although he entered the wood turning when he was young, he was inspired by cooking due to its “infinite avenues for expression,” and because his family couldn’t fit a lathe in their garage.

Mr Murphy said although the shows had become more commercialised in recent times, they were traditionally a meeting place for, “disparate families and peoples”.

He said the shows were a place where he could reconnect with and it was somewhere he had found that community connection he thought so many young people were nowadays searching for.

“It’s really beautiful to see this tradition has carried on and it is a shame that I’m one of the few young people who this resonates with,” he said.

The women who have been exhibiting and winning for decades 

While it’s excellent to see new faces bucking the trends, it’s also important to recognise those who have been the backbone of cookery contents for decades – the women.

First prize winner Loretta Voll from Goombungee-Haden Show Darling Downs Sub Chamber. Picture supplied by Queensland Ag Shows

The winner of the champion cake was Loretta Voll from Goombungee, who has been baking long enough to have had to grapple with temperature fluctuations on an old wood stove.

“It was quite an art to keep your oven at a certain temperature for a number of hours to cook your fruitcake,” she said.

Perfecting the low and slow temperatures required were much easier with an electric or gas stove – the kind of technology her grandmother, a woman of the Great Depression, could only dream of.

Ms Voll said she’d been eating the fruit cake every Christmas since she could remember.

Although Ms Voll wouldn’t share her biggest secret to a good fruitcake – the alcohol used, she shared that her winning fruit cake at this year’s finals was likely better than last years’ entry due to a longer rest period.

“A good dark rich fruit cake needs to mature for at least six weeks,” she said. “Last year I only made my cake two and a half weeks before.”

It wasn’t her first rodeo in the state finals, Ms Voll took out the winning entry in 2016.

She’s a country woman through and through, having grown up dairying on her parents’ farm in Thornville before they moved into beef. Both Ms Voll and her sister Janelle never shied away from horseback mustering and handling cattle.

Loretta Voll (nee Bidgood) and her sister Janelle Maas (nee Bidgood) at their family farm, Big Good Farm, in Thornville. Picture supplied

Those skills came in handy when she married her husband Glenn Voll in 1984, who was a third generation cattle farmer who inherited an 80 hectare property, ‘Glenmore’.

The couple now run a commercial operation of Angus cattle and grow barley and sorghum through the winter.

Even though home baking was a big part of her upbringing, Ms Voll said it was after she got married that she finally perfected her own recipe.

They say the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but Ms Voll said it was her family that drove her determination to perfect the recipe. After all, exhibiting at the local show was in her blood.

Her grandmother, who was a QCWA member, used to exhibit dark rich fruitcake at Yarraman show.

Upholding those country values of getting involved in community, Ms Voll volunteers as chief steward of the home cookery at her local show, sits as secretary of Haden Public Hall, and volunteers at her church.

Her baking and catering have been big hits at weddings, funerals, and local dances at the hall.