She’s the woman who captured a nation’s hearts without lifting a finger — except, you know, to make a spread of delicious Southern cooking at its most prize-winningest.
Linda Skeens, the 74-year-old viral sensation who won 25 separate ribbons for her home cooking, baking and crafts at the Virginia-Kentucky District Fair this year appeared on TODAY Thursday for her very first television appearance. At last, we put a face to the name on the everyone's lips.
June 13 is when Skeens’s viral story begins: At the VaKy Fair, where attendance averages around 14,000 people from Wise County in Virginia and Letcher County in Kentucky. In addition to offering rides, live music, bull riding, Motocross and a horse show, there are competitions in art, agriculture, crafts and home economics.
After those competitions concluded, on the VaKy Fair’s Facebook, winners of the fair’s categories were announced and one name appeared quite a lot: Linda Skeens. Skeens, who is from Russell County, Virginia, swept the Baked Goods category, won many of the spots in Canned Foods and even placed outside the kitchen categories in Embroidery and Wall Décor. And, according to the fair, Skeens wasn’t the only entrant in those categories, either.
What came of the arresting visual of a Facebook post announcing her as the winner of every Baked Goods category resulted in much of the internet wondering just who this renaissance woman is, garnering 13,000 likes and 23,000 shares on that single image. Since then, a fan page on Facebook called “Linda Skeens Baking Queen,” multiple t-shirts, memes and even an original song on TikTok based on her story called “The Ballad of Linda Skeens” have been created in her honor.
Additionally, at least one other woman also named Linda Skeens has been enjoying the newfound popularity the name has garnered on Facebook — without winning a single ribbon.
Appearing with the TODAY gang on Thursday morning, baking sensation Skeens said she isn't on any form of social media, and she doesn't even have an email address or cell phone.
This might be part of what made the mystery surrounding her identity so enthralling to the more than 2,720 people who follow her fan page and the 20,000 comments on the post announcing her delectable domination.
“I don’t know what to think about it,” Skeens said during her appearance on TODAY. “I’ve been cooking and doing this for, what, 50-some years and so I don’t understand why there’s such a big deal, but anyway, I appreciate it.”
Skeens, who has three children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, said that reports that she didn’t return to the fair to claim her many prizes have been greatly exaggerated. Since until now, the public had no knowledge of what Skeens looked like, she returned to the scene of her legendary sweep completely under everyone’s radar.
Skeens said that while waiting to pick up her many ribbons, she ran into another winner of an art category, who later remarked that he met the mythic mistress of boils and braises without knowing it. “I didn’t tell him who I was,” she said.
On the show, Skeens shared a few of her blue ribbon recipes for everyone to try, including for her peanut butter fudge (for which she said the secret ingredient is "love"), strawberry jam, brownies, and what she said is one of her husband’s favorites: her peach hand pies. Skeens mentioned that she even baked her retired coal miner beau some treats while she was away appearing on national television, as one does.
Skeens also shared a savory recipe for her chow chow, veggie-filled pickled condiment, a sweet and savory option for Skeens-fiend’s taste buds she mention goes well with hot dogs. When asked if she uses "healthier" substitutions like agave nectar by Carson Daly, she bristled, while mentioning that her peach hand pies are baked so they’re better for you than deep-fried ones.
“I cook country and I cook to eat,” Skeens said.
When asked which recipe is her favorite, she responded immediately with "Mexican cornbread," which, she says in her recipe, goes "great with taco soup or chili beans."
Skeens, who revealed to radio host Mason Mousette that she was diagnosed with leukemia in December, said that the flight to New York City was the first one she’s ever been on, saying it was fun, but made her a little nervous. (By the way, she also told Mousette that the leukemia treatment she’s on is working and that cooking for her friends and family helps.)
Skeens said that her county fair glory has been so widespread that she’s even been offered a cooking show, but didn’t say whether or not she accepted. She also noted that she loves New York, and that she’s been watching NBC since Chet Huntley and David Brinkley were on the air, and they both started at the network in 1956.
Over that time, Skeens has been honing her talents and winning hearts — and ribbons. Over the last decade, she has won over 450 ribbons at state fairs and cooking competitions.
When asked if she has a competitive side, she responded, “I do. You can ask my friends when I play Spades on Saturday nights. I play to win.”