Frances Nell Blanc celebrated her 90th birthday on Jan. 13, and none can argue that her 90 years so far have been anything but well lived.
Born in Fountain City, an unincorporated town in Tennessee that is now part of Knoxville, Blanc says that she grew up in an atmosphere of people that cared.
“I had a very caring family, and when my daddy died, they just all started doing for me,” said Blanc. “They just kind of took me in and help mother raise me.”
After the death of her father when she was just 8 years old, Blanc started to learn to cook so that she could have a meal ready for her mother when she returned from work. She married her husband, Charles Allen Blanc, when she was 19 years old.
Around 1950, her mother-in-law convinced her to enter some of her cooked creations in competitions in Tennessee.
“I didn’t want to, but she talked me into it, encouraged me, almost forced me to start entering things in Tennessee,” said Blanc. “That’s how I started.”
Blanc and her husband moved to Meade County in the late 60s. Her husband was the pastor at Rock Haven while he was at seminary, eventually going on to be the pastor at Ekron Baptist Church. At that time, 1638 was nothing more than a rock road. Blanc continued to enter into both the county and state fair. Her signature entry was yeast rolls, but she entered a wide variety of dishes including cinnamon rolls, pies, cakes, and even grape juice.
In her 70 years of competition, she has amassed a collection of nearly 400 ribbons for her winning dishes.
These competitions have strict rules, and Blanc has had a few close calls over the years. In order to make sure her dishes are as fresh as possible when the judges get them, she will wait until the last minute to start baking and wait until the last minute to leave for the competition. This left her little time to address any unexpected problems. At one competition, organizers had not made it very clear what kind of plates goods should be placed on. Blanc and her daughter had to scramble once at the competition site in order to meet the judges’ requirements. Blanc also forgot her recipe cards one year, and her daughter had to deliver them to her before the judges locked the doors for good.
Blanc works well under pressure, though. When she was the church secretary at Ekron Baptist Church, where she still attends today, she would make the church bulletins late Saturday night.
“I would be folding bulletins at midnight,” said Blanc.
For her 90th birthday, Blanc and some of her family members traveled to Derby Dinner Theater in New Albany, Ind. But, after the COVID-19 situation has relaxed, she and her family plan on crossing off some of the items on her bucket list. They’ve got about 12 trips planned to places like Mackinac Island in Michigan, Elvis Presley’s homeplace, and to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Utah.
Her daughter also created a book of photos and information chronicling her life so far.
Blanc still does a fair bit of baking these days. She had her kitchen redone a few months ago, and she says everything is a bit more convenient now. She also loves to play games like solitaire on her iPad, write letters and cards to loved ones and friends, and spend time with her family. Blanc has 32 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She’s also inspired some of them to start baking, with one even beating her in a fair competition using the same recipe.
Blanc says her advice to young people is to stay active and put your faith in God. She also says it’s important to think of others and keep your family close to your heart.
She plans on entering fair competitions again next year if the pandemic subsides and competitions resume. It’s safe to say that the competition might be biting off more than they can chew if they plan on taking on a competitor with as much experience, heart, dedication and skill as Blanc. Whether she wins or not, she is certain she will enjoy every moment of it.