Imagine this- When the 22nd Bake-Off took place in Honolulu in 1971, Hawaii had only been awarded statehood twelve years earlier! It must have been thrilling for the 100 excited contestants to visit an exotic new state so far away from home. Further imagine your Bake-Off stove embellished with a beautiful lei! It must have been the trip of a lifetime for many of the contestants who had never traveled beyond their own home state.
Mrs. Pearl Hall of Snohomish, Washington won the 22nd Bake-Off with her “Pecan Pie Surprise Bars,” that used a Pillsbury Butter cake mix to make a new version of pecan pie in a bar shape. The popularity of the bars landed Pearl in the Bake-Off Hall of Fame. She is seen here receiving her check from host Bob Barker, and was then given a congratulatory kiss from her husband as she proudly held her winning dish.
The road to Bake-Off fame was not an easy one for Pearl. Pearl and her twin sister, Myrl, lost their mother in 1919 when they were six years old, and then lost their father when they were twelve. In the years following the death of their father, Pearl and Myrl survived by cooking for farm families in exchange for a place to live. During the Depression, they were sometimes so hungry that they prayed for food. They had to fight for everything in their young lives – nothing was given to them.
Pearl and Myrl eventually married and found that they both still loved cooking. Together they entered state fair cooking competitions – against each other. It would happen that if one year Pearl won the sweepstakes award, then Myrl would win the next year. They were competitors but always had fun, with hundreds of blue ribbons between them. The entryway of Myrl’s 1887 historic home was lined with her fair ribbons and awards.
Pearl died in 1999. In her honor, for all her years of successful competition at the fair, a prize was created called “The Pearl Hall Award,” and is given to the contestant with the most blue ribbons who enters at least ten baked items and ten preserved foods. Guess who was the first recipient of the award. Myrl. In the decade between 1992 and 2002, Myrl won the sweepstakes award for best overall competitor in baking and preserves. She more than earned the coveted award in her sister’s memory. As late as 2006, at the age of ninety-three, Myrl entered the fair competition with her one and only entry of strawberry vinegar. Myrl died on Christmas Eve of 2008. I like to imagine that Myrl is now in heaven with her beloved twin Pearl, happily baking away together. I wonder who wins.
I love cookbooks. I mean I really love them. I love to read them, treasure them, learn from them, and, of course, cook from them. To me, cookbooks take on a life all of their own. They are history, family, and memories. I have been collecting cookbooks and writing down treasured recipes of family, friends, and neighbors since about age twelve, which means I now own thousands of cookbooks, recipes, and clippings. Now I want to share them with you along with the many other culinary treasures of my cellar." - Debbie Vanni
Love these posts and this one is especially fun. Pearl and her sister lived near me and we even featured her — and her story of winning at the Bake-Off — in our customer news magazine one year. small world for sure!
Hi Julee- I just got the chills reading that you knew Pearl and her sister. I found their story so fascinating, and wished that I had found out more about them. If you ever want to send me an email, I would love to hear more. I love writing the Bake-Off blogs not just because I love the contest, but the best part is actually learning about the people. Thank you so much for writing.
Hello Debbie, thank you for this post. Pearl hall is my Great Grandmother, and dearly missed. I really enjoyed reading your post about her. I loved going to the fair with her and the rest of our family. The first time I entered anything in the fair I won the Junior Sweepstakes for my yellow squash I helped grow with my grandfather (Pearl’s son). It was a proud moment. I am so happy to know that other people are still talking about her. It truly is a small world. Thank you, this made my day.
Rose, you made my day, too. I can’t tell you how much I love hearing from the families of former Bake-Off contestants. I would love to hear more about Pearl. I’ll send you an email soon.
My mother, Wilma was a contestant in the 22nd Bakeoff and she met your grandmother while in Hawaii. In fact a few years later a cookbook was published with Best of Bakeoff recipes and there is a photo with several women by a double oven/range and my Mom is in the photo with your Great Grandmother, Pearl.
My mom was in her late 30’s when she won and it was so exciting for her and our family! Her recipe was Choco Butterscotch Bars. My aunt, Jonita Williams was also a Bakeoff contestant in the 21st and also another year!
I remember making Pecan Pie Surprise Bars as well as many recipes from various Bakeoff cookbooks while I was in middle school and high school! I really enjoyed reading this article about your Great Grandmother, Pearl Hall! I remember her name well and I have multiple copies of this cookbook!
How sweet of you to write, Jan, and tell Rose of these memories! How wonderful for all of you!
Hello Debbie, saw this comment on the Pillsbury website featuring Pearl Hall’s Pecan Surprise Bars. What a nice way for the family to keep the memories alive! Have a great day
My husbands grandmother is Pearl Hall. She and her husband, Willie, have both passed away, and every Christmas we make these and remember them both. The story of her winning the Bake-Off Contest 40 years ago, is still a story told often!
Kristin Hall (wife of Doug Hall)
Hi Kristin- Thank you for writing! I love hearing from the family of past Bake-Off winners and how the experience and recipe still carries on. I remember when I made the Pecan Surprise Bars for the blog, written seven years ago! They are really good. It’s so wonderful that you still make them every Christmas in memory and honor of Pearl. What a lovely legacy for your family.
My grandmother was a very special lady that I loved and admired a lot. When we would visit them in the summer for 2 weeks we would have all the great smells and tastes of grandma’s cooking and baking. I really loved your article on my grandparents and it brings back old memories of them for me. I miss them more today than yesterday but I really appreciated the time I spent with them and learning all the life skills they taught me when I was with them as well as the legacy they passed down to me. Thank you for honoring her memory!! They were both very skilled craftsman in everything they did!!
Hi Brad- It’s such a thrill to hear from the family members of past Bake-Off winners. How wonderful that you have such happy memories of your grandparents and your grandmother’s recipe that is a part of culinary history. I remember making the bars and they are so good. Your grandmother’s recipe is a treasure that will live forever in Bake-Off history. Thank you so much for sharing your story.