Clayton Mingus

Clayton Mingus shows off ribbons from previous Clay County Fair wins.

Clayton Mingus, 86, of Spencer, Iowa has been practicing and thoroughly believes that he has the meringue that tops a lemon meringue pie down pat.

Why is that important? Mingus plans to enter the first ever Bruce Piper Lemon Meringue Pie Contest at the 2019 Clay County Fair, in Spencer, Iowa.

“It (the meringue) either weeps or it pulls away,” he said.

The son of a baker who worked at Carroll’s Bakery, in downtown Spencer, Mingus himself worked summers there “on the bench” from 1947 to 1951, making parker rolls and sweet rolls, earning money to pay for parochial school in Nevada, Iowa.

Retired for 21 years, Mingus said he has pretty much taken over the kitchen at his house. Mingus and wife, Joanna have been married for 62 years.

The first pie he entered at the fair was a raspberry. Blueberry, apple, peach have followed. His pumpkin pecan pie scored a blue ribbon in 2016 and a perfect score. Mingus has been entering pies at the fair for six years.

“I place the pecans in a perfect circle on top of the pie. The appearance was great,” he said.

Although his wife has collected cookbooks for years, Mingus has now started his own collection.

“With the first pie I entered, I only tried the recipe one other time. Now I search for recipes and do test runs. My family loves to taste them and judge my creations,” Mingus said.

Many bakers have special secrets they use when producing their products. Mingus is no exception.

“You have to have a good crust no matter what recipe you make,” he said. “Use a recipe that you are accustomed to using. I use the standard Crisco crust recipe. I also use Kosher salt because they are larger flakes of salt and it just adds something to it. I always measure the ingredients. I don’t use the mixer much but when I do, I use a KitchenAid. I wore out my first KitchenAid mixer.”

Born and raised in Spencer, Mingus served his country in the Korean War, as a medic, much like the scenes of the television show “MASH.” He worked at Crescent Electric, in Spencer, for 40 years. Throughout his life, Mingus worked for over 50 years at the Clay County Fair as the spotlight operator for all the night entertainment.

“I retired when I had a herniated disc. I decided I didn’t need to be climbing to the crow’s nest, high above the grandstand. I saw every night show. My favorite was comedian George Kirby,” Mingus said.

The Mingus family includes three sons, eight grandchildren and five great grandchildren. Their son, Steve, of Ames, takes vacation from his real job to work at the Clay County Fair as the grandstand light operator, something he has done for 35 years.

“We go to the Clay County Fair usually three days. The first day, on Monday for Veteran’s Day and Friday for the pie contest. I like to see the train display, the vegetable displays and attend the Veteran’s program. We like to eat our fair share of food too. A pork tenderloin is my favorite,” he said.

The pies must be entered by noon on the Friday of the fair. Last year there were 19 entries. The top prize to the winner is $60.

“My pie has to have time to set. I hate it when they cut my pie and it runs. I enjoy baking and it’s kind a fun competing against others, especially the women,” Mingus said.

Even though his success at baking pies has provided him with many memories, Mingus said that being able to go on the Honor Flight about two years ago was a special time for him. Because of the scheduling of the flight in relation to the Clay County Fair, Mingus had to bake the pie, enter it and then hop on the plane to Washington, D.C. This was the year that he won the blue ribbon.

Mingus shared the recipe for his pumpkin pecan pie, which earned a perfect score at the 2016 Clay County Fair:


Pumpkin Layer:

1 unbaked 9-inch (four-cup volume) deep-dish pie shell

1 cup Libby’s 100% pure pumpkin

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

Pecan Layer:

2/3 cup light corn syrup

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

3 tablespoons butter, melted

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup pecan halves


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For pumpkin layer: Combine pumpkin, sugar, egg and pumpkin pie spice in medium bowl. Spread over bottom of pie shell.

For pecan layer: Combine corn syrup, sugar, eggs, butter and vanilla extract in same bowl; stir in nuts. Spoon over pumpkin layer.

Bake for 50 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on wire rack.

Nutritional information: One serving is 436 calories.

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