Welcome to mmm-yoso, the blog. Cathy's turn today. Kirk is busy doing something else.
So, what are there events called County Fairs? Well, in general, long ago, before all this technology, farmers generally stayed on their land, worked it daily and produced crops or animals that would provide them money, food, sustenance until the long winter came and they could not produce such crops.
As autumn and 'bad' growing weather started up, the neighboring farmers would gather together and trade their foods with each other, basically showing off what they had grown, as well as providing a variety to share with everyone involved. A lot of the stuff needed to be preserved to last the entire winter and at some point a 'competition' began, gradually expanding into more public showings of what local people can do, as far as livestock and small animals and having exhibits of crafts, fine art, designs in wood, photography, photojournalism, digital arts, collections, gems, minerals, jewelry, a flower and garden show foods, craft brewing of homemade beer as well as wines.. oh, and preserved foods.
The San Diego County Fair is the fifth largest County Fair, in terms of attendance, and I believe square footage, in the United States. It opens this Friday, June 8. In addition to the above noted exhibits, there are daily contests, various areas of entertainment on stages as well as interactive entertainment, daily evening concerts, carnival rides, a plethora of food carts, sales booths of just about everything imaginable. Ours is the first of a series of County Fairs in California which will head north, culminating in the State Fair in Sacramento in October of this year.
This booklet was in your local Public Library in March of this year. It has the information on how to enter your art, craft, preserved food into competition. If you walk into the Fair when it opens on Friday at 10 a.m., there will be ribbons on most items in the Home and Hobby as well as Art sections of the Fair. It has all been judged.
As you can see, the theme this year is " A Salute to Heroes" and on each day of the Fair a different group of 'Heroes' will be honored- military, law enforcement, entertainers, sports and even animal heroes.
There is a lot of information on the official fair website, as well as what is handed out when you walk in the front gates.
So, you may have read the booklet and saw that the Preserved Foods had to be brought in and entered on May 22 and 23rd. Judging was on Friday May 25. It was a cloudy day, the day before the Memorial Day weekend, but the decorating of the Fairgrounds was starting:
You can see (click and all photos enlarge) that entries are divided into Classes and then into larger Divisions. (example: in the 'Jams' Division, there are fruit/vegetable butters; apricot; apricot-pineapple; berry, other than listed; boysenberry; low sugar, mixed fruit, including berry; mixed fruit without berry; peach, plum, raspberry; strawberry and other than listed). Other Divisions are: jellies; dried foods, canned fruits, canned vegetables, other soft spreads, pickles, relishes and sauces, and the ubiquitous 'miscellaneous' (which includes, juices; honey, syrup, herb/non-sweet vinegars, fruit/sweet vinegars, and other). All in all 10 Divisions and 55 Classes, also including a "Gift Pack" Division.
This year there were less than five Judges. Not as many entries this year, possibly due to the many days in a row of frost we had and so fruit trees in the backyard did not produce. Also, many of the Classes have very few, if any products entered.
The people who are Judges are admonished to not let anyone know they are judges, primarily to eliminate any sort of questions as to "Well, why didn't I win?" as well as to not have an overt influence if they happen to know a competitor personally. Judging is done blindly- the competitor names are folded over and paper clipped on the entry forms and should not be on the jar, however the jar must be labeled with the type of product and process used to preserve it, as well as date it was processed (examples given in the Competition booklet are: apricot jam, pectin method, boiling water bath, apricot halves, raw packed, boiling water bath...Green beans, hot packed, 10 pounds pressure at 240° for 25 minutes).
Judging criteria: how the product is packed (is there enough 'head room' in the container so that the product is preserved properly as well as vacuum sealed-about 1/2 inch is standard)(does the judge hear the seal open) how does the product smell, look, the texture of it and finally how does it taste?
These happen to be some (but not all) of the peach jams entered this year. They are brought up by a "Runner", along with the recipe used to make the product, confirmed with the "Secretary" to be the correct entries in the class and then the Judge takes over, opening, smelling, taking out a bit onto a paper plate to see the texture and eventually, tasting. Judges are given crackers, lemon wedges and water to clean the palate.
Despite what you may think, it is not an easy job to do, and is not overly fun in some ways (most people would not sit down and eat sugary things for4 hours straight in one day). Judges 'prepare' by not eating any carbohydrates for the day or two before they judge, so that they won't get overly 'sugared up' on the day they judge. If they don't do this, the most likely will not feel very good for days after they are done with judging. Some items entered are so similar in taste, texture and preservation method that it is very difficult to give a ribbon differentiating between First and Second or Third...and many 'Honorable Mentions' are also given. People who preserve foods well know what they are doing, and a lot of times the same names are seen over and over again as winners, showing that the blind tastinsg done by the judges can still discern great tasting foods.
Recipes are read to see ingredients used and to see if that flavor is discernible in the tasting- for example one of the 'other than listed' jams this year was called "Plum Chile" jam...turns out that "chile" was habañero... but usually, cinnamon is added to some of the fruit items, sometimes vanilla..it depends.
The salty/not sweet entries are possibly more prone to not be prepared properly (you can't get botulism from sugar based items, but watch out for tomato based home made items!) or are more apt to 'go bad' quicker. Pickled items, holding up the vinegar base/flavor for months show that there are proper methods used for the preservation of the food, as well as, of course, the taste.
All of the judges participate in judging the Strawberry Jams- since that class has the largest number of entries every year (19 different entries this year). The Blue Ribbon winner of the Strawberry Jam category this year will have their name printed on the jars of strawberry jam sold in the Home and Hobby section of the Fair next year (which means last year's winner's name is on the jars sold this year) along with selling a cookbook showing the recipes of last years winning entries from all categories of preserved foods as well as daily contests(including 28 Spam recipe winners from last year).
In the end, the first place winner from each Division is put up against the others and the judges choose the "Best of Show".
You can see asparagus, beets, 'false capers' (made with nasturtium buds), carrots and up front, those preserved Chinese Tea Eggs...well, those won first place in their Class, Division and- Best of Show! They were made in 2006, but the vinegar was still potent, the egg white has a good tannin tea flavor (despite the fact that the recipe said it was made with Japanese tea and I would think that flavor would dissipate more than Chinese black tea) as well as the whites also having a good, heat 'kick' from the red chiles...and the yolk...it was yellow and strong flavored and tasted like a fresh, hard boiled egg...truly this entry was a great example of properly preserved food.
There are a lot more things to do and see and eat at the Fair, and those will be covered in a future post, done after the Fair opens. If you do go, please do take the time to see all the Fair has to offer. Home and Hobby is upstairs in the Grandstand section. You can't taste the preserved foods or any entries (they were opened about two weeks ago, remember)...the recipes will be available in Next year's cookbook, though...but there are plenty of other things available this year to purchase, including Fried Coke (frozen Coke syrup dipped in bater and then fried), chicken sandwiches served on a split (plain glazed non-jelly filled) Krispy Kreme donut, a roast beef sundae (roast beef on a pile of mashed potatoes and gravy topped with a cherry tomato), rattlesnake chili (I will taste this only for your sake) and the standard cream puffs, pasta, Indian Fry Bread, Australian Battered Potatoes..and much, much more!
San Diego Country Fair, Del Mar Fairgrounds I-5 to Via De la Valle. Free Parking (versus $9 in the lots adjacent to the Fair) at the horse park about one mile east as well as other locations. (www.sdfair.com) $1 entry on opening day only- if you buy tickets at Ralph's. Discount tickets for other days also available at Ralphs and at Costco. There is also a "frequent fairgoers pass", good for any three days, also group discounts are available. (858) 794-1096 . Regular adult admission is $12.
Open June 8-July 4, (Closed on June11,12, 18, 19 and 25 ) 10 a.m.-10 p.m. (11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights and midnight on closing day, July 4)